QBs Competing

Who will be the number one quarterback when fall rolls around? TBD is the answer. Barry Brunetti was slightly ahead prior to the Grove Bowl, but Bo Wallace had a better spring game. Randall Mackey is also in the picture in certain roles. Read about it inside.

What started out at the beginning of spring as a pseudo seven-man quarterback race has narrowed down, basically, to two who are truly vying for the top job.

Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Dan Werner has seen pluses and minuses this spring in the process of developing the Rebel signal-callers.

"I think we have shown improvement at quarterback and the prime example popped up in our last scrimmage. We have plays we call that have a run-pass option depending on the number of defenders in the box," said Werner. "When the box is loaded, throw a screen or quick route. If the box has fewer guys in it, run the ball.

"In the scrimmage, our guys were recognizing that and half of our passing yardage came off good reads and executing those short throws. Little things like that are what I am looking for. Recognition, decision-making, throwing on time and taking care of the ball have all gotten better and are our priorities."

Werner has been particularly pleased with the attitude of the QB candidates.

"They are here on time, they are going to class and they are doing everything we have asked of them and that's a lot," Dan explained. "The life of the college athlete is time-consuming. Between weight lifting, practice, meetings, tutors, going to class – there's a lot on their plate and the guys have bought into what we are asking them to do. I am very pleased with that aspect."

Barry Brunetti
File Photo

Barry Brunetti was the first mentioned by Werner when asked for a depth chart coming out of spring training.

"He's an athletic guy who can make some plays with his arm and with his feet. He just has to keep learning the stuff. The thing all of them have to learn is to throw on time and they are getting better at that," Werner continued. "Barry did have two turnovers in the last scrimmage and that bothers me. That is the biggest point of emphasis we have – protect the ball, and Barry didn't do that well enough in the last scrimmage."

JUCO transfer Bo Wallace, who had the best day in the Grove Bowl, is hot on the heels of Brunetti and Werner told why.

"Bo has a big-time arm, he can run and he's tough. He actually had a couple of runs in the last scrimmage where he ran over guys. I'm not too fired up about him doing that, and I will talk to him about that, but I do like his toughness. He made a lot of good decisions in the last scrimmage with three TD passes and no turnovers," Dan assessed. "Bo needs to get in the weight room to get a little stronger and a little faster to help him in the run game. His timing is a little off right now as well, but that will come in time."

Randall Mackey has been moved around during spring from QB to tailback to wideout. He can play them all in certain roles.

"Everyone knows Randall has very good athletic ability. By moving him around and taking a lot of the mental responsibilities away from him, it has freed him up to do what he does best – make plays," Werner noted. "He is a very good runner who makes moves you cannot coach. He is very good at setting up blocks for bigger gains and he runs very hard. He can also block. We can use him in a lot of ways."

Maikhail Miller has had limited reps since the narrowing process took place about a week into spring, but Werner has liked what he has seen.

"He's a big, strong kid with a strong arm. He has done a nice job learning the scheme, and that's tough when you don't get a lot of reps, but he has shown some promise when he does get reps," Werner said. "When he learns the system, he will be much better. I think he has a future, but it's down the road."

Randall Mackey
File Photo

Evan Ingram and Robert Ratliff are also trying to crack the lineup and Zack Stoudt was in the mix before a back injury sidelined him for the second half of spring training.

"Evan is a smart kid who works hard. He had a real nice throw in the scrimmage on a corner route and was 1-1. He led us to a couple of first downs. He ran the option in high school, so he can run with the ball," Dan said. "Robert is a real heady player who is one of the leaders in our room because he wants to be a coach and wants to know the offense like the back of his hand and he wants to help the other QBs too.

"Zack just hasn't been able to do much since his injury. You can tell he has a big arm, but I don't know much about his decision-making ability."

Analysis: Competition can bring out the best in players and push them to do better. That has been the case this spring with the quarterbacks. Even in the midst of learning a totally foreign offense, they have shown improvement, albeit bit by bit. It's easy to see they are determined to get better and that's half the battle. Based on their improvement and willingness to get after it, the grade is a B-. Certainly, there is room for more improvement and production, but if they stay on the path they were on in spring, QB could be OK in the fall.

On the offense overall, Werner has seen steady improvement. He'd like more, but gradual improvement is better than none at all.

"As we start gelling and getting the right pieces to the puzzle in there, better things will happen. The offensive line falls in that category. After a slow start, they are starting to come together some, which is gratifying," Dan closed. "At tight end, we have some talented guys. We ask them to do a lot, but they are starting to pick things up.

"At running back, Jeff has shown he is elusive and productive, we just have to figure out who will be the next guy – the guy who can move the chains and do things the right way to help us keep the offense on the field. At wideout, those guys are talented and they will have to be big-time playmakers for us next year for us to be successful. There are four or five of them who can make plays and they will all have to do that for us to succeed. The good thing there is that there is competition and competition makes everyone better.

"Overall, I am pleased with the spring. We still have a long way to go obviously, but we have a lot of the offense in, and that's been time-consuming because it's not just learning plays. It's learning the whole procedure of the up-tempo game. It's been mentally taxing to them, but they are trying hard to get it right. We have a good feel for things now, so now we have to clean things up and we will be in good shape."

This is the second in a series of articles printed in the Grove Bowl issue of The Ole Miss Spirit. We will reprint them all here in the next 10 days to two weeks for those unable to attend the spring game.

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