Wilson Fighting for Backup Job

Editor's Note: This is the 10th in a series of stories on Arkansas' individual positions.

FAYETTEVILLE — After nearly three weeks of practice, Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee has no doubt freshman Tyler Wilson is going to be a "great player."

The problem is, McGee said Arkansas would like the former Greenwood star to reach that level a little sooner than later.

Casey Dick will be Arkansas' starter entering the 2008 season and the Razorbacks would love nothing more than for the senior to hog the snaps. But preparing a capable backup remains just as important, which is why coaches have been keeping a close eye on Wilson.

Wilson, who led Greenwood to two of its three consecutive state championships, is part of a two-player race for the second-team job with Nathan Dick.

Dick entered preseason camp as the second-team quarterback, but Wilson has fought him for the position the past two weeks.

"I like the kid because he's intense, he's really serious, he wants to get better," McGee said. "He always looking for what can I do coach? How can I get better? Give me more drills.

"It's going to end up working out for him. He's going to be a great player for us. We just need it to happen at a fast rate."

The Razorbacks have high hopes for Wilson, who threw for more than 8,000 yards and 93 touchdown passes in his high school career.

He signed with Arkansas in February after originally committing to Tulsa. Wilson also had a chance to play professional baseball. But he decided he wanted to come play in Arkansas' complex offense.

"A lot of the guys he's coached, it's really helped them progress to the next level," Wilson said. "You're learning at the highest level right now. We're learning a professional offense. It's tough at times, but I understand it's going to help me out in the long run."

Wilson's struggles have been adjusting to some of the basics.

He ran a spread attack at Greenwood that didn't require him to line up under center. It also used a silent count. So standing under center, calling out signals and taking a snap have been quite a change.

"He's not used to communicating at the line of scrimmage," McGee said. "It's getting to a point where he's starting to feel comfortable with it. But we need him to move at a faster pace than that.

"We've got a game in a few days and if he's actually going to run out there and play, there's going to be a lot of people in that stadium that are screaming. You can't be silent. You have to bark it out. You have to really scream it out. That's what he's struggling with right now."

The Razorbacks can't hide the potential, though. McGee, coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino have each been impressed by Wilson's instincts.

Paul Petrino said Wilson has good vision and a feel for the game, which has shown up in scrimmage work.

McGee said he knows how to avoid pass rushers, throw in passing lanes and put touch on the ball. He said Wilson has those skills "naturally," which have helped as he adjusts to playing under center.

"I think that being in a spread offense, knowing the passing game, understanding route concepts and how people are going to break open in certain places, definitely has helped me become more comfortable and having instincts in the passing game," Wilson said.

He's hoping it will help him reach the expectations the Razorbacks have for him this season. And become Arkansas' No. 2 quarterback.

"I came up here with the attitude that I'm going to work hard and what happens happens," Wilson said. "It just happens that I'm in this situation that I'm in right now and I'm very happy to be here and I'm going to continue to work hard and see how things pan out."

Breaking Them Down

Quarterbacks at a Glance

Sure Thing: Senior Casey Dick will be Arkansas' starting quarterback and should set career highs. It's a given, considering Dick is being handed the keys to the Razorbacks' offense a year after his primary role was to hand the ball to Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. He has thrown the ball 40 times in scrimmages. The numbers may not be identical on game day, but they won't be far off.

Big Question: Is Dick going to succeed in the expanded role? The Razorbacks are tapering the offense to his strengths and so far he has shown in practice he is ready to handle the responsibilities. How well he handles them beginning with the opener against Western Illinois will determine how much success the Razorbacks have this season.

Top Newcomer: Tyler Wilson is one of two freshmen the Razorbacks signed in February and he has a chance to get on the field right away. He is battling redshirt freshman Nathan Dick for the starting job and has impressed coaches with his instincts. But he'll need to prove he can run the offense under center first.

Quotable: "We evaluate every rep, every practice. We want to see the growth, the development, see who is learning. We always evaluate how they are in the meetings, how they act, how they present themselves because quarterback is the face of the program. And if something were to happen to (the starter) as of right now, that person would be the face of the program."

— Quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee on what criteria the Razorbacks will evaluate in choosing a backup quarterback.

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