Tuesday Grid Update, 8/21

Arkansas welcomes injured starters Peyton Hillis and Nate Garner back to practice, quarterback Alex Mortensen back to the program and elevates the status of a pair of true freshmen standouts.

The additions of a couple of injured senior starters back to practice, the return of an old signal caller and the promotions of a pair of true freshmen highlighted the University of Arkansas' Tuesday grid workout.

Both fullback Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and offensive tackle Nate Garner (concussion) were back in practice after missing a week with their ailments while redshirt junior quarterback Alex Mortensen went through his first practice after transferring back from Samford.

Alex Tejada, who hit two field goals of over 50 yard in a scrimmage Saturday night, was tabbed the No. 1 kicker while Nathan Dick was elevated to the No. 2 quarterback spot behind his older brother Casey.

"We started out very, very strong and then we kind of wilted there at the end," Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt said. "…I think we have got to be a little bit better. We have got to be better finishers. That is going to be the emphasis from tonight until tomorrow – finish strong."

But Nutt was very enthused to have the versatile Hillis back out on the practice field because of him being able to line up at different places on offense and be a weapon at each one.

"It was good to see him back out and he looked good and hopefully we can keep him on the field and keep him going," Nutt said. "Nate Garner was back out here also today and that was really good to see."

Hillis, who has had trouble with his hamstring in each of his four pre-season camps, pronounced himself ready to go.

"It was a big relief to get back out here," Hillis said. "I've been kind of down the past few days while not getting on the field with my teammates knowing that I could make a difference.

"It was a blessing in disguise me coming out here today and playing somewhat as well as I wanted to," Hillis added. "There are a few downfalls. I am out of shape right now and that's got to change."

Hillis said his ailment was one that had a cumulative effect as he went throughout practice.

"I think it was more of a strain or slight pull than anything else," Hillis said. "I think dehydration and fatigue set in and it takes a few days to get over that. The hamstring has to heal and it is more precautionary than anything else.

"When it first started happening back during the first week of two-a-days, my back got tight and that affects everything else," Hillis added. "It really wasn't that I pulled it, just so much fatigue going every play and getting real tired.

"Now it feels great," Hillis continued. "I have been going to chiropractor every day and getting stretch real well. It held up real well, I am started getting my speed back and the only thing that is really down in me is being in shape. That is going to change and you will see a different Peyton Hillis."

Hillis said he has big goals for this season.

"This is the only year I have really came into it and I really, really have expected to win every game," Hillis said. "We have got the talent to win every game and it is just how we execute. We know we have all the tools to do it with and we just got to come in here every day in the hot sun and prepare for it."

Arkansas is still without senior split end Marcus Monk – who says he is progressing and catching 100 balls a day while rehabbing a knee injury and sophomore tight end Ben Cleveland.

Cleveland will see a specialist in Houston Friday in an effort to ease the pain he is having in his neck.

"We are just trying to do the best for him," Nutt said. "I know it is frustrating for Ben because he wants to be out there, but we will just try to do the best thing possible, get him to the best physicians and see if we can find out anything to help him get back on the field."

Tejada was surprised to hear he had been named the starter, but doesn't plan to let down in his efforts because of it.

He will handle the placements while Jeremy Davis – last year's field goal kicker – will be the punter.

"I am just here to work, keep competing, trying to get better and try to get ready for that Troy game," Tejada said. "I just need to keep working on the consistency with the snap, the hold and the kick, finding my angles and correcting my steps – anything I can do.

"I have always been focused on the coming up season," Tejada said. "We are playing some great teams, we are coming in to some great competition and you have got to be at the best. I am trying to be the best right now."

Dick's elevation to second team ahead of Nathan Emert can be temporary or permanent one according to UA offensive coordinator David Lee.

"We have now inserted Nathan second this week – and that's the point of emphasis is this week – to see how he does with receiving the signal, delivering the signal to the other 10 players in the huddle, being aware of the 25-second clock and getting it off before it goes off.

"You know the guy has been in the shotgun all his life so it is brand new for him under center," Lee added. "Can he get the snap, get back, get his read and get the pass completed. That is what we are trying to find out in these practices this week. If he can, he'll stay solid in there as the number two quarterback.

"I want to find out what he can do without Nathan Emert getting those snaps," Lee continued. "I have seen Nathan (Emert) all spring and all fall so I know what he can do."

All of the quarterbacks will be off-limits to the media this week.

"We want them to concentrate on one thing and that is how they can get better," Nutt said. "We have got a lot of study time we put on them this week and I think it is just important. These guys already know what order they are in – first, second and third – and I just want them not so much worried about what to say, but how to come out for practice and how to be ready."

Lee also praised true freshman wideout Crosby Tuck again.

"Crosby Tuck is obvious – the way he has jumped up at split end and we are all excited about him," Lee said. "He is a guy that can play tomorrow and play a whole, whole lot and real close to knowing everything at his position and mastering it. He is right on the heels of London Crawford, but there are still more things that Alex Wood is concerned with – some little things that he doesn't have down yet, but hope he will get."

Starting center Jonathon Luigs missed practice with a virus on Tuesday so guard Robert Felton slid over to take his place and was backed up by Mike Moffit.

Tuesday was the first day that the squad was basically split between those expected to play this season and those who will be on the scout team.

"There are always a few long looks, but for the most part it was very good," Nutt said of those players headed to the scout team. "We talked to all of them yesterday and tried to explain to them what is going to happen."

Mortensen was able to go through his first practice.

"We are glad to have him back," Nutt said of Mortensen. "He had called this summer and was thinking very hard about it. What a great person with character. We don't always let a lot of people come back, but we'd let Alex Mortensen definitely come back.

"He helped us today," Nutt added. "He did a great job with the scout team quarterback today, we really appreciate his efforts and we are glad he is back in the family."

Mortensen said he woke up at 4 a.m. last Wednesday and decided he wanted to return to Arkansas from Samford.

"I guess than in my senior year (of high school) I gave my heart and gave my commitment to Arkansas and fell in love with the state," Mortensen said. "When you come in with guys – all the guys I signed with – you miss it and you want to be here to watch everybody and be a part when you go out.

"It has been on my mind for a long time." Mortensen added. "I woke last Wednesday morning about 4 in the morning saying "gosh, I want to be part of the Razorback family again' and I said ‘I just can't fight this anymore.'"

He will sit out this season while running the scout offense and then hope to play some his senior year, but start a progression toward coaching either way.

"As a player I am still very hungry and I know that he (Coach Lee) is going to give me a good chance to reach my potential even sitting this year out," Mortensen said. "But one day, whenever that day comes, I probably do what to coach at some point…and I think this does give me a good opportunity to learn."


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