"The quarterback position, I really see it as a great opportunity for our young men to learn how important competition is on the practice field," Orgeron said. "That is the main focus of our program is competition. I'm going to put the best against the best on the practice fields and let them go at it. We need some competitive situations.
"Michael Spurlock had a great spring for us," Orgeron added. "He runs our offense, USC's offense and did a pretty good job for us. Robert Lane played seven practices (shoulder injury) and wasn't able to show us his stuff. I think he has all the qualities of an outstanding quarterback, all the intangibles, the leadership and the toughness. We're excited to see how everything is going to work out. We play with 11 on offense so I don't think the quarterback position is going to be that important to us on whether we win or lose."
While Orgeron went on to say that they're not going to ask the quarterback to win games and won't put much on his shoulders, it's still strange for the coach at Ole Miss to say something so far off base. In its history Ole Miss has always counted on the play of the quarterback in good seasons with both Archie and Eli Manning and Kent Austin guiding the Rebels to some of their best seasons. The same is true of most schools in the league because the play of the quarterback is usually indicative of success in the game of football.
Without asking the quarterback to do too much in coach Noel Mazzone's offense, the Rebels must depend on a running game that has been spotty at best in the last few seasons. While the running back depth is solid with Jamal Pittman and Anthony Hobgood and others to carry the load, the offensive line leaves a lot to be desired this season with three starters gone on to the NFL from 2004. Orgeron said that shoring up some holes up front will be a big focal point for the Rebels during two-a-days this fall.
"The offensive line has some work to do," Orgeron said. "The loss of Chris Spencer, who turned pro as a junior, he's a tremendous football player and that really hurt us. Our two returning tackles should be pretty good. I moved Andrew Wicker over from the defensive line to the offensive line to bring some toughness over to the offense. The center spot is still open. I'm expecting Michael Oher, a freshman out of Memphis who's an outstanding football player, to be able to contribute on the offensive line and early. We may play him at guard. That's going to be an emphasis during two-a-days."
Defensively Orgeron said that the strength of the unit is in the front seven where starters McKinley Boykin and Jayme Mitchell return. The group is led by a strong group of linebackers that quickly caught Orgeron's eye in spring practice.
"I think the strength of our defense is in our linebackers," Orgeron said. "We've moved to a 4-3 defense and we're going to play some eight and seven-man fronts. I'm really pleased with the play of Patrick Willis, especially in the spring, and the way he took command of the defense and made plays sideline to sideline. We moved a couple of safeties to linebacker as well and we should be fine."
Entering his first season as a head coach after stints at USC, Syracuse and Miami, Orgeron said that he had to remind himself early on not too expect too much out of his players at Ole Miss. Coming off an undefeated season and national championship with the Trojans, things were a little different when he arrived in Oxford.
"On the plane ride coming here I thought about the first days at USC when coach (Pete) Carroll came there," Orgeron said. "I tried to remember the players and I got an old depth chart out to remember the players that were there and the recruiting class with the guys we played with. It really helped me to see that by comparing some of the players we had we're a little bit better at some positions and obviously we're not as good at others. That's the gauge I used, I used our first year together."
Something that has been obvious in Orgeron's time at Ole Miss is his belief that football teams and great seasons are built in the spring and summer months evaluating talent and on the recruiting trail. With offers going out all over the South, Orgeron and his staff have been very busy. He said that one thing he wants to do is make it more difficult for teams to come into the fertile Mississippi recruiting grounds and take players that are good enough to play for the Rebels.
"We go to every school in the State of Mississippi," Orgeron said. "I feel that every young man that is born in the State of Mississippi wants to play for Ole Miss. We have to show them a great product and why he wants to come to Ole Miss and why he feels that way. Obviously some people have done a better job recruiting and showing them why they should go to their school. I do believe that being from USC and winning the way we did against Oklahoma helped recruiting to be able to go out to these recruits and tell them we're building the same kind of program at Ole Miss."