State of the Hogs: Quarterback

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When I make predictions for the coming football season each summer, I usually scan the rosters for one key fact. I want to know who has a senior quarterback returning.

There are only three in the SEC. And, really, I'd only classify Arkansas and Alabama as true returning senior quarterbacks. Those two, on my charts, are the Hogs' Casey Dick and the Tide's John Parker Wilson.

Vanderbilt has a senior quarterback, but he wasn't listed as the firm starter after spring ball. He was no better than an alternate with a junior.

I must admit that some of my criteria is flawed this year because the best two quarterbacks coming back in the SEC are juniors. Florida's Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner, and Georgia's Matthew Stafford are so good that they may not make it to their senior season. Both are as highly seasoned as they are talented and also surrounded by lots of talent.

But for my purposes, we'll center on the seniors, per my summer rule. Having a senior quarterback in the SEC might be the most important aspect in rating a team's chances. I've known that for a long time and it is something that old-timers in my business have often reminded.

"Experience at quarterback in the SEC is far and away the biggest key to rating a team's chances," said Inside the Auburn Tiger's Mark Murphy a few years back.

I believe he was telling me that as Arkansas headed into Matt Jones' senior season. Murphy thought Arkansas would be a contender in the SEC West that season despite some voids in talent/experience in other areas.

So how much can Casey Dick be worth to Arkansas this season? And, how good is he anyway?

First, I think Casey would have won the quarterback job even if Ryan Mallett had both been ruled eligible and stayed healthy this past spring. I said that having watched Mallett's first few practices.

Mallett's talent is huge. Don't mistake that. I think he will play at the next level, but he needs time to learn under Bobby Petrino. He needs time to develop as a quarterback who can make decisions at the line of scrimmage, not just depend on what may be the best arm ever at Arkansas. He'll be a great one, if he stays healthy and on the field.

I just like the idea that Arkansas is going to have a huge amount of experience on the field. Game experience is as important as talent. I throw that in to make sure you understand that talent at quarterback is important, too. How you are coached -- technique, reads, checks -- is just as important.

But remember this, Casey Dick has talent, too. He has more talent than most Arkansas fans have come to think. If he has the kind of senior year that I expect, you may even hear his name called in the NFL draft -- perhaps not early, but called, nonetheless.

The key for Dick is the system he's given and the way he'll be used by Petrino. If there's anything we see in Petrino's background, he can develop quarterbacks. He made huge strides with Casey this winter and spring in revamping his technique and the way he runs a football team.

In listening to Paul Petrino after the Red-White game, it was clear the staff expects good things from Casey this year. Casey knows the offense and will know it better by the time August rolls around.

In talking to some receivers during and after spring practice over the last few weeks, it's easy to see they have confidence in Casey Dick. They believe he has the weapons to do the most important thing in a quarterback's duties, get the team in the right protections and plays.

One of the wideouts told me just this week that in studying Louisville's seasons under Petrino the thing that stands out is that the offensive system clicked from the first day of the season every season. He said Louisville was able to hit opponents with so much offense so early in the game that the opponent was staggered beyond belief.

The same player said he was confident that Casey Dick was going to be able to run the offense just in that manner. He said receivers became relaxed with Dick as the spring progressed and saw their quarterback become fast and comfortable with his reads and the execution of the progressions in the offense.

And, he's just getting started. Casey and the wideouts will become better and faster at all of that in a highly organized summer that features the complete playbook.

That playbook isn't so much bigger than the ones they've had at Arkansas in the past. It's just that it's going to be used and combined with better protections, better routes and better timing. The way the receivers will be used combined with the power running game that is just a much a focal point in Petrino's scheme will prevent defenses from controlling calls with double teams.

Another receiver displayed the ultimate confidence in that system and playcaller (the head coach) when he offered to an interviewer the only two ways the Hogs will be stopped next year. He said either defenses will have to pressure the quarterback without blitzing or the Hogs will have to shoot themselves in the foot. He didn't think either one would happen much.

That's why you love it when you have a senior quarterback taking the snaps. You love it even more when he's getting great coaching.

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