Continuity is an important ingredient in many endeavors, but when applied to Ole Miss football, the offense in particular, it is paramount to success.
It’s something offensive, and defensive for that matter, coaches strive for, including Rebel Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner.
“We are in our third year here with the same staff and a lot of the same players,” Werner said. “We have developed a great deal of continuity, where things are becoming like second nature for us and our players. It’s a good place to be for a lot of reasons and is certainly a much better situation than when we took over here.
“We have quite a few players who have played in this system, some for a year, and others for two, that we are way ahead of where we were even a year ago. The guys understand it and know what we are looking for. They are able to play faster now and we are able to put in new plays.”
The familiarity with the system, and the resulting continuity, allows the coaches to fine-tune and work on the little things more than before.
“Before, especially our first year, guys didn’t even know where to line up at times. Then they had to learn the plays, etc. It was hard to work much on the little things that are so important,” Dan explained. “Now, with the basics of the system being like second nature to them, we can get into the finer points of the offense – adjustments on the run, taking on different looks up front and so on. We can do more of the ‘if the defender does that, you do this’ instruction.
“The players have the basics down like the back of their hands, so we can now get into more nuances of the offense and feel comfortable they understand what we are saying. Now that they know everything they need to know with the basics, we can concentrate less on installation and more on just getting better and playing faster.”
“The guys understand it and know what we are looking for. They are able to play faster now.”
After evaluating the 2012 season, one of the main goals of spring training was to eliminate the small mistakes that stopped some drives last year.
“We were really close to being a very good offense last year,” Werner evaluated. “We had a lull at the end of the regular season, but we were always real close. We made little mistakes that stopped drives. We studied our drive charts thoroughly and evaluated why drives were being stopped. A lot of them came back to things we had done wrong – like dropping a pass, a poor throw, a penalty, a missed block – and those are the things we really tried to clean up in spring.
“We showed those things to our guys and it was pretty amazing to see the look in their eyes when they realized that many times we stopped ourselves. If we don’t have that penalty, don’t have that drop, whatever it was, we score two more touchdowns and, in two or three cases, we win the game. We really hammered that in spring and I think the players took that to heart.”
It’s easy to see the importance of the progression into the finer points of the offense.
“Before, we would signal in a play and it was ‘run this route’ and they ran it,” said Werner. “Now, we can teach, for instance, ‘When you are running this route, if the corner jumps inside, stick it and get over the top’ and they understand it and can execute it on the fly.”
When players pick up the finer points of the game, the execution should be crisper and the productivity should go up.
“There’s no way you can show them every look they will get in a game, but the more reps they get, the more they will see and be able to adjust to,” Werner continued. “The more reps we can get a player, the more they will see and understand how to handle a situation when it comes up in a game.”
All these things are a part of continuity, but as everyone knows and understands, football is more than familiarity. It’s a man v. man sport where being physical is a requirement, not a choice.
In 2012, there were times when the coaches did not feel the Rebels were physical enough to climb the ladder in the SEC.
Consequently, Coach Hugh Freeze had a spring training mandate to have more rigorous practices with more contact than previous springs under his direction.
“We are trying to get to the next level. While we talked scheme and execution a lot heading into spring training, we also realized to move up you have to have a certain toughness too,” Dan stated. “We showed out guys that to get to the next level we have to be tougher than the teams we play. I thought they really responded in spring training.
“They accepted the added physical demands and ran with it. I believe we left spring as a tougher offense, and defense, than when we entered spring.”
One other caveat from spring that seemed to be a big deal to fans, but wasn’t to the coaches and players, was the changing of the play signals.
“Changing signals was a lot of work for us as coaches because we have a lot of signals and a lot of plays, but it’s really not that big of an undertaking once we, as coaches, had settled on what signals we were going to use,” he stated. “It’s like sign language. The players adapted quickly to the new signals. Even though it was a lot of work, it wasn’t hard.”