One of the quarterbacks was not at practice Tuesday night and not even in the same area code. But the other two Arkansas signal callers were dialed in, according to quarterback coach Alex Wood.
"I'm telling you we have three good ones and I feel fortunate to have all three of them," Wood said. "I thought the ones out there tonight looked very sharp throwing the ball, very sharp. They had a very nice night."
The absent quarterback was Casey Dick, who made the trip to LIttle Rock to get a second opinion on a back injury that has put him on the sideline for most of the summer, including all but four of the workouts to this point.
That didn't keep Robert Johnson, working with the ones for now, or true freshman Mitch Mustain from lighting it up on a cool evening on the practice field.
"I thought we had a good night, a very good night," head coach Houston Nutt said. "It's probably something to do with the weather, but they responded to the cloud cover (and 75 degree temperatures). I love the way they came to work. I love the way they took coaching tonight."
Indeed, the quarterbacks looked "coached" on Tuesday. Both were extremely sharp in all phases of the practice, including the closing segment against the scout team.
"I think you see that Robert Johnson is playing very well," Wood said. "I think he's gaining confidence and I think he has great potential. He has lots of ability."
Asked if he's playing with more confidence than last year when he started the first seven games, Wood said, "Of course, I wasn't here, but from what the other coaches and players tell me, he is. I will say that I watched film of him from last year and saw him make some nice plays.
"All I can say is that we've brought in some new things and added to what they did last year and we've tried to make him comfortable with that system. We've tried to get Robert and all of them to a point where they are very knowledgable and comfortable with what they are running. They know it. When you know it, the confidence comes out.
"I can see a swagger developing in Robert. I can see him getting a little cockiness back. He was probably missing that (in the spring) and now he's got it. That's from knowing what we are asking from him and being able to do it."
That doesn't mean Johnson is the main man for the Hogs just yet. Nutt said it's not clear if Dick can be in the competition or not, but that decision will be pushed down the road a bit. Mustain is in the fight, though.
"Dick is behind, you can see that now," Nutt said. "We've gone into our preparation for USC so he's behind. But we are not making a decision for a few more days. I know ya'll want the decision, and so do I. But we are going to wait a little longer to see what we find out on Casey."
For now, it's a two-man battle since Nathan Emert, transfer from Missouri Southern, is not eligible. Mustain is in the battle.
"You saw a special young quarterback tonight," Wood said. "Mitch threw it very, very well. I saw the velocity tonight. The ball JUMPED off his hand tonight. Maybe it was the cool night, but I think he's just starting to feel comfortable and confident. He's getting better each night. But so is Robert."
Johnson said he feels the confidence growing.
"I had lost some confidence in the spring, but I got it back in the summer," Johnson said. "What I know now is that my teammates and my coaches believe in me and trust me. That's all that matters. I'm having fun again. I was down, down at the start of the summer and there were a couple of times I thought I might should leave. But the coaches convinced me that I was a part of the family. They took me in and made me feel like I could play here and that I had to be patient. I had to get back to having fun again and I'm doing that like you saw tonight."
What did he have to change physically?
"I think I just had to get more comfortable, not force things, not rush things," he said. "Now, if I see it not opening up, I just tuck it. I know I don't have to throw it and I don't have to wait on it. Part of it is knowing exactly where everyone is. Coach Wood taught us our system. I had to learn some new things from both Coach Wood and Coach (Gus) Malzahn and that took some time in the spring. But I know it now. I am very comfortable with where everything is going to be on each play."
Wood said he's seen the growth in Johnson in just the last few days.
"Robert expressed to me just the other day that he is becomign comfortable in what we've got for him," Wood said. "He says he knows the offense and it shows.
"I think all of them are that way, though. I think they all have a pretty good grasp. I think we have three good talents at quarterback and they all can run what we've got.
"We've had to mesh two pretty good systems and then Coach Malzahn let me have some input, too. That's a lot to learn, but these guys have done well with it. You see it starting to fit together pretty good."
Malzahn said the same thing after Tuesday's night workout.
"I'm very happy with the way things have gone," he said. "At times tonight, both quarterbacks performed very well. We have two rotating and doing it well."
What about Johnson's progress from last year?
"He's got a fresh start and sometimes that is important," Malzahn said. "I'll say this, all I can do is evaluate what he's done from when I got here and he's done very well. Our job as coaches is to pick the ones who are playing the best and put them on the field. That's what we are doing. When I got here, I told him I thought he could run this system and that if he'd be patient and worked hard, he'd get a chance. He's worked very hard."
Johnson was asked how he felt when the huge crowd Saturday night gave him no love when he went on the field and then roared at Mustain's entrance minutes later.
"I expected that," he said. "That's the hometown guy. If I was from here, I'd have that, maybe. I know I'd have it if we were in Waco, my home. It seems normal to me.
"As far as what happens in the stands, I know not to pay any attention to that. I know what is important is my teammates. They like me. I know that. They trust me. The coaches trust me."
Did it fire him up?
"I don't know if I'd call it exactly that," he said. "Well, maybe that is what it did. I do know I play for my teammates. It's a team game. It takes all 11 to make it happen and I want to be there for them. But, I just focus on what I have to do. Some things I pay attention to, some others I don't. Well, maybe it did fire me up, though. Yeah, it did.
"I like Mitch. He's been good for me. Him being here fired me up. It's friendly competition. There are things he's shown me about the new system that I didn't know. There are things that I've shown him that you only know from being in an SEC game. We don't hold things from each other because we are competing. We help each other. I'm there for him and he's there for me. I think we are having fun with friendly competition, but when you have someone like him here, it does fire you up. And, as far as the crowd the other night, any normal person would have heard that. But I'll also say that it's normal since he's from here."
Nutt indicated that cornerback Darius Vinnett would be out indefinitely with surgery to a knee tendon similar to the one that knocked him out of last season. However, Nutt said it's believed that Vinnett will return to play at some point in the SEC season.
There was word that tailback Darren McFadden would have the pin in his injured toe removed later this week. McFadden was in a playful mood at practice Tuesday night, sporting what turned out to be a fake cast on one hand.
"He's fine, just fine," running back coach Danny Nutt said. "He is doing really well. He was joking around with that cast, kind of like Sam Olajubutu has had on. Butu had a cast, so Darren wanted to act like him. You can tell he's in a very good mood and he's doing well with his foot, too. He's progressing nicely and his attitude is really good. He wanted to have some fun tonight."
Wide receiver London Crawford did not practice after sustaining a minor knee injury Monday night near the end of practice. He could return on Wednesday when the Hogs practice twice. Weston Dacus, junior linebacker, also sat out the workout with a minor ankle sprain. He may miss one more day. Anthony Brown didn't work, either. He had a wrap on his injured knee. It wasn't clear when Brown could return, but he indicated that his recovery should be rapid.
"I'm going to be back pretty quick," Brown said. "It's doing really well."
Freshman cornerback Jerrell Norton practiced for the first time after getting the okay from the NCAA clearing house on his academics. He'll have to go through a few days in shorts and no pads, per NCAA rules.
Tuesday Grid Update, 8/l5
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