Razorbacks look familiar as spring practice rolls on

Updated: April 19, 2006, 8:00 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- When a team returns all but three starters from the previous season, spring depth charts can be pretty predictable.

Arkansas released its first update after spring practice with no big surprises Wednesday. Casey Dick is still the No. 1 quarterback, and the rest of the lineup should look pretty familiar to Razorbacks fans.

Arkansas returns 10 starters on offense and nine on defense from last year's team, which went 4-7 for the Razorbacks' second straight losing season. Most of the depth chart is elementary: Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are the top two tailbacks, and Peyton Hillis is the No. 1 fullback.

Dick replaced Robert Johnson at quarterback for the final four games of 2005, going 2-2 as the starter. But Johnson had the more impressive stats in the Razorbacks' scrimmages the last three weekends. Spring practice ended Saturday with the Red-White game.

Coach Houston Nutt praised his top two quarterbacks.

"We are going to leave Casey Dick right there where we ended the season last year," Nutt said. "Robert Johnson, I thought really made tremendous strides. Robert is going to have another hernia surgery here in a few days on the other side. He has had some tough luck. But he is improved the most."

Nutt said some of Dick's struggles were the result of trying to learn a new system. The Razorbacks hired former Springdale High School coach Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator in December.

"Casey Dick, he would probably tell you he is disappointed in his spring, but he was thinking a lot," Nutt said. "He was dealing with a new system and some new things were thrown at him. He was feeling his way. ... I think he got better as he went along."

Nutt also complimented Alex Mortensen, the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. Prized recruit Mitch Mustain is also expected to compete for the starting job.

There were some changes from the previous depth chart, released about a month ago before the start of spring practice. At that point, Randy Kelly was the top free safety and junior college transfer John West was No. 1 at strong safety. Now Michael Grant -- a backup cornerback on the previous chart -- is the No. 1 free safety, and Kelly is the top strong safety.

Arkansas is trying to replace Vickiel Vaughn, who started at both safety spots as a senior last season.

"We made the move of Michael Grant to safety. I think that is going to help us," Nutt said. "Randy Kelly has the most experience back there at the other safety. He improved. Again that is the thing that you feel good about is that you have some guys that answered the bell for you."

Zac Tubbs remained the top right tackle -- he entered the spring at that spot after missing much of the last two seasons with injuries. Hillis is again the No. 1 punt returner after being passed by Jones pre-spring. Jones had only one punt return last season, and Hillis led the Razorbacks with 16 for 165 yards.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press