Offense Takes Another Step

Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick led the offense to a solid performance during the Razorbacks' third spring scrimmage in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

By Robbie Neiswanger Hawgs Illustrated/The Morning News FAYETTEVILLE — Quarterback Casey Dick had a new favorite word Saturday: Comfortable.

The Arkansas senior must've said it about 20 times during a four-minute interview with reporters in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

He used it to describe the way he feels on the field this spring. He said it in reference to his improving grasp of the Razorbacks new offense under Bobby Petrino. He also said it to explain how well he has connected with Arkansas' receivers.

"This is probably the most comfortable as a team I think we've felt in awhile," Dick said.

It showed Saturday. Dick and the Razorbacks looked the most comfortable they have all spring during the two-hour, 145-play scrimmage.

Arkansas' offensive players have spent the spring digesting Petrino's thick playbook and getting used to his demands. Some of the familiarity was on display with one week left in spring drills.

Once again, Dick led the way Saturday. He completed 26-of-39 passes for 309 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions with the first-team offense. Running back Michael Smith rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. And junior London Crawford caught eight passes for 107 yards and two scores.

The offensive effort wasn't flawless. The quarterbacks threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. The offensive line was flagged a few times. But it was better than a week ago. But it was much improved from last Saturday's scrimmage.

Petrino said Dick, in particular, was impressive.

"I liked what I saw from Casey," Petrino said. "I think he took a step forward.

"Obviously I didn't like the interceptions. ... But he showed some things today where he understood the progressions. He understood the coverage looks and distributed the ball opposite the coverage and really made some strides forward in executing what we want him to do in our offense."

Dick threw a pass that was intercepted by cornerback Darrell Glasper on the first possession of the scrimmage, but led the offense into the end zone on his next three drives. The most impressive part of the scoring drives were the Razorbacks' ability to convert on third down plays.

Arkansas was 7-for-8 on the drives, setting the tone for a solid day.

Petrino said the offense's play on third down was impressive throughout the scrimmage.

"The execution was pretty good," Petrino said. "Our third downs improved a lot from a week ago. The last time we went third downs, the defense really got after the offense. I think the offense won the third down battle today."

Dick said it's a product of understanding what Petrino is looking for from his quarterback.

Last year, Arkansas wanted its quarterbacks to manage the game and limit mistakes. Petrino has asked his quarterbacks to make plays, read defenses and find mismatches all over the field.

Dick said that has gotten easier over time.

"We just get a lot of reps, a lot of plays, a lot of extra film study in," Dick said. "So you get more comfortable with it the more reps at it. And the more times you look at it you feel more comfortable running it."

One of Dick's best passes might've been his last.

He tossed a 31-yard strike to Crawford, who got a step on one of Arkansas' defensive backs. It was the second time the tandem connected for a touchdown in the scrimmage. Crawford didn't play last week because of a hamstring injury.

"We're very far along," Crawford said. "When we came in here last year we barely could throw the ball. We'd throw the ball, but inconsistent. ... But when you've got a coach that's willing to push you and push you and push you and make you a better player regardless of whether you want to be a better player or not, it makes you a good team."

Smith believes the Razorbacks are starting to gain an understanding the complexities of the offense as well, which has improved their play.

"It's not just run this play," Smith said. "We run this play and know why we run this play and know why it works. We know what it won't work against.

"When you have that kind of knowledge going onto the field, your confidence level will rise."

Arkansas' other quarterbacks — Nathan Dick and Alex Mortensen — had promising moments, too.

Mortensen was 11 of 24 for 129 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He got the Razorbacks in the end zone on his first possession, which was capped by a one-handed catch and score from tailback Brandon Barnett. He lost a fumble on his second possession, then led another scoring drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Cleveland.

Nathan Dick was the second quarterback on the field and completed his first four passes. He didn't lead the offense into the end zone until later, but was 10 of 17 for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think (quarterbacks) coach (Garrick) McGee is doing a nice job with his technique and he's getting the ball out of his hand quicker," Petrino said. "I've been impressed with his improvement."

The offensive improvement wasn't the only thing that stood out Saturday, though. Petrino also complimented Arkansas' defensive backfield, which is replacing four starters from the 2007 group.

The defensive backs forced three turnovers and, according to Petrino, handled their responsibilities in Arkansas' zone coverage schemes much better.

The defensive star was Glasper, who intercepted two passes Saturday. The former LSU walk-on was working with the first team defense in place of Jamar Love, who was sidelined by and injury.

"Jamar went down and coach has confidence in me to step up and play," Glasper said. "It's not really a big surprise to me. It's football. If somebody goes down, somebody else has to step up and play and I'm just doing my job."

The 5-foot-8 Glasper is one of Arkansas' smallest players, but the size hasn't kept him from pushing for a starting job this spring. Cornerbacks coach Lorenzo Ward said Glasper did a good job of putting himself in position to make plays.

"They've been pushing him from day one," Petrino said. "One thing he is, he's very quick and smart and today what he did was he kept his eyes back in the backfield and made some plays.

"The thing you worry about there is the size matchup when someone is going to find that size."

The Razorbacks will take the next two days off before returning to the practice field Tuesday afternoon. Arkansas will practice three times next week, then close the spring with the Red-White Game in Reynolds Razorback Stadium next Saturday night at 6 p.m.

The offensive players, at least, are hoping they'll be even more comfortable with another week of practice under their belt.

"We just have to keep making strides," Dick said.

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