Progress Made

If you were looking for miracles, you were looking in the wrong place. If you were looking for a change in the culture surrounding Ole Miss football and steady advancement, spring training was the ticket.

The Grove Bowl, won by the Red Team 24-23 in overtime, produced its share of highlights on both sides of the ball to appease the 25,000 fans in attendance.

Winning QB Bo Wallace showed he's a gamer.

QB Barry Brunetti showed he's a competitor.

WR Donte Moncrief showed he can be an elite wideout in the SEC.

TB Jeff Scott showed he will be a bell cow for the Rebels in 2012. Ditto Randall Mackey with the ball in his hands and WR Ja-Mes Logan showed why he was named the MVP of spring.

Some defensive players, such as DE Cameron Whigham, DE C.J. Johnson, DT Carlton Martin and CB Dehendret Collins, who had two interceptions, also made plays in the spring showcase.

In all, it was a good day, perhaps better than Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze anticipated when he split up the teams as evenly as possible.

"We don't have enough depth to split them up and give a real picture of where we are, but I thought the kids came out and gave us great effort and were crisper than I thought they'd be," he explained. "We would have gotten more offensive production had we kept the first unit together, but we thought dividing them up would be more fair all the way around and it would be more fun for the fans to watch a more even scrimmage."

TB Jeff Scott
Bruce Newman

The tempo Freeze's teams are known for was on display some of the time in the Grove Bowl, but as the old line goes, you ain't seen nothing yet - not really.

"We gave a picture of the pace we would like to play at, but we are a long way to where we want to be in tempo," Freeze continued. "(S&C) Coach (Paul) Jackson has got a big offseason in front of him getting these players in the kind of shape they will need to be in to play at the pace we will demand."

Overall, Freeze and his coordinators, Dan Werner on offense and Dave Wommack on defense, were pleased with the progress made in spring, but they unanimously cautioned against an early judgment of the squad and asked for patience.

"What everyone saw today was just 15 practices of a new offense, a new pace, a new way of playing football for these kids," said Werner. "I think we made very good strides in a lot of areas in spring, but as an offensive staff, we feel we have only scratched the surface.

"The good thing is that we have gotten the basics in and the kids know what will be demanded of them in the summer and when fall camp rolls around. We have laid a foundation, which is positive, but we can't slack up because we have a lot more building to do."

Werner was pleased with his QBs in the Grove Bowl, to a point.

"I thought, for the most part, they threw the ball on time and put the ball where the receivers could make some plays," he noted. "The biggest thing for me, though, and what we have preached all spring, is taking care of the ball and they did OK with that today.

"I thought Bo made a few more plays with his arm and Barry made a few more with his feet. There were a couple of plays that Bo got a little greedy on and it cost him and a couple of plays Barry held the ball a little too long and he missed some windows to throw in, but overall, both made some good plays."

Werner said Wallace and Brunetti leave spring as co-number ones - to be decided. Freeze said he is not adverse to playing two quarterbacks, but would prefer one winning the job in August. He backed up Werner's assessment of the QB job being a dead heat right now.

In the first half of the game, there were several QB sacks and a lot of QB pressures, but in the second half Wommack eased up on his pressure packages to see what the back end of the defense could do.

"We got what we wanted out of the pressure stuff we called and then wanted to take a look at our coverage people," said Wommack. "We were inconsistent today, but I expected some of that when we split the teams up. I think we would have been a little more consistent if we had kept the first unit together, but I liked Coach Freeze's decision to split the team up and let everyone have some fun and for it to be a competitive game.

"I am extremely proud of our kids this spring. They have worked very hard this spring and have come a long, but they understand we have a lot more to do in terms of putting our eyes in the right place and things like that. We were able to get some pressure when we tried to dial some up, so that was good, but it's still a building process. We made strides fundamentally, but we are going to have to have patience with this team and keep teaching and preaching until we get it right. It will come, it just won't come today."

Wommack said a prime example of the inconsistencies of the play of the defense is the effort of JUCO transfer Collins.

"Dehendret has done a great job this spring coming in and learning the system, I'm very pleased with him, but he was indicative of the whole defense. Today, he had two interceptions and gave up two touchdowns," Wommack smiled. "That's just where we are, but as I said, we will get over some of those inconsistencies in time.

"We have an important offseason and fall camp facing us. While we like what has been done, we all know - coaches and players alike - how much there still is to do."

Wallace and Scott
Bruce Newman

Random Notes:

* New Athletics Director Ross Bjork was on the field after the Grove Bowl introducing himself to some of the faithful and giving his support to the coaches and players. He was pleased with what he saw.

"This is all about celebrating what Rebel football is all about - the passion, the atmosphere. I think the threat of bad weather hurt our attendance a little, but we still had about 25,000 here and it's all about the passion and the energy the coaches are bringing into the program," said Bjork. "I think our people sense that and feel it. Our fans are buying into the energy of our football staff. We are going to keep capturing that enthusiasm. Branding is all about confidence and we're building confidence in the program. Now, we just have to deliver on the field and our coaches and players will get that done. I'm excited by what I saw today on the field and in the stands."

* Freeze was also grateful to the throng of fans who showed up and braved the chill and threat of rain. "The crowd pumped our guys up. We've been out there for nearly a month by ourselves beating on each other and to have our enthusiastic fans in the stands gave them a burst of energy," said Freeze. "That kind of support is critical to our success. I don't know of anything more important."

* While Freeze and the coaches said it in so many words, allow a little more bluntness. The new staff is quickly changing the culture of Ole Miss football - the organization, the discipline, the conditioning, the academic structure and the work ethic are all elevating and moving in the right direction. Having said that, know this: the foundation has been poured, but even that is still green concrete. There is so much more to do and a lot of it will require patience and time. While a great deal of progress was made in spring, even in areas you cannot see by attending a scrimmage, practice or spring game, there is still so much more than can be achieved before the opening game of the 2012 season. Hang on, it's coming.

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