Receiver Monk Finally Back For Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas offensive lineman Robert Felton felt a tap on his shoulder, turned his head and was surprised to be staring at receiver Marcus Monk.

"I was like, 'What are you doing here? I haven't seen you out here in so long,'" Felton said.

The Razorbacks' top receiver, who has been sidelined by a knee injury, finally got extended playing time during Arkansas' 58-10 win against Florida International on Saturday. The senior, who was used as a decoy for one snap against Auburn two weeks ago, started for the first time this season and played the majority of the first half.

Monk caught two passes, including a 13-yard touchdown that helped the Hogs build a 31-7 lead. But it wasn't the amount of production that mattered most to the Razorbacks on Saturday. It was the sheer sight of the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder running routes that gives Arkansas more confidence heading into the season's final month.

"Oh my goodness, it's great to see him back out there," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.

Monk, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgeries in August and September after sustaining an injury in the preseason, said he wasn't going to play until he felt comfortable at practice first. That's what happened last week. He practiced with the Razorbacks for two days, ran routes, cut, and even absorbed his first hit.

Monk said he's still not at full strength. He might not be this season. But Monk is confident he's ready to play the rest of the way after Saturday.

"A big mental part of it is having confidence and not being scared to take those cuts," Monk said. "Your leg is strong enough to hold it, but you just don't know it. You've got to get back used to it."

Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee said that's a "monumental" moment in anyone's rehabilitation.

"If you've ever had surgery, the whole thing is, once you get that next hit after the surgery it's out of your mind and you're ready to go," Lee said. "That's where I feel like we are with him. It's so good to have him back."

Lee said the Razorbacks' only plan for Monk was to get him back on the field to catch a couple of passes. They wanted him to run a few specific routes -- like a slant and a fade -- to get his first dose of playing time.

Monk caught his touchdown pass on a slant-and-go route. Earlier in the game, Monk said a Florida International cornerback Anthony Gaiter jumped a slant route in the end zone and intercepted a Casey Dick pass. So when the situation presented itself again, Monk faked the slant and hauled in the pass from quarterback Nathan Emert.

It was the 25th touchdown catch of his career, which is a school record. But Arkansas is hoping it becomes a familiar sight the rest of the way.

Monk's return Saturday means he won't be eligible to redshirt and return in 2008. So the final month of the season will be his last at Arkansas. But Monk intends to make it count.

"I didn't want to get injured, but it happened and I'm just thankful to get back out here with my team," Monk said.

So are the Razorbacks, who believe the offense can be much more potent with Monk back in action against South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.

"You just wanted him to get a catch and he got a catch," Lee said. "You wanted him to get hit and he got hit and didn't cough it up. He's got a big smile on his face. We've all got a big smile on our face because Marcus Monk is back."

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