Obvious Improvement

Personable secondary coach Keith Burns didn't miss an opportunity to get in a one-liner. A reporter wanted to know why the Ole Miss secondary seems so improved this season.

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"It's all coaching," he said, titling his head back, laughing loudly for a moment.

There is some truth there. The Rebels do appear to be playing better than in the past. Burns explains why he actually thinks that's the case.

"Continued emphasis on the ball. I think that's the biggest thing," he said, responding to an oft-heard question about players turning their head to watch a football heading in their direction.

"The No. 1 question I've been asked since I've been here is ‘will your guys look back for the football?' We drill it every day. The ball's a priority. There are 22 guys on the field and only one ball. So obviously it's important. So just continue to push them and be aware of it all the time."

Burns said it really isn't that complicated. Just do it over and over, again and again, every day.

"So many guys get caught up in schemes and techniques. To me the most important thing in a game is the ball. I throw ball drills almost to exhaustion just because of that. I think it's a lost art. I think you've got to have the ability to go up and play it, time it. Some guys have a knack for it. But you can certainly drill it and get better at it."

He said the importance of being repetitive every day in practice pays off at the most critical times in games. Or at least that's the hope he has for his Ole Miss defenders.

"To me, there will be a point in time in every game where it's your guy, their guy, and the football," said the animated Burns as he explained his view of the way things ought to be. "The guy that has the most confidence in his ability, the guy that feels like he's going to make the play, usually does.

"You've got to be in position. You can't just look to be looking. Back in the day, guys were taught to run and when (the receiver) sticks his hands out, you stick your hands out. Receivers don't let you do that anymore. They don't put their hands up ‘til the ball's there. I want to get the ball back. Catch it."

Burns has Rebel defenders believing
Chuck Rounsaville

Burns said he has been pleased with his troops so far, and he knows there is room for improvement.

"We're getting better. There's no doubt," he said. "It's a position where every play you're challenged in some aspect. Nine times out of ten you line up across from the best guy on the field. So to me you've got to have a little bit of swag, or whatever they want to call it nowadays, that you're going to make the play. You can see it when you've got it, and you know when you don't."

He spoke of certain players who he knows are improving and catching on to what he wants.

"I'm so proud right now of how Charles Sawyer has played. It was never about athletic ability with him. He's one of the best athletes on our team. Right now I think his confidence has grown and continues to improve and get better.

"Last week Marcus Temple had his best week of preparation. He got beat on that one ball; we had a little problem coverage-wise. But he's getting better every snap, and I think his confidence is growing."

Vanderbilt has been more a running team than a passing team recently, at least since Jay Cutler headed for the pros after the 2005 season. It's current quarterback, Larry Smith, only has half the passing attempts in his career, which began in 2008, as Cutler, the all-time Commodore leader. But Burns knows the experienced Smith is a threat with every snap of the ball.

"I approach them all like they're Tom Brady. If you don't, you're going to get stung," he said. "Just try to create that (mindset) with them, the way we show them the practice tape, the way we study, the way we go about our practice, the situations I put them in. The reality of it is these quarterbacks in the SEC are all good players or they wouldn't be here.

"I read where (Larry Smith) is close to getting in the top five in every category (the Commodores) have from a passing standpoint. We've got a great deal of respect for him and their receiving corps and what they're doing. Their quarterback coach I worked with at Kansas State, Ricky Rahne, and he's a good friend of mine. He's an outstanding football coach. I know he'll have his guys ready to play."

Burns said he believes his players are as prepared as they can possibly be because of who they see on the Rebels' practice fields each afternoon.

"We see it every day at practice. We've got a great receiving corps," he said. "Gunter Brewer does a great job with them. He and I have battled at K-State and Oklahoma State in the past. To me, it's about every day in practice."

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