Arkansas names QB Johnson starter, ends controversy
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Robert Johnson is getting another chance to start at quarterback for Arkansas.
Joe Schad's Blog Robert Johnson was too good in practice, throughout the spring and into the first few weeks of the fall, not to be named starter. And I will say that in my post-practice conversation with Johnson, I was impressed.
He convinced me he is different than last season. Johnson noted that he doesn't have the hype of Mitch Mustain or the reps in Gus Malzahn's offense but that he's "been through the fire" and emerged as a better player not only physically but also mentally.
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Johnson, benched midway through last season when the Razorbacks needed a spark, was named the starter for 2006 on Wednesday night. Coach Houston Nutt's announcement ended -- for now -- a three-way competition between Johnson, Casey Dick and prized freshman Mitch Mustain.
"We have named Robert Johnson the starting quarterback," Nutt said. "Robert has improved greatly and we want everybody to get behind him. Our team is excited."
Johnson started the first seven games of 2005 as a sophomore, but Arkansas started 2-5. Dick, a freshman, had his redshirt removed for the last four games. The Razorbacks finished 4-7, their second straight losing season.
Dick threw for 584 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions in 2005, and Johnson threw for 876 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Johnson's prospects for this season appeared dim at first. Dick had shown potential, and Mustain, the heralded in-state recruit from Springdale High School, was on his way.
But Johnson played well during spring practice, and his improvement continued in the fall. Also, Arkansas overhauled its offense in the offseason, bringing in Gus Malzahn -- Mustain's coach at Springdale -- to become offensive coordinator and hiring Alex Wood as quarterbacks coach.
"It gave each one of us a fresh start, come in and learn a new offense," Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Dick has been bothered by a back injury that has caused him to miss some practice time.
"Right now, we are working with two quarterbacks," Nutt said. "I feel for Casey Dick. He has been through a lot and he's very frustrated. This is not what we planned."
Nutt said Dick wouldn't be ready for Arkansas' opener Sept. 2 against Southern California, and the team needs to move forward with a clear No. 1 quarterback. He hopes Johnson will be helped by having more experience than at this time last year.
"Robert Johnson is a little older and I think he is much better now then he was a year ago," Nutt said. "We are going to keep him going and hopefully our team will keep improving."
Mustain, who threw for 3,817 yards and 47 touchdowns at Springdale last year, had talked about trying to win the starting job, but he insisted all along he shouldn't be considered a savior.
Mustain didn't appear bothered by Wednesday's decision.
"That's something to be expected," he said. "I've still got a lot to learn."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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