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Arkansas QB Jones may turn into a WR

Posted: Monday August 18, 2003 4:35PM; Updated: Monday August 18, 2003 5:16PM
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Matt Jones, the Arkansas quarterback known for his running ability, may have to play receiver this season to save his shoulder.

Ryan Sorahan, the Arkansas quarterback known for transferring four times and keeping the Razorbacks from a second embarrassing loss to UNLV, is eager to throw him the ball.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says the Razorbacks will need both, but no one knows for sure how this two-quarter system will work.

"There are a lot of factors that can play into what's going to happen and I'm just playing it by ear," said Jones, who has a loose joint in his throwing shoulder that gets worse the more he throws in practice. "I think we're both open to everything that's going on right now."

On the field, Jones did nothing to lose his starting job in 2002.

He set the school rushing mark by a quarterback for the second straight year with 614 yards. He completed 52.1 percent (122 of 234) of his passes. He threw twice as many touchdowns (16) as interceptions (8).

He threw a 31-yard touchdown to DeCori Birmingham with 9 seconds remaining to cap a 21-20 victory over LSU, giving the Razorbacks a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title and a berth in the league championship game.

Because of those positive things, Nutt said it's impossible to push Jones aside.

"When he's fresh, this guy can throw the ball and he makes plays," Nutt said. "That's why you can't say he is a full-time receiver. ... Let's just don't throw Matt out yet. Let's don't take him away from the huddle just yet."

Jones, who led Arkansas to a 9-5 record, has experience sharing duties. He started 13 of 14 games at quarterback last year, but he spent his freshman season splitting time with Zak Clark in 2001.

Jones may have been an efficient passer in his first year as a starter, but he wasn't prolific by Arkansas standards and he certainly wasn't by SEC standards.

The sore shoulder limited his effectiveness toward the end of the season after throwing too many passes in practice.

That's where Sorahan hopes he can make a difference. The 6-4, 240-pound quarterback hit the weight room hard this summer and he has a strong arm. He's lost the sidearm hitch in his throwing motion that he brought with him from Foothill Community College, where he threw for 2,584 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2000.

In practice this week, he's looked sharp and confident.

"I'm just trying to concentrate on getting better every day in practice so that when I do go in I perform well," said Sorahan, who has completed 29 of 73 passes for 388 yards with six interceptions and one touchdown in two seasons. "The coaches haven't really told us how the playing time will go down exactly. I don't have a clue. I'm just trying my best not to worry about it."

Jones' pass to Birmingham put Arkansas in the SEC championship game, but it masked the Razorbacks' offensive inefficiencies at the end of the season.

In the final three games, Arkansas scored just once in the first half. The Razorbacks trailed LSU, 10-0, Georgia, 23-0, and Minnesota, 12-7, at halftime. Arkansas scored on the first possession of its Music City Bowl loss to Minnesota.

The Razorbacks led the SEC in rushing, but they were last in passing for the second straight season with just 134.6 yards per game.

Teams stacked the line of scrimmage as the season progressed. Arkansas continued to have success running the ball, but special teams and a defense that forced a conference-high 36 turnovers helped give the Razorbacks a short field on many occasions.

Arkansas gained 492 yards and scored five offensive touchdowns in a 38-17 victory at Auburn on Oct. 12. The Razorbacks offense scored four times against Ole Miss on Oct. 26, but two of those were set up by special teams and the defense.

After that, the offense failed to score more than three touchdowns in each of its final seven games. The passing average dipped to 116 per game and that was helped out by 208 yards in the last game against Minnesota.

For Sorahan, who started two games in 2001 after leading the comeback against UNLV before suffering a back injury, it was tough sitting on the bench behind Jones and Tarvaris Jackson last year. Jackson transferred to Alabama State before the Music City Bowl.

"It was frustrating. I wanted to help contribute to the team," Sorahan said. "It's hard to sit and watch when you want to be out there helping. It's hard, but that's the way it goes and I don't have any carryover with my feelings from last year. I'm starting over and I have a positive attitude about everything."

The coaching staff noticed Sorahan's attitude in the spring and his teammates saw this summer when he showed up everyday to throw passes and hit the weightroom.

New quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke likes having two players with varying skills to use. Jones has the experience and the ability to confound defenses with his running ability. Sorahan has the arm that can throw the deep routes.

How he uses them on Sept. 6 when Arkansas opens the season at home with Tulsa remains a mystery.

"We don't know whether Matt comes off the bench as a sixth-man type, a guy that can make something happen, and we allow Ryan to get in a rhythm," Wittke said. "Or (maybe) we want Matt to start the game, ignite some things and get things jump-started and allow Ryan to come in and spread the field and throw the ball around a lot."

Both players have common goals of making improvements over the way Arkansas finished its season in 2002. Both say they are willing to concede playing time to one another to make sure that happens.

Jones said he went into last year wanting to make a one-victory improvement. The Razorbacks won two more than they did in his freshman season and they advanced to the SEC championship game.

Jones has the same goal this time with one change -- win the bowl game.

"If we can get one game better, get to the SEC championship game, go to a bowl and win it, then that's a Top 10 team in the nation," Jones said.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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