WITH A BREAKAWAYthreat such as Darren McFadden (page¬†70) in his backfield, Casey Dickmight seem to have the simplest responsibilities of any quarterback in thecountry: Hand the ball to McFadden, pitch the ball to McFadden or get out ofthe way so the snap can go directly to McFadden. "There's no question thathaving someone like Darren makes my job a lot easier," says Dick.
But Dick's role ismore complicated, and definitely more important, than it sounds. The Razorbacksneed enough of a passing game to keep defenses from stacking the line againstMcFadden, which means that a solid, consistent performance from Dick, a juniorin his first season as the full-time starter, is essential.
Last year Dick waspart of a muddled quarterback situation. Junior Robert Johnson started theopener but was moved to wide receiver the next week. Prized freshman MitchMustain was given a shot and showed flashes of brilliance, but even afterArkansas had gone undefeated in Mustain's six starts, coach Houston Nuttreplaced him with the more experienced Dick. He had his moments whilecompleting 49.2% of his passes for 991 yards with nine touchdowns and sixinterceptions, but quarterback play was far down the list of reasons that theRazorbacks won the SEC West.
After anoff-season marked by turmoil--Mustain transferred to USC and offensivecoordinator Gus Malzahn, who had unconvincingly denied rumors of a powerstruggle with Nutt over control of the play-calling, left to be aco-coordinator at Tulsa--Dick emerged as Arkansas's best, and essentially only,option at quarterback. If he struggles or suffers a flare-up of the backtroubles that plagued him earlier in his career, the Razorbacks will have onlyinexperienced backups to turn to. But Dick doesn't expect either of thosethings to happen. "I'm completely healthy, so I've been able to put all myenergy into preparing for the season," he says. "I know what's expectedof me, and I'm ready to contribute."
It's up to theline to make sure he stays healthy. There are three new starters up front, butwith new offensive coordinator David Lee installing more of a pro-style attack,the Razorbacks should significantly improve a passing game that was 108th inthe country in each of the past two seasons.
"We're goingto be able to throw the football," says Nutt. "The pieces are all inplace, and Casey knows he's the starter from Day One, which is important. Theother thing is, he knows he doesn't have to be a hero. The strength of ourrunning game is going to open some things up for him, and he just needs to beready to take advantage of that." Sounds easy, but don't underestimate thejob. Or the fellow performing it.
COACH: Houston Nutt
2006 RECORD: 10-4 (7-1¬†in¬†SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 15
RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 6, Defense 6
RB Felix Jones (Jr.)
Hogs' "other" back ran for 1,168 yards in'06
DE Antwain Robinson (Jr.)
Had 8 1‚ÅÑ2 sacks and 14 1‚ÅÑ2 tackles for loss
C Jonathan Luigs (Jr.)
Anchor of a line that must replace three starters
Sept. 1 TROY
15 at Alabama
29 NORTH TEXAS
Oct. 6 TENN.-CHATTANOOGA*
20 at Mississippi
27 FLA. INTERNATIONAL
Nov. 3 SOUTH CAROLINA
10 at Tennessee
17 MISSISSIPPI STATE*
23 at LSU
*In Little Rock
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If Dick struggles, the Razorbacks have onlyinexperienced backups to turn to.
Nelson Chenault/US PRESSWIRE
ON THE SPOT
Dick must improve his 49.2% completion rate.
Dilip Vishwanat/Sporting News/Icon SMI