Arkansas' Offense Getting Comfortable

FAYETTEVILLE — Quarterback Casey Dick must've used the word, "comfortable," 20 times during an interview Saturday.

He said it to describe the way he feels this spring. He used it in reference to his improved understanding of new coach Bobby Petrino's offense. He also turned to the word to explain how well he has meshed with the rest of the members of the offense.

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

The sentiment showed Saturday. Dick and the offense turned in a strong outing during a two-hour, 145-play scrimmage.

Quarterbacks zipped passes to open players. Running backs slipped through holes. Receivers made plays. And, in the end, it left the Razorbacks feeling comfortable with their progress.

"We're very far along," receiver London Crawford said. "When we came in here last year we barely could throw the ball. ... 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."

Dick was the best example of the improvement, completing 26-of-39 passes for 309 yards with three touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, but impressed Petrino with his play.

"I liked what I saw from Casey," Petrino said. "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 said the improvement is simply a product of understanding what Petrino expects from his quarterbacks.

Last year, Arkansas wanted them to manage the game and limit mistakes. Petrino is asking the group to make plays, read defenses and find mismatches all over the field this spring.

"There's still a whole lot going through our head, but we've got it narrowed down and we know what we're looking for protection wise and routes," Dick said. "It's getting narrowed down and we're starting to make decisions faster and playing faster."

One of Dick's biggest passes was his last.

He tossed a 31-yard strike to Crawford, who led the Razorbacks with eight catches for 107 yards. It was the second time the tandem connected for a touchdown in the scrimmage.

"The chemistry between us has gotten a lot better than what I had with him in the past few years," Crawford said.

Another quarterback, Nathan Dick, showed signs of improvement, too.

He was the second one on the field Saturday and completed 10 of 17 passes for 155 yards. Dick completed his first four passes and, later, hit Lucas Miller and Crosby Tuck for touchdowns.

"Nathan, the last week and a half, has really improved," Petrino said. "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. I've been impressed with his improvement."

The Razorbacks tossed 80 passes during the scrimmage, but the run game wasn't ignored.

Tailback Michael Smith led Arkansas' ground efforts with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. His biggest play was a 17-yard touchdown run on a draw play at the midway point.

Backup Brandon Barnett added 34 yards and a touchdown, but his biggest highlight came in the passing game. Barnett snagged an Alex Mortensen pass with one hand, turned upfield and raced to the end zone for a 25-yard score.

Overall, the offense wasn't flawless. Quarterbacks threw three interceptions, the Razorbacks lost a fumble and the offensive line committed a few penalties.

But after spending the spring digesting Petrino's playbook, Smith said the group is starting to understand its responsibilities.

"It's not just, ‘Run this play,'" he 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."

The offense hopes it will continue when they return to the practice field Tuesday. Arkansas practices three times before closing the spring next Saturday with the Red-White Game.

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

"The more reps we get, the more we're making strides and getting better," Dick said. "We're feeling a whole lot more comfortable with everything we're doing."

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