Wait Worth It For Monk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Patience has been the greatest lesson learned by Arkansas receiver Marcus Monk this season.

He thought he had plenty of it. After all, he brushed aside the chance to earn a paycheck by entering the NFL Draft as a junior like teammates Chris Houston and Jamaal Anderson last winter. How much more patient could anyone be?

But when Monk hurt his knee in the preseason, underwent his first arthroscopic surgery, then another, then watched helplessly from the sideline as Arkansas' hopes disintegrated in September, he really learned the meaning of the word.

So even though the buzz surrounding Monk's comeback has been growing and his importance to the Razorbacks' hopes is evident, the senior insists he's not feeling any pressure to produce. Instead, he's keeping his return in perspective.

"It's a building process," Monk said. "I'm not going to be the same overnight. But I'm going to go out there and give it my all. If I catch eight or nine balls, I catch eight or nine balls. If I don't catch any, I don't catch any. I'm not going to be down.

"Like I told my teammates, 'I'm just happy I can run.'"

When Arkansas (5-3, 1-3 in Southeastern Conference) kicks off the final month of the season against No. 23 South Carolina (6-3, 3-3) in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night, Monk knows this much: He will be in uniform, on the field and running routes for the second straight game.

Arkansas' most productive target is planning to do everything possible to help the Hogs win a critical game Saturday, which will also be his final in Fayetteville. But Monk -- who is one week removed from catching two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown in the first half of a 58-10 win against Florida International -- isn't drowning in expectations.

"There aren't any," Monk said. "I'm just being patient. I'm just going to try to keep getting better every week. Keep doing more. That's the plan."

It's no secret the Razorbacks have missed Monk, who caught 50 passes for 962 yards with 11 touchdowns last season. The Hogs have had no consistent, experienced threat out wide to take pressure off Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

In fact, his absence has been a regular topic for Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, who often mentioned how much the Hogs' struggling passing attack missed its biggest weapon.

When Nutt was asked how much he thinks Monk can produce Saturday, his answer was clear: Seven, eight, nine catches.

"At 6-foot-6, he's such a weapon," Nutt said. "That's what we've been missing. He helps Felix. He helps Darren. He helps Peyton (Hillis). He helps the entire team. ... We're hoping this will be his biggest, as far as number of plays, the biggest game of the year for him. We're thinking that he has a lot of confidence now in his leg and what he can do."

Last Saturday's return did boost his confidence, helping Monk realize there is nothing wrong with the knee after the long layoff. He ran routes. He cut. He caught passes. He even took a couple of hits, which he called a big step.

Monk woke up Sunday morning with what he described as a "good pain" in his knee. He said gaining strength in his leg is the biggest challenge now. That and shaking off the noticeable limp, which he said is nothing more than a habit.

"You may see me limping or something," said Monk, who had no plans of redshirting this season despite the injury. "It's not that I'm hurting. It's mental. That's how I was walking (after surgery). That's just how I walk now. I've got to train my body to walk normal again. There's nothing wrong with me."

But Monk also admits he wasn't close to 100 percent Saturday. He still isn't. He may not be this season.

Arkansas cornerback Michael Grant, whose preseason hit sidelined Monk, said there are some noticeable limitations. But Monk can still get open and catch the ball with his experience.

"You can tell he's not as explosive as he was, but he's a real smart player," Grant said. "He may not be up to 100 percent physically, but he's still going to do all right because of how smart of a player he is. ... If he's good enough to go out there and play, he's going to do what he has to do."

His return -- in any capacity -- has raised spirits in Arkansas' locker room. And among the coaches. Offensive coordinator David Lee said everyone is smiling with Monk on the field.

"It's fun now to game plan some things with him," he said.

At the very least, Monk's return will give opponents another offensive threat to consider each week.

Monk had a career day against the Gamecocks in 2006, catching eight passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in a 26-20 win. His 50-yard touchdown catch with two seconds left in the first half was a backbreaker, giving Arkansas a 23-6 lead.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said the Gamecocks aren't sure how healthy Monk may be Saturday, but they know the Razorbacks will try to get him the ball.

"I'm expecting him to come out fired up because he's been hurt most of the year," Munnerlyn said. "He's trying to show everybody what he's made of. So I'm expecting him to come out and try to have a hell of a game."

Monk would love for nothing more than to repeat last season's performance against the Gamecocks, but remains realistic. That's why he didn't forecast an eight-catch performance. Monk wouldn't even guarantee he'd lead the Razorbacks to four straight wins, even though he'd like to.

But there's one thing he can promise: He'll be patient as he continues to recover from his injury on the field.

"I don't feel like I have to go out there and try to prove anything," Monk said. "I just want to help as much as I can."

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