State of the Hogs: QBs

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Bobby Petrino knows best when it comes to quarterbacks. Check his resume. Check the quarterbacks who have done well under his watch. It's amazing.

Still yet to complete his first year with his new quarterbacks at Arkansas, we are starting to see why they've done so well. No stone is left unturned as he develops quarterback play.

You'd have to be at every practice – or at least every media opportunity, either at practice or when there's a chance to pick Petrino's mind – to begin to understand how it all takes place. I'm starting to get it.

Another piece to the puzzle became clear over the last two weeks. He is not afraid to stir the pot when it comes to competition at quarterback – or any other positon on the team.

Just as he benched placekicker Alex Tejada, in my eyes perhaps the most "safe" player on this team coming into the season, Petrino at least gave the impression that he was prepared to bench senior captain Casey Dick as the Hogs head to Mississippi State for an SEC date with bowl hopes hanging in the balance.

It's not clear yet who will start at QB for the Hogs against State, either Casey or his younger brother Nathan Dick. Nathan got all the snaps with the first team last week during the bye week with Casey in the training room with a concussion sustained at South Carolina.

Casey returned Sunday night with his stinger back, according to teammates. It was obvious that he wasn't ready for his younger brother to take his spot. Casey and Nathan competed with passion this week. Petrino said they worked hard on and off the field, coming in at night and during the day for extra sessions on the video of State's defense with their coaches.

It's hard to measure exactly what Petrino will do at Starkville. Who will start? Who will finish? Who does he expect to get the bulk of the snaps in what may be the key game this season.

The Hogs are at four wins. They need to win this week and again next Friday when LSU visits Little Rock in order to get to the magic number of six victories to become bowl eligible.

It's a big deal for the Hogs in their development, especially at quarterback. It could mean an extra spring practice for all the quarterbacks, particularly redshirt sophomore Ryan Mallett.

And, it appears Tyler Wilson would be in the mix for bowl practice, too. The true freshman, bouncing back from mono, was at practice in a limited role this week. He can't take any hits because of the worries over an enlarged spleen, but you can see that he's anxious to get back out to pass skeleton drills to compete with Mallett and Nathan Dick.

The way quarterbacks practice under Petrino is highly interesting. There are times that he's in meetings with the QBs. Other times it's QB coach Garrick McGee handling all things related to QBs. Sometimes offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is in charge. I noticed Paul Petrino looking anxious to pull Nathan Dick away from reporters after practice one day this week to take him into the meeting room. It was a "finish that up" look that he gave all of us, hoping Nathan would notice and hurry to join him.

The attention to detail with the quarterbacks is huge. Nothing is an accident. Everything is planned. Everything is related.

After questions on Internet message boards and to me on talk radio, I asked Bobby Petrino if he had a disdain for quarterback sneaks. None have been called in short yardage situations this year and fans have noticed. His answer was another indication that everything has its place in his system, or at least a rating.

"I'm not big on sneaks," he said. "You don't ever say never. Never is a long time. I learned that from a head coach I worked for once. I've been jinxed by quarterback sneaks. I just haven't had much luck with sneaks. I had a quarterback break his ankle. I'm not saying we won't use them, but I don't like them."

There is little doubt Petrino can work magic with quarterbacks. Casey Dick has done better than some anticipated in running Petrino's complicated system, but perhaps not as well as the head coach expects. Petrino was very critical of Casey after the Carolina game both in his post-game press conference and on his Sunday TV show.

That has led many to speculate that Nathan Dick will be the quarterback this week at Mississippi State. I fall into that group thinking Petrino is about to make a change. That's not to say he won't play Casey every snap. Perhaps no one but Bobby Petrino (and brother Paul) know what's in store this weekend.

It could be that the head coach has known who would start at quarterback at Starkville for the last two weeks. Perhaps he's always planned to make a change. Or, maybe all the smoke signals that I read were just to light a fire under Casey's tail. If that was the plan, it worked.

I'm guessing that was just a side benefit. I think the Hogs will see what Nathan Dick can do this week. But if he falters, don't be surprised if Casey returns to the huddle in quick fashion. Too much is on the line.

That sounds a little crazy when you talk about two teams struggling to see who finishes last in the SEC West. It's just that getting to a bowl is so important for this Arkansas team.

It's another chance for Bobby Petrino to spend time with his quarterbacks. As he's said since the day he took the job, it's probably not so much about how a final record as it is the process. The biggest part of the process lies in the development at quarterback. There's no question that the process was in high gear the past two weeks.



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