By Noah Trister/The Associated Press
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — After an offseason recovering from a broken foot, Ryan Mallett was understandably restless when practice finally started this week.
Even a mundane drill with no tackling was enough to excite the Arkansas quarterback.
“Did you see the blitz checks we made?” Mallett said afterward. “When you get a chance to just get in there and flip the switches, make the checks, it’s the best part about playing quarterback.”
The Razorbacks started practice Thursday, and all eyes were on Mallett’s left foot, which he broke in February. The 6-foot-6 Mallett was extremely limited during spring practice, and less than a month ago he said swimming was his main conditioning tool in lieu of running.
He was on the field Thursday night and appeared to be moving around just fine. Mallett was able to jog and work on short drop-backs before making his throws.
“I thought he was on balance, I thought his timing was pretty good,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “He made good throws for the most part. He was very, very comfortable.”
Arkansas fans might still worry a bit until Mallett tests the foot in an actual game, but he won’t need to do that until next month. The Razorbacks open their season against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 4, so they’ll have some time to get used to working with their strong-armed quarterback again.
“It’s been a while. I was a little rusty,” Mallett said. “For the first day of fall camp, you really can’t expect to be perfect.”
Mallett said his foot was fine, although his leg muscles were sore on his first full day of practice in a while. When he went up against pass rushers for the first time, there was no tackling, but the defense wasn’t shy about sending extra players after him. It’s never too early to start preparing for the stout defenses Arkansas will face in the Southeastern Conference.
Mallett threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns as the Razorbacks went 8-5 last season. After toying with the idea of turning pro, he decided to come back to the Hogs, making himself a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and Arkansas a chic pick to challenge Alabama in the SEC West.
The Razorbacks also return all of Mallett’s top targets from last season. Wide receivers Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton and tight end D.J. Williams combined to catch 169 passes for 2,901 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Similar numbers are expected in 2010, assuming their quarterback is healthy. That was an open question after Mallett’s injury, and fall practice is the first real chance for fans to see for themselves how he’s progressing.
Although the Razorbacks don’t seem worried, Childs understands the attention Mallett’s foot has received.
“He’s the quarterback of this team, and people want to know how he’s doing,” Childs said. “He’s the focus point. He’s the QB.”
Mallett was able to throw during the offseason, even if the injury affected his mobility.
“He was always out there … trying to throw us the ball,” Childs said. “Even if he couldn’t throw it to us, he would just get in a chair and still be calling the plays and things.”
If there’s one weakness Mallett needs to work on, it’s his accuracy on shorter throws. He completed only 56 percent of his passes last season and was kept in check by Florida and especially Alabama. Williams said the injury might have actually helped Mallett in that regard.
“I think him getting off his feet and working on his accuracy helped him a lot,” Williams said. “So now he’s accurate with the ball, and now he has that foot power behind it. I think he benefited from being out for a little bit, and now he’s on the field, he’s as sharp as ever.”