Scrimmage Stars

Redshirt junior quarterback Robert Johnson and junior free safety Matt Hewitt are among the Arkansas players that stood out Saturday night in the Razorbacks' scrimmage at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Welcome aboard Matt Hewitt, Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams.

Welcome back Robert Johnson.

That's what some University of Arkansas football fans may have left thinking after they left the Razorbacks scrimmage Saturday night at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Redshirt junior signal caller Johnson went 7-of-8 through the air and led his team to touchdowns on each of his three possessions while junior free safety Hewitt announced his arrival with 6 tackles, 3 pass break ups and a pair of interception in the event before an estimated crowd of 6,500 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"We appreciate the crowd showing up," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "They helped us have us a game-like atmosphere. Our players were into it."

Johnson, who started the first seven games last season before losing his spot to currently injured Casey Dick, came out firing in a scrimmage that was held actually three weeks before the season opener with USC.

He completed his first three passes - all to Marcus Monk covering 20, 21 and 20 yards - to set up the first of three touchdowns he would lead his team to on the night.

"I have to prove myself, not only to the team, but I guess to a lot of other people around here," Johnson said, "but I don't worry about that or think about it too much. As long as the team trusts me and knows what I can do and help us win, that's all I need."

Monk, who had four catches for 81 yards on the night, was open down the middle three straight times before Peyton Hillis punched in the touchdown from two yards out.

"He (Johnson) was feeling comfortable, he threw the ball with excellent accuracy and Monk is someone that every quarterback trusts because they know where he is going to be," Nutt said. "He just runs very disciplined routes, he's got great hands and he is going to make you look good. They tend to lean that way."

"I think on the first couple of calls I think (new UA offensive coordinator) Gus (Malzahn) intentionally wanted to put Monk going down the middle and stretching the safety a little bit," Nutt said.

Johnson - who hit on his first six passes - and true freshman signal caller Mitch Mustain (5-of-8, 70 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception) both had good nights per new UA quarterbacks coach Alex Wood.

"I thought they both did some good things," Wood said. "They are not where we want them, but we are not ready to play yet. They did some good things. We want to go look at the film and get into the nuts and bolts of it. From the naked eye, they both moved the offense and that is what we are looking for."

That same sentiment was expressed by Malzahn, although he was concerned about a pick thrown by Mustain, one from Johnson that was negated by a penalty and a couple of others that could have been interceptions.

"I was very proud of both of them, but the only thing in my mind right now is the turnovers," Malzahn said. "We can not have turnovers. If we can cure that, I think we have a chance to be a very good football team."

Especially if guys like Damian Williams came come up with plays like he did on Saturday night, turning a simple reverse into a 50-yard touchdown run in which he zigzagged across the field.

That came came on a handoff from Mustain, his high school quarterback, who was greeted with a loud cheer when he was first sent out to quarterback.

Mustain threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to John Aaron Rees later in the scrimmage while running back Felix Jones (4 carries, 9 yards) also scored.

"That (cheer) was kind of strange and I thought a little over the top," Mustain said. "I think they need to save that for plays like Damian's...I thought I did all right, but that I could have done a little bit better. I had some problems with controlling the ball and difficulty keeping it dry. But I think we have that covered from now on."

Hewitt (6-3, 208) had two of those aforementioned thefts with senior cornerback Darius Vinnett getting another one and walk on linebacker Mark Bonner also stealing one and putting on an exciting return only to see it wiped out by a penalty on his defense.

"What you saw tonight with Matt Hewitt is a taste of what we have been looking at during two-a-days and what he does is give us depth and he will play and he gives us a competitive chance there," Herring said.

Hewitt is competing with Michael Grant for the first-team spot at free safety.

"That is what you are always working for - depth and competition," Herring said. "That is what you need at every program. What was a weak and suspect position going into it is shaping up as a pretty solid position now because they are playing their dues and concentrating and they are committed to getting better each day."

One of the negatives to the scrimmage was a knee injury to starting defensive end Anthony Brown, who will have an MRI on Sunday to see how bad it is.

"With the ones we accomplished what we wanted except we didn't want to get any injuries," Coach Herring said. "That is probably the biggest negative of the night. Other than that the biggest thing was the progress of our safeties."

The fact that Brown may be out for awhile has Herring contemplating his plans.

"What that means is - and it is part of football - is that Antwain Robinson is going to have to step up along with Chris Wade and now a true freshman in Malcolm Sheppard is going to have to step up. They are going to have to get ready to play. They are going to have to come a long ways because they got a long way to go."

Herring was already playing musical chairs with the linebacker because of injuries to freshmen Chip Gregory and Ryan Powers, but got good play on Saturday night from converted safety Desmond Williams and walk on Mark Bonner.

" We have moved Desmond Williams to second team Sam (strong linebacker) because the freshman Gregory and Ryan Powers have been injured," Herring said. "There already was a short time line to get them ready for Southern Cal and every practice was critical. But if they are not out there, I can't put them out there in a game.

"Every guy you saw wide open out there tonight was a freshman linebacker turning the guy loose," Herring added. "We took Dez Williams from the safety position because we are starting to build some bulk there. We moved him to second team Sam to get him ready because he is an older guy and he is out there.

"Weston Dacus is going to back up every position and play every position that first game," Herring said. "Then you have Wendel Davis and Mark Bonner and that's it."

Arkansas was successful on 11-of-17 field goal attempts on the night with true freshmen Dan Bailey's 4-of-5 and Stephen Arnold's 3-of-4 leading the way - both making a long of 44 yards.

"We still have got a little ways to go there and we have got to keep improving," Nutt said. "There is a race going on there and they all know it. You have got to compete and be very consistent and all we are asking you to do is when we get inside the 30 is to put it between the uprights."

Ten different Razorbacks - including freshman wideout London Crawford (dehyrdation) - sit out the scrimmage with seven of them being first-year players.

The Razorbacks will get Sunday off before hitting the field again on Monday for 10:30 a.m. and 6:50 p.m. practices.


Hawgs Daily Top Stories