Spring Football Goals

In a flash, March 5, the start of spring football, will be here. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack and Co-Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner have had the session on their minds since signing day. Here are their bullet point goals for spring.

When spring training rolls around early next month, there will be a multitude of story lines that will unfold and be told.

From an offense/defense perspective, however, there are detailed goals Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack and Co-Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner want to see accomplished.

Wommack first. . .

"It's common knowledge that we haven't had a true two-deep depth chart since we have been here," Wommack began. "By that, I mean a two-deep where you feel just as comfortable with the backup as you do the starter. That's been our goal, as a defensive staff, since we have been here and will remain our number one priority this spring.

"I think everyone could see what not having a solid two-deep did to us last year. In this league, the quality of your backups is as important as the quality of your starters because you never know when a C.J. Johnson or a Denzel Nkemdiche, as they did last year, are going to go down. And even when everyone is healthy, to stay fresh for four quarters, backups you can depend on are critical."

Wommack believes - after two years of trying to reach that goal - that a solid two-deep is finally attainable, with one caveat.

Dave Wommack
Chuck Rounsaville

"I think we look pretty good to accomplish the two-deep goal on the defensive line and in the secondary, but my concern is at linebacker," he assessed. "We have enough numbers, but the question is if we have quality numbers and that's what we are shooting for."

While he didn't say it, the recent off-the-field issues and suspensions of Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant factor into his immediate (spring) concerns. Where will that situation go? TBD.

Number two on Wommack's hit list is the old basic fundamental - tackling.

"The way things are now, you really get way more live tackling in spring than you do in fall. Now is the time when you teach and learn good tackling habits," he explained. "We were not a bad tackling team last year, but we can be better.

"We will really work hard on the fundamentals of tackling and being better tacklers into next season. While that sounds elementary, the importance of good tackling cannot be understated or glossed over or taken for granted so that is high on my list."

Goal number three is about specific performance issues and is somewhat of a combo deal.

"Third downs were an issue for us last year, but some of that could be attributed to the fact that we had too many third-and-shorts, 55 by my count, which is too many in a season," he explained. "Last year, mainly due to injury, we didn't pressure very much. I probably called less pressure than I ever have in my career because we just didn't feel like we had the available personnel to attack like we wanted to without exposing ourselves.

"This year, we want to be able to pressure more, not only on third downs but on early downs as well. If we have some guys step up and some key guys healthy, I think we can achieve that goal."

As was stated earlier, there will be an untold number of story lines this spring, but Wommack was kind enough to give a few individuals he is anxious to see perform and find out where they fit and how much he can depend on them.

"Last year, when we didn't have C.J. or Carlos Thompson, two good pass rushers, we went from 10th in the nation in sacks to something like 96th," he explained. "As I explained earlier, we just did not feel like we could be as aggressive with our calls and were limited.

"I'm anxious to get them back in action and then see where mid-year signee Marquis Haynes fits in. If two of those emerge from spring as we hope, and expect, it will help us tremendously in the pressure area. That alone changes us drastically."

Wommack stated many times during the season his excitement about two transfers - Anthony Alford and Fadol Brown - who sat out last year. Spring training will be their coming out party.

"I'm very anxious and excited to see how they fit in. I expect a lot from them," he said, again. "Then there are some redshirts, like DT Herbert Moore and LB Ray Ray Smith, and a couple of more mid-year guys, S C.J. Hampton and MLB Christian Russell, that I can't wait to see put on pads and get after it."

Wommack is optimistic about the spring based on what has transpired leading into the month-long session.

Devante Kincade
File Photo

"Other than a couple of offseason hiccups, the majority of our players are doing great in the offseason program and academically. That should set us up for a good spring," he commented.

And Wommack has not been sitting still in the offseason either.

"Since signing day, we have been spending a lot of time evaluating ourselves and sharing ideas with other staffs throughout the country," he closed. "The game changes and evolves every year, so you have to change and evolve with it.

"This is my 35th year in college coaching and I learn something new every year. If you are not constantly learning and changing, the game will pass you by."

Werner's goals on the offensive side of the ball start at quarterback.

"Number one, for me, is finding a backup quarterback," Werner began. "Obviously, the huge thing, due to graduation, is the development of the offensive line because that unit was hardest hit, but (Co-Offensive Coordinator) Matt (Luke) needs to talk to you about that once we get rolling in spring and get things sorted out a little more.

"At quarterback, we are just going to get them all as many reps as we can and see who steps up. Will it be one of our redshirts - Devante Kincade or Ryan Buchanan - or will it be someone like Jeremy Liggins, who will get a shot there? We are going to let them battle it out and see where it falls. Obviously, a lot of my attention will be directed at them this spring."

Beyond that, Werner has the old standards as his goals.

"Protect the ball and go as fast as we can," he stated. "We are still working on the mindset of going faster. It takes times to get that like you want it. We knew that when we first installed the tempo offense, but I think this spring should let us take it up a notch because we have more players who have been in the offense since we have been here.

"Also, one of our main goals last year was to cut back on turnovers and we did that, but we can do more in that area, so protecting the ball will remain at the top of our to-do list."

One subset of going faster concerns the end result - more big plays.

"The faster we are going, the more big plays we feel we can generate. We made a pretty good amount of big plays last year, but we feel we can take that to the next level," Werner noted. "Let's face it - big plays turn games.

"But having said that, we are also going to work hard on improving our run game. A lot of that will start up front, but it also involves a mindset as well, which we will work on."

Like Wommack, we pried a few individuals out of Werner that he is anxious to see step to "the next level" this spring.

"I want to see where Robert Conyers fits in on the offensive line. We feel he's capable of playing any position and he could be, if he keeps developing like we hope and anticipate, an important cog in our OL," Werner noted.

Quincy Adeboyejo
Ole Miss Athletics/Josh McCoy

"Also up front, we really need our redshirts to have big spring. I'm excited about Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson. They will get all they want in spring, according to Coach Luke."

At the skill positions, of course there is Liggins, to start with.

"We know Jeremy is an athletic guy who will play somewhere, but where? I am certainly going to work him at QB and see how that works out," Werner closed. "Out wide, Quincy Adeboyejo comes to mind quickly. I think he is going to emerge this spring because he explosive and a hard worker.

"I'm also excited to see what redshirt RB Jordan Wilkins can do against the first-team defense. He gives us the option of a more physical back if he is what we think he is."

There will be many, many stories to follow in spring training this year.

Wommack and Werner scratched that surface for us.

Two weeks and counting. . .

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