New Passing Attack Unveiled

FAYETTEVILLE -- Shortly after David Lee was hired in January as Arkansas' offensive coordinator, he began rewriting the playbook, which had produced mixed results the previous year.

Some things remained the same, particularly with the running attack. But the pages devoted to the passing game were either rewritten or scrapped entirely to make room for the changes Lee had in mind.

He changed the terminology and added new pass protections. He also drew up some new plays that should give quarterback Casey Dick "freedom with structure," as Arkansas coach Houston Nutt refers to it.

But it remains to be seen whether all the tweaks to the passing game will produce better results.

That's what most of the Arkansas fans who will crowd into Reynolds Razorback Stadium for tonight's season opener against Troy University are curious to find out.

"This offense this year, it fits everyone's personality. It fits the role of everybody," Arkansas wide receiver London Crawford said. "Last year, some people had roles that they didn't fit in, but we put that behind us.

"We're talking about this year."

For the second consecutive year, the No. 21 Razorbacks will open a season by unveiling a passing game that went through significant changes over the offseason.

Arkansas fans were anxious a year ago to see what wrinkles Gus Malzahn had added to the playbook. But for the most part, the Razorbacks didn't use the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that Malzahn is famous for and the passing game struggled.

Arkansas ranked 108th in the nation in passing offense last year, averaging just 149.5 yards per game. As a result, Nutt hired Lee to correct the problem and rewrite the playbook to his liking.

"Passing wise, yeah, it's a lot different," Lee said of the playbook. "The protections are different, the concepts are different. That's the biggest difference, I think, in our offensive football team."

Lee cautioned that not all the changes to the passing game will be unveiled during tonight's season opener against Troy.

Arkansas is at least a three-touchdown favorite to beat the Trojans. So, some of the new passing routes and misdirection plays that Lee added will likely be saved for when the Razorbacks travel to Alabama in two weeks.

At the same time, the Razorbacks will be without wide receiver Marcus Monk and tight end Ben Cleveland, two players who were expected to play key roles in the passing attack this season.

"I have no plans to retract any of the passing game with Marcus out," Lee said. "Hey, injuries are part of football and you've got to go play the next guy."

Dick, who will be Arkansas' opening-day starter for the first time in his career, said the passing game looks much different this year.

It's more complex. It has more options. And it gives him more freedom as a quarterback. That last part could be a good or bad thing, depending on how the junior plays.

"(The new offense) gives you more freedom, but it puts more on your shoulders," Dick said. "You've got to know what play we want to run or what (formation) we get into to put us into that situation. It comes with studying."

Nutt, meanwhile, was cautious when he talked earlier this week about the changes in the offense. He didn't want to give anything away that Troy -- or anyone else -- could use against him.

"I don't want to say too much, but it's just a good package," Nutt said. ".... I think it's very comfortable for the quarterback."

Lee said Arkansas' players have adjusted well to the new -- and hopefully improved -- playbook. But at the same time, he has his concerns heading into tonight's unveiling of the passing game.

"Hopefully, we don't have too much so our players don't know what they're doing," Lee said. "Hopefully, they'll know what they're doing and execute."

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