CLARK is No. 1 at quarterback, with lots in reserve

Saturday, August 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ It's a shame the guy on the radio talk show didn't know a little more about junior college transfer quarterback Ryan Sorahan.

After all, he had decided that none of the linebackers in the Southeastern Conference would want to take on Tarvaris Jackson and that none of them could catch Matt Jones. Imagine the praise for Sorahan, whose year of experience gives him the mental edge over Jackson and Jones.

While the merits of Jackson, Jones and Sorahan are being debated and scrutinized, Zak Clark is Arkansas' No. 1 quarterback.

During the next week, head coach Houston Nutt and quarterback coach David Lee will decide which newcomers will continue at quarterback. The odd man out could be redshirted.

For now, Robby Hampton, who started 10 games last year, is out of the picture because of surgery on his right shoulder. He's trying to cram 12 months of rehabilitation into six months.

``My target time is when this lets me go out and throw and won't hurt,'' Hampton said.

Because of Hampton's surgery, Clark took virtually all of the snaps during spring practice.

Lee says Clark _ son of an assistant Razorback baseball coach _ is accurate and very smart.

``I don't think you'll be able to trick him, even though he's inexperienced,'' Lee said.

Clark played in six games last year as a true freshman, completing 26-of-68 with six interceptions.

Nutt said he was particularly impressed when he turned to Clark after Hampton was injured at South Carolina. ``He didn't flinch,'' Nutt said. ``To me, that's a great quality in a player who's opportunity came quickly. He's a coach's son, he handled it in front of 80,000 people, and he took our team down the field.''

Nutt says Arkansas fans haven't seen a healthy Clark since his first two series against the Gamecocks.

``It's really unfair to judge him after that because he was on one leg,'' Nutt said. ``It's not fair for a true freshman or a first-year guy to be thrown to the wolves, especially on one leg.''

Lee says the decision about Nos. 2 and 3 will involve much more than attempts and completions.

``Who knows what to do, how he handles himself, how is he in the huddle with the rest of his teammates,'' Lee said. ``How does he do seven-on-seven, does he know who to read, can he tie in the exact footwork so that he's not throwing late.''

Performance during the few scrimmages will be critical.

``We want to see them with live bullets coming at them,'' Lee said. He said the defense will play straight at times, but that he will ask defensive coordinator John Thompson ``to bring the heat and see how they do.''

For 27 years, Lee has been telling his players the same thing: ``The guy who is the quarterback has to get the ball in the end zone without turning it over.''

Lee recently spent 90 minutes preparing a written test, the fifth for the quarterbacks. He might take the playbook, white out a formation and ask the quarterback to fill in the blank or prepare a half-dozen questions about a single pass.

``I know where Zak falls in this thing,'' he said. ``I know we have a starter.''

Much is expected of running back Cedric Cobbs, who had an excellent spring after suffering a shoulder separation in the third game of 2000. Cobbs set a school record for a freshman with 668 yards rushing. Fred Talley replaced Cobbs and made 768 yards before a season-ending knee injury. Talley has rushed his rehabilitation and might be limited early in the season. After Talley was hurt, Brandon Holmes made 91 yards against Mississippi State and carried 42 times for 143 yards against LSU.

If Arkansas uses two runners in the backfield, they are likely to be Cobbs and Holmes. Former defensive lineman Sacha Lancaster is the best blocking fullback.

Receivers coach Sam Pugh believes in Sam Breeden and Sparky Hamilton even though neither has lived up to expectations. George Wilson has excellent hands and speedy Steven Harris could be a surprise.

Center Josh Melton, right guard Kenny Sandlin and left guard La'Zerius White have combined to start 68 straight games and left tackle Shannon Money has started 22 games during the past two years.