That’s why quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke wasn’t surprised Johnson was back on the field last week despite undergoing hernia surgery on June 9.
“He’s trying to get back as quickly as he can without setting himself back at all,” Wittke said. “In the situation that we have, with it as competitive as it is, I think all those kids would agree that they understand the importance of everything.
“They don’t want to fall behind.”
Johnson, who isn’t “full-go” according to Wittke, proved that after being cleared by team doctors on June 17.
He threw passes during Arkansas’ voluntary workout last Monday, 11 days after undergoing surgery. In fact, Wittke said Johnson participated in workouts all week. He’s doing as much as his body can tolerate and won’t lift weights for some time, but Arkansas is glad Johnson is making a quick recovery.
“He’s still a ways away from being able to do everything, but (trainer) Dean (Weber) and his staff assured us that everything went extremely well with the surgery and he shouldn’t have any problems with the recovery. In a situation like that, it was going to be how quickly and how well could he handle the discomfort and the pain. It just was going to slow him down. He’s trying to do everything he can.”
The summer is important for Johnson, who is Arkansas’ only experienced quarterback after completing 10 of 19 passes for 209 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in 2004. He is listed as the first-team quarterback heading into the fall, but didn’t step ahead of the pack during 15 spring practices.
At first glance, Johnson’s summer surgery could have damaged his hopes of earning the starting job. But Arkansas coach Houston Nutt never believed Johnson would be sidelined long.
“I really think that was kind of overblown,” Nutt said. “That surgery, I’m very familiar with it. It’s major. But it’s not major as far as being worried about him physically coming back from something like that. (Former Hog linebacker) Tony Bua’s had it. I’ve had quite a few players that have had that. So I wasn’t worried.”
Neither was Wittke. But he said Mortensen and Barthel have eagerly gobbled up as much work as possible while Johnson works his way back.
“There wasn’t anybody hoping for a rusty knife or anything like that,” Wittke joked.
“They’re not excited about it from the standpoint of being happy that someone is down. But I know none of them are complaining that they’re getting more reps.”
Wittke doesn’t think that will last long, though, because he expects Johnson to return to full speed in workouts by July 5.
Until then, Wittke is more concerned with Johnson’s ability to stay in contact with teammates and lead workout sessions. If nothing else, Johnson’s return last week gave the Hogs a good look at his determination to lead the offense in 2005.
“That’s the type of example you want set by a guy playing that position,” Wittke said. “He’s done a good job of maintaining that daily contact with his workout group and with the rest of the guys. There never was any fear that (the injury) would linger on.
“Hopefully, by the time he gets back for the second summer session after the Fourth of July, he’ll be pretty close to going full-go.”
Gilbow Out, Garner In
Nutt said he hates giving up on players, but had no choice in cutting ties with reserve tackle Matt Gilbow. The sophomore was dismissed from the team Tuesday.
“It’s not one thing or two things,” Nutt said about his decision. “It’s been over a three-year period. He has not been consistent in the classroom and on the field in workouts. It’s just got to be important to you. It’s not fair to other players.
“It comes to a point when everybody else is committed and working out and you have to be as committed as well.”
Without Gilbow, sophomore Nate Garner has inherited the job as the top reserve at both tackles. Nutt, who believes Garner is having his “best summer,” said the Hogs can turn to versatile first-team right guard Robert Felton if necessary.
They’ll also keep a close eye on incoming freshmen when preseason practices begin. Newcomers Jose Valdez (6-6, 305) and Michael Aguirre (6-6, 305) will get early opportunities to perform because of Gilbow’s dismissal.
“One of those freshmen will have to come in and push and we’ll try to get him ready,” Nutt said. “Hopefully he won’t have to play, but we’ve done it before with (former Hog) Nathan Ball and (senior right tackle) Zac Tubbs and (former right tackle) Shawn Andrews.
“You have to give them a crash course, but (offensive line coach) Mike (Markuson) has experience doing that.”
Arkansas got a sampling of its 2005 freshman class last week during the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star football game in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. In all, seven 2005 signees were on the East and West rosters.
Pulaski Oak Grove tailback Darren McFadden, Wynne defensive lineman Cord Gray, Little Rock Mills safety Elston Forte, North Little Rock cornerback Jamar Love and Sylvan Hills linebacker Kevin Hubbard played for the East team. Russellville offensive lineman Joey Crossland and Texarkana tailback Brandon Barnett played for the West.
In addition, running back signee Felix Jones participated in the Oil Bowl last week, a high school all-star game between Oklahoma and Texas. The Booker T. Washington (Okla.) High School star rushed for 21 yards and scored a touchdown in Oklahoma’s 38-7 win.
Former Arkansas defensive end Jeb Huckeba signed a multiyear contract with the Seattle Seahawks last week.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Tacoma News Tribune reported that it was thought to be for three years and more than $1 million.
Huckeba, who was selected in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft, became Seattle’s first 2005 draft pick to sign this summer. He started 11 games at Arkansas in 2004 and led the Razorbacks in sacks (6 1/2) and tackles for losses (13).