By Cory Mccartney
May 19, 2008

Casey Dick has persevered. The Arkansas quarterback stayed the course when he was relegated to backup behind a blue-chip freshman. He kept his cool while standing on the sideline while Darren McFadden and Felix Jones showed off their first-round talent in the "WildHog" formation. He's pressed on despite earning a less-than-endearing following that has wrought message-board gems like "This Casey Dick guy? Not a good quarterback," or "Dick is the worst QB that I have ever seen."

So you'll have to forgive the Razorbacks senior if he's more than a little antsy to show what he can do in new coach Bobby Petrino's power spread offense this fall.

"I'm real anxious to go out there and throw the ball, spread the ball around a little more and let people make plays," Dick said. "It will be exciting."

Dick proved a quick study this spring, blossoming under Petrino's tutelage. He finished with a 404-yard, two-touchdown performance in leading the first-team to a 45-15 win in the spring game. But here's what has Dick so eagerly awaiting the season opener against Western Illinois (and why he may have the last laugh on his detractors this season): He says he could have thrown for even more yards.

"It was kind of hard to put a grasp on [throwing for 404 yards] at first and then you go back and you watch the film and you can [see that] you still make several mistakes and if you go back and correct those mistakes those numbers will be even bigger," Dick said.

It's not exactly the kind of talk you'd expect to hear form a guy who was ninth in the SEC last year with 130.4 passing yards per game and has never thrown for more than 228 yards in a game in his career. But noted quarterbacks guru Petrino and QB coach Garrick McGee have built up Dick's confidence by helping him to understand and anticipate defenses and developing much-needed consistency in his mechanics.

"He was getting real spread out [with his feet], over-striding and doing things different all the time," Petrino said. "You kind of correlate throwing a football to someone's golf swing -- if you do it the same way every time then you're a lot better at it. If you do something different all the time, you're not real good at it."

Dick's level of comfort will be key, because if Petrino is to work the same magic as he did at Louisville -- where the Cardinals improved from 97th in total offense to fifth in his first season -- it will be squarely on Dick's shoulders. When the two met for the first time after Petrino arrived on campus as Houston Nutt's successor, the coach made sure his new QB understood what was expected of him.

"The first meeting was, 'I don't know a lot about you except watching you in the Cotton Bowl,' and we both wanted to kind of forget about that game [a 38-7 loss to Missouri]," Petrino said. "But we tried to let him know and understand that the quarterback is a big part of the offense and his job is to run it and our job is to find out what he can do and execute and try not to put him in situations where he can't be successful. He had to learn to take control of everything, which was a different role than he played previously."

After two seasons as an afterthought, Dick is ready to become the centerpiece of the offense, though nothing was given to him.

When Rich Rodriguez took his spread-option offense from West Virginia to Michigan in succeeding Lloyd Carr, it didn't sit well with Ryan Mallett. The freshman quarterback grew up an Arkansas fan and attended football camps there, so with a change in offensive philosophies in Ann Arbor, he left to join the Razorbacks. In an act that basically served as a sign (whether intentional or not) of the program's lack of confidence in Dick, Arkansas filed a petition asking the NCAA to waive a requirement that would force Mallett to sit out a year on the basis that he had no choice but to leave Michigan because his drop-back style of play didn't fit into Rodriguez's offense. The request was ultimately denied, but the situation did serve as motivation for Dick.

"You can't change the way you go about doing things just because somebody else is there," he said. "You just gotta pick yourself up a little more and have a little more and go out there and play the way you know you can play."

It's a mantra that has helped Dick carry on throughout a career that hasn't always gone according to plan.

He was supposed to redshirt his freshman year in 2005, but then-starter Robert Johnson struggled mightily and Dick was forced into action with four games remaining. That spring he suffered a setback when he injured his back and Johnson started the '06 opener before freshman Mitch Mustain took over the next week. Dick bided his time and started the last five games after Mustain, who has since transferred to USC, was benched.

Last season the No. 1 QB spot was Dick's alone, but Nutt wanted the ball in McFadden's hands as much as possible. Arkansas regularly employed the "WildHog," sending Dick to the sidelines.

"When you had the types of guys that we had back -- Darren, Felix and Peyton [Hillis] -- and you see how many yards and how many big plays they give us, it's kind of exciting in one sense," Dick said. "But in the other sense you're mad because you're not on the field. But it probably won us a couple of games and we got some big plays out of it"

Those big plays came at the expense of the passing game, which was 112th in the nation last season (largely due to the absence of Marcus Monk, who played in just six games last season after undergoing knee surgery). The aerial attack was such a non-entity that the top two receivers on Petrino's first depth chart, junior London Crawford and sophomore Carlton Salters, had a combined 12 receptions last season.

But for all the knocks against the Razorbacks' passing game, Dick wasn't nearly as bad as the message boards would lead you to believe. He threw for 1,695 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a junior and his percentage of touchdown-passes-per-attempt (18 TDs on 262 passes for 6.87 percent) was third in the SEC last season behind Florida's Tim Tebow (9.14) and Kentucky's Andre Woodson (7.72). His 57.3 completion percentage is second to Tebow (66.9) among the conference's returning starters.

It looked like there would be growing pains when Petrino brought his wide-open attack to Arkansas after abruptly leaving the Atlanta Falcons, forcing the Razorbacks to adapt to their fourth offense in as many years. (Dick says Petrino's playbook is the thickest yet.) There very well could be, especially with a schedule that includes a four-game stretch of Texas, Alabama, Florida and Auburn. But with Dick thriving in the system this spring, those fears have at least abated for the time being.

"I don't think anybody's really complaining about [the offense]," Dick said. "Everybody's really excited and looking forward to it, getting more touches and spreading the ball around more and just keeping the defenses from being able to key on one thing."

A record crowd of 40,200 filled Donald R. Reynolds Razorback Stadium to see the Petrino Era begin in the spring game. What they saw early looked awfully familiar, as junior Michael Smith tore off a 21-yard touchdown run on the game's first possession. Then things took a drastically different course from the team that ran 70 percent of the time in 2007, as Dick threw the ball 49 times in carving up the second-team defense. Dick hit Crawford for a 4-yard touchdown and tight end D.J. Williams on an 11-yard scoring strike.

But that was against second-stringers. Can the oft-criticized Dick really deliver the same gaudy stats when he's asked to be more playmaker than caddy? So far, Petrino like what he sees.

"He's shown that he understands what we expect of him now [and he's] working hard at it," Petrino said.

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