Arkansas Football: Irwin Ready To Go If Neede

FAYETTEVILLE — One year ago, Clark Irwin could hardly have imagined he would be two injuries away from walking onto the field as Arkansas quarterback.

A series of events, though, has the redshirt freshman from Little Rock moving up the depth chart. Alex Mortensen's transfer to Samford and Casey Dick's back trouble quickly vaulted Irwin from super-emergency status to No. 3 on the depth chart.

"It's surprising but it's something (the coaches) prepare you for," Irwin said. "They do a good job of making sure that you know everybody's got a shot, that you're always a play away."

With starter Robert Johnson and backup Mitch Mustain ahead of him and no definitive answer on when Dick will return, the Razorbacks coaches are too worried about having a situation come about where Irwin needs to play.

"If the occasion arises, he'll be ready," said UA quarterbacks coach Alex Wood. "I've been very impressed with the way he's handled himself in that situation."

Sitting on the sidelines isn't something Irwin is used to. At Little Rock Central, Irwin started 39 games in three seasons, leading the Tigers to a 34-5 record and state championships in 2003 and 2004.

Although he had offers to play other places — and likely contribute at least more immediately — there was no doubt where Irwin wanted to play, even if it meant being a walk-on.

"I've always wanted to be a Razorback and it's worked out great for me," Irwin said. "I took my official visit and right when I took it, I committed that next day. I just loved it too much.

"It's just where I wanted to be."

So instead of commanding a huddle, taking snaps and making passes, Irwin will likely spend the majority of his football Saturdays standing on the sidelines, making hand signals — one of his responsibilities as part of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's system.

"Right now, I'm just having fun and if they need me, I'll be ready and I'll do my best when I get in, if I do. I think we've got a great thing going. It's a big change but I think it'll really be effective and it's a lot of fun."

Irwin is a bit of a legacy at Arkansas. His family has deep connections with UA athletics. His father, Jim, played football at Arkansas from 1969-73, with his uncle, Clark, playing from 1970-73. His grandfather, James, played basketball for the Razorbacks in 1945.

Malzahn and Wood said the offense would have to be tweaked a little if Irwin had to enter the game, but it wouldn't be too drastic.

"We would just have to do things that go to his strengths," Malzahn said. "He's a winner and he makes plays. We put him in those scrimmages and he gets it done."

And Irwin can even add some things to the mix.

"He's fairly mobile," Malzahn said. "He's good on the run. He's good in the huddle."

Malzahn should know. It was the Malzahn-coached Springdale team that Irwin's Central team beat in the semifinals before winning in 2004.

"You can see why he won championships," said another former Central quarterback, Houston Nutt. "He's a winner and he proves it out there every day. He's a very valuable part of the team.

"He's ready to go if he has to play."

With the battle for the starting spot going down to Johnson and Mustain until last week when Johnson was named the starter, practice repetitions had been hard to come by for Irwin.

The coaches have tried to get the third-team quarterback more work, though, by using him in various drills around the practice field and trying however they can to prepare Irwin to play.

"Every time we get some extra periods or extra time, we try to keep that in mind that he needs to get snaps," Wood said. "Also, we'll rotate him around to different drills where he can also do the same thing, get a little piece of it here or there."

Wood, a former NFL offensive coordinator, has often talked about the need to have three quarterbacks ready to play. When it became apparent Dick's injury was more serious than initially thought, Irwin became that third.

"He's a quarterback. He's got great quarterback skills in terms of understanding when he needs to get rid of the ball as far as the pass is concerned. He's got very good fundamentals.

"He'll be able to get us through a game and we'll be fine."

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