Mallett Makes Practice Debut

FAYETTEVILLE — Brothers Casey and Nathan Dick began the long battle for Arkansas' starting quarterback job when the Razorbacks kicked off spring practice.

But they weren't the most talked about quarterbacks on the practice field Thursday. That honor went to the one who doesn't know if he'll be eligible to play in 2008.

Former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett made his Razorbacks' debut during the two-hour workout in the Walker Indoor Pavilion. Mallett transferred to Arkansas in January, enrolled in classes in time for the spring semester and got his first work in Arkansas' offense during spring drills.

"It's good to get out here with the guys that I've known for a long time," said Mallett, a Texarkana, Texas native. "It's good to put the red and white on."

Players who transfer are typically required to sit out a season under NCAA rules. But Arkansas has filed a waiver on Mallett's behalf, asking the NCAA if it will grant him eligibility immediately because the Wolverines underwent a coaching change.

While Arkansas awaits a decision, coach Bobby Petrino said the he intends to give Mallett plenty of work along with Casey Dick, Nathan Dick and Alex Mortensen this spring.

"He needs to get reps," Petrino said. "There is still a possibility he can be eligible."

Mallett's first day included one impressive pass which he rifled through traffic and into the arms of a receiver during seven-on-seven drills. Mallett completed a pinpoint deep ball to receiver Carlton Salters in 11-on-11 work a little later.

Petrino said Mallett's arm strength is evident, but noted that the 6-foot-6, 255-pound quarterback throws the ball too hard at times. Quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee said it's obvious there remains plenty of room for Mallett to improve.

"He's still a young kid," McGee said. "He's not a veteran player, he's just gotten a lot of publicity. He's got a lot of work to do as far as his footwork and just overall technique of playing the position. But he's going to be a very good player for us if he continues to develop and keep a positive attitude."

Mallett said that won't be a problem even as he awaits the NCAA's ruling on his eligibility. He said it could come any day, but wasn't ready to make a prediction on the outcome.

"It's so hard to tell with this thing," Mallett said. "Maybe I've got a chance. I guess we'll see."

Where Did They Go?

Tim Horton stepped into a plush position last year, when he joined Arkansas' staff as running backs coach.

But now that Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis and fullback Farod Jackson are gone, Horton said his job has become much more challenging.

"I kind of liked having them," Horton said. "But your team is reborn every year. Your position is reborn every year. We had four really quality senior players, even though two of them were juniors. To lose them, I've got to coach a little harder."

The new group is led by juniors Michael Smith and Brandon Barnett, who combined to rush for 439 yards and four touchdowns in 2007. In addition, converted linebacker Chip Gregory and sophomore Torian Wilkins are new faces getting plenty of repetitions this spring.

"I don't know that we'll be a one tailback team," Horton said. "But I think through the combination of two, three or even four of those guys, we can put a good runner on the field and a good catcher and a good blocker."

Pain in the Toe

Tight end Ben Cleveland practiced for the first time in months Thursday. But the former Springdale High standout said his biggest pain this spring isn't exactly where you'd expect it.

The neck injury that kept him out last season is fine.

The dislocated toe that required surgery is not.

Cleveland practiced throughout Thursday's workout and said it felt great to be back on the field. But he admitted it has been a little "stressful" because he's still not full speed.

"I'd say I'm about 50 (percent)," Cleveland said. "(Trainer) Dean (Weber) fixed me up a new little thing for my foot and that's helped a lot. But sometimes it gets real tight and that tendon gets real tight because it's not very loose yet.

"It's just a slow process, but we'll get it right."

In addition, another local standout returned to practice after an extended absence. Former Shiloh Christian receiver Crosby Tuck, who broke his arm last September, was back on the field.

Extra Points

Place kicker Alex Tejada is wearing a new jersey number this spring — No. 18. The sophomore wore No. 7 last season. ... Arkansas is looking for a new holder after former quarterback Clark Irwin's departure. Receiver Reggie Fish and defensive back Matt Harris auditioned for the job Thursday. ... The Razorbacks will practice today at 4 p.m. The workout will be open the public, weather permitting.

Ryan Mallett

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