State of the Hogs: A Good Look
Most Arkansas fans are not thinking just yet about John Parker Wilson. They'll probably start thinking about Alabama's starting quarterback next week as the trip to Tuscaloosa looms closer.
There's probably more consternation around what Arkansas is going to do at quarterback than the threat of the Tide quarterback during this open date week. Perhaps, that's fair, too. It's not like the Hogs' Casey Dick lit it up in the opener against Troy.
I'm going to wait a game or two more before I'm too tough on Dick or his new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach. David Lee deserves more than one game.
And, Dick deserves more than one game with a new coach before throwing him out.
That's not what I'll write about today. It's Wilson, the quarterback the Hogs pressured into just enough bad plays last year in Fayetteville.
The Hogs think so highly of Wilson that they have not one, but two players portraying him in practice with the scout team. Alex Mortensen and Brian Reader are both wearing Wilson's No. 14 in workouts this week. They will be Wilson for the Arkansas defense. And, they both take their job extremely seriously.
Mortensen, who played at Samford in Birmingham, Ala, last year, is redshirting after transferring back to Arkansas this fall. He's ineligible to play this season. Hence, he asked and was granted the job of scout team quarterback. However, he isn't doing it by himself.
The previous two weeks as the Hogs prepared for Troy's run-pass threat, Omar Haugabook, Mortensen split time at scout team QB with converted wide receiver Joe Chaisson, perhaps the best running QB on campus. This week Mortensen has help from Reader, more of a pure passer than Chaisson.
"We are splitting it down the middle," Mortensen said. "I'll take eight or nine plays and then Brian will take eight or nine. There may be some plays that the defensive coaches pick one of us or the other to run a certain thing. But otherwise, it's pretty much on us to switch ourselves in or out. It's working pretty well."
Mortensen is loving every minute of it. He keeps telling every one within earshot that he's a Razorback deep in his heart and that's the reason he came back. And, he is excited to be portraying Wilson this week.
"I lived in Alabama last year and if you pay any attention to anything in that state, all you hear is Alabama football," Mortensen said. "It's pretty much like what you hear about Arkansas in Arkansas. Alabama has that same passion for football.
"I've heard a lot about John Parker Wilson. I met him once. One of my teammates from high school started on the Alabama offensive line and we talked on the field after the game down there two years ago. He introduced me to (Wilson). It's not like we talked a lot, but I did meet him.
"I've heard a lot about him. Four or five of my teammates (at Samford) played with him at Hoover (High). I know a lot about him through them."
Some of that helped this week as he stepped into the role as QB of the Alabama offense. But what helped more than anything was plenty of film study.
"I came to the Broyles Center on Monday morning and started watching tape of Alabama's offense," Mortensen said. "That was Labor Day and we didn't have any classes, so I just came in. I had the tape of Alabama's first game. I also had the spring game that they showed on ESPNU. I taped that myself. I've watched both tapes a lot. I just hope I can do something to help us win this game. That's my goal each week."
Mortensen has had a blast so far. It's been fun to be on the field against Reggie Herring's defense. If you want to get better, he said, the scout team is as good a place to be as any.
"What you get when you are the scout team quarterback is a fast defense to go against every day in practice," Mortensen said. "Coach Herring is going to have them going fast. That's what you want. That's how you improve if you are a quarterback. Plus, you are going to see a lot.
Coach Herring is going to show you just about everything.
"For me, it's very good to be on the defensive side of the field. Coach Herring is going to demand a lot from his defense and he's going to demand a lot from the quarterback working against them. It's important to him for us to give a good picture. So I'm trying to learn to play fast just like the defense. That's excellent for me and Brian to get those kind of reps."
Some have speculated that the whistle comes late and the contact is heavy for the scout team QB against Herring's defense. However, that's not reality, Mortensen said.
"I think you might think that, but the last thing they need is for me to get tackled and not get any passes off," Mortensen said. "So they pull up and let me throw, or run past me. They could tackle me every snap because the scout team offensive line isn't going to be able to stop our first defensive line with all the blitzes and stunts Coach Herring throws at them.
"But they don't need to sack me on every play. It wouldn't be good to get only about half of the throws off. The defensive backs would get no work."
Mortensen is trying to learn to be fast and quick with his actions and his thinking as he works with the scout team against the first team defense. It appears he's on target. At the end of the interview when he was asked one last time if he liked being John Parker Wilson, he had a quick reply.
"I really don't like double names," he said. "I prefer just to be John." That must mean Brian Reader is Parker.
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