Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett is the prototypical pocket passer.
He’s 6-foot-6 with one of the strongest arms in college football and an even sweeter release.
“Every Saturday, when you watch the video after the game, he makes two or three throws that you say, ‘Wow, nobody else might make that throw in America,’” said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who’s been around a few good quarterbacks in his time.
Here’s the great irony with Mallett, though: He never has or never will be mistaken for a spread quarterback. Yet, the spread offense is one of the main reasons he’s at Arkansas right now.
When Rich Rodriguez got the job at Michigan, it didn’t take Mallett very long to figure out that he and Rodriguez’s version of the spread weren’t going to mesh.
So after playing his freshman season for the Wolverines, Mallett transferred and returned home to play for the Hogs, taking the keys to Petrino’s pro-style offense and throwing 30 touchdown passes in his first tour around the SEC last season.
“I know what style of quarterback I am, and I’m trying to perfect that and keep working at all the things it takes to be the kind of quarterback I want to be,” said Mallett, who's also plenty effective throwing the ball on the move. “I definitely haven’t perfected it. The game changes. Every year, there’s something different. Really, it’s every week, every day.
“What you’ve got to do is become a student of the game no matter what kind of offense you’re in, and that’s where I feel like a lot of quarterbacks these days don’t spend enough time. That’s one of my favorite things to do. I’d rather watch film than go out to dinner.”
The fans in Arkansas are hoping that Mallett is their meal ticket to a first-ever SEC championship.
He’d like nothing better than to deliver and makes it clear that’s what the Hogs are playing for this season.
“Being able to control my emotions is one of the things I’ve worked on the hardest,” Mallett said. “I’m a real intense guy. I want to win. I hate losing, and my passion for the game shows and sometimes it’s too much. But the guys here know how I am, and I’ve worked on keeping it inside me, to make sure I don't get away from technique out there.
“We’re here to win ballgames, to win championships. We’re not here to just compete.”
Mallett missed the spring and was also sidelined for much of the summer after breaking a bone in his left foot during conditioning drills in February. He underwent two surgical procedures as part of his recovery, including one in June to remove a screw.
But with the Hogs now in their second week of practice, Mallett said he hasn’t held himself back or been held back one bit.
“I’m attacking it. I’m not trying to baby it,” Mallett said. “I’m not trying to go slow. I’m out there playing and going full speed ahead. I have great protection, so I really haven’t had to move around a lot. That’s a good thing, if you ask me.”
For all of his gaudy numbers last season (3,624 passing yards and 16 school records that he either set or tied), Mallett was just so-so with his accuracy. He completed 55.8 percent of his passes.
Just having been through the SEC once should help him make better decisions. That and having the poise to hit his checkdown man instead of trying to throw it 30 yards down the field every time.
That’s a part of the Mallett persona that makes him so good. He’s trying to beat you on every play. But as every great quarterback has learned, some quicker than others, sometimes it’s best to throw the ball away or throw it short and then play the next down.
The Alabama game from a year ago still infuriates Mallett when he watches the film, and he’s watched it a bunch.
“It seems like a million times,” he said.
The Crimson Tide came after him, using some looks and blitzes that the Hogs hadn’t really prepared for, and Mallett never really adjusted. He wound up 12-of-35 for 160 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“I take responsibility for that, not hitting my pressure checks, and I was rushing a lot,” Mallett said. “That’s the film that hurts the most. I wasn’t ready. The whole team was like that. We didn’t come out mentally prepared to play the game.”
A year later, Mallett vows it will be different, regardless of what defenses throw at the Hogs.
“We’re comfortable. We understand what Coach Petrino wants,” Mallett said. “The way we study film with each other, we’re really on the same page. We’re keeping it basic right now, but this offense is going to be really good at adjusting this year.”