Hoover, Ala.--Last year in his first SEC Media Days' appearance Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron downplayed the role of the quarterback to a team's success. One year later he has changed his tune after a rotation of three quarterbacks in 2005 added up to just three victories for the Rebels.
This season things were thought to be looking much better at the position as former Tennessee quarterback Brent Schaeffer signed with the Rebels with the promise of being the starter when he arrived on campus. That has still not happened as the lefty is in the process of finishing up course work at the College of the Sequoias. Orgeron said that everything is still on track for his arrival in time for two-a-days.
"At the quarterback position if everything goes as planned Brent Schaeffer should report with the team on Aug. 3," Orgeron said. "Brent Schaeffer is going to be our starting quarterback. We're excited about Brent Schaeffer. He brings an excitement to our football team, something we need in our offense. If you watched us play last year we need great play out of our quarterback position in the SEC. I think he'll be able to do that and be able to make plays on his own.
"Obviously he's finishing summer school right now and has some courses to finish," Orgeron added. "We've been in touch with him daily and we have a plan in effect. We think it's going to work. If something happens that he can't finish on time, if something happens that he doesn't do well in the class; that could prolong his reporting date."
Schaeffer in action last year in juco.
With the struggles offensively it is no surprise that Ole Miss has a new offensive staff this season. New offensive coordinator and quarterback Coach Dan Werner along with offensive line Coach Art Kehoe come to Oxford from Miami after being let go from the Hurricane staff. Orgeron said he's excited about the direction of the new offense under Werner this spring.
"I'm really excited about the new direction of our offense began in the spring with Dan Werner," Orgeron said. "We share the same philosophies. Dan is going to run the offense that he has been accustomed to at the University of Miami and the offense that I was accustomed to at the University of Miami. He has complete control of the offense with the agreement that he's going to run what he thinks is best.
"You're going to see some differences in the offense," he added. "It's going to be more two-back, more of a power game. We have a young offensive line and we need more double teams. We have to run the ball to be successful in the SEC."
That running game should be much better in 2006 with the return of talented sophomore Mico McSwain along with the addition of transfer Benjarvis Green-Ellis. Orgeron said that having a player that has already been successful in the Big 10 join his offense should help them become more physical this season in the running game.
"Last year we had to watch him practice knowing that he was one of the best players on our football team and we couldn't play him," Orgeron said. "He's ready to go and has a lot of experience. He's proven that he can play in the big game. We expect him to have a big year but he has to show he can do it on Saturday."
The holes on offense are widely known but this season the Rebels also must replace a bulk of talent from a defense that played well up front but struggled late in games. Losing all four starters up front means a lot of work must be done in a hurry with newcomers Hayward Howard and Jerrell Powe expected to get the bulk of the work at tackle. One problem for the Rebels is that Powe must still be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse before he's ready for action. Orgeron said that his team has to get better on defense and it starts with being more aggressive.
"We're going to aim to improve on defense," Orgeron said. "I thought for the most part we played pretty good defense last year and we have some excellent players returning. We've got to force more turnovers and go after the ball on defense. Last year we were minus five in the turnover ration and we need to improve on that. We need to do a better job of stopping the run."
Linebacker Patrick Willis played last season with a broken hand and still earned All-SEC and All-American honors.
A calming influence on the defensive side of the ball this season is the return of all four starters in the secondary and perhaps the league's top player in senior linebacker Patrick Willis. Recovering emotionally from the loss of his brother in a tragic drowning last week, Willis is the unquestioned leader of the Ole Miss defense and Orgeron said they'll lean on him this season.
"I'm really excited about being able to coach Patrick Willis one more year. I think he's a great young man and an exciting football player. I think he's a dominant, dominant linebacker and we're going to build our defense around him. We're really excited about what he brings to the football team."