Running back has taken a huge reversal since the Freeze era began.
In their first year, Werner and RB Coach Derrick Nix had to move a quarterback – Randall Mackey – to tailback just to have two quality TBs, Jeff Scott being the other.
Now, Werner feels strongly the Rebels have as many as six who can get the job done at tailback.
“I asked Coach Nix the other day if he was trying to put together a softball team at tailback,” Werner joked. “It’s pretty amazing how that position has changed in the last two years. The staff has done a great job recruiting that position and Derrick has done a great job of developing them.
“The crazy thing is that they are all good. Usually when you have that many running backs, you have one of two who stand out, but I think we have four, five, maybe six who can handle the position effectively.”
The dilemma is how to handle that situation from a coaching standpoint. Go with the hot hand? Use them situationally? Werner has an answer.
“We will find out who our best two or three are and then find out what they do best and try to coach situationally. That’s my philosophy,” Werner noted. “We’ll decide in what situations they will be most effective and try to put them in those situations.”
Jaylen Walton, I’Tavius Mathers, Jordan Wilkins, Mark Dodson and Eugene Brazley all had their moments in spring training and JUCO signee Akeem Judd is waiting in the wings when August opens up.
“In spring, they all showed good versatility and
they all made plays. We were able to evaluate what they do best and now it’s a matter of putting them in those spots,” he continued, “but the bottom line is that we feel very good at tailback.
“No, we don’t have the 6-2, 235-pounder who can run a 4.4, but there aren’t a lot of those running around out there. Todd Gurley at Georgia, a couple at Alabama fit the mold, but those guys are rare. We like who we have. We have a good mix of scatback types and a couple who are more physical. If anything, we’d like to be a little more physical, but we feel we have plenty of skill at that position.”
The frontrunner right now? Werner has a hunch that Mathers is ready to take it to another level.
“Really, any of them may emerge as the number one guy, but from what I saw at the end of spring, I’Tavius really finished strong and I think he’s ready to step up. That’s just an educated guess though. As I said, it could be any of them,” he added.
Last, but not least, quarterback, the position Werner personally coaches.
Bo Wallace enters his final season as a Rebel heading into his third year as the starter. Perhaps we should say the “new” Bo Wallace.
Wallace, after a spring training that was mentally “off the charts,” has finally gotten himself healthy and has worked extremely hard to fix some flaws in his throwing motion brought on by shoulder injury/surgery/quick recovery.
“The week in California with throwing coach Tom House at Southern Cal was a very good deal for him,” Werner maintains. “We can’t work with him on the field with a ball in the offseason, but other players have been telling me they can see a big difference in his arm strength and the zip on the ball he has.
“He’s been doing the drills he learned out there and in his mind, for sure, he’s better and that’s half the battle. Bo had some mental blocks to get over and I think Coach House helped him get over those and set him straight with his throwing motion.”
Werner went to New Orleans for a board session with the Saints earlier in the summer. In the quarterback meeting, he asked Drew Brees about House, who had helped him through his shoulder rehab.
“Brees went on and on about Coach House. He went on for a half hour about his experience with Coach House and thinks he is the greatest throwing coach ever. Brees still talks with Coach House once a week,” said Dan. “If it works out for Bo like it has for Drew, we will be blessed.”
In spring, Bo had very good control of the offense.
“It’s a learning progression and Bo had to learn the system. There are so many options available in this offense and if you don’t know them completely, it slows you down mentally,” Werner said. “Bo now knows this offense inside and out. He doesn’t have to think about his options now. He just knows.
“With him having that type of knowledge and familiarity, we can now put in different types of plays to attack different defensive looks and know Bo is not confused or uncertain what to do. That gives us as offensive coaches a lot of leeway.”
Wallace's previous physical status was brought on, at least in part, by him being a fearless runner. Has that brought on any apprehension by the coaches to limit his running or is that just part of the system and the chips will fall where they fall?
“The quarterback running the ball is just part of this offense,” said Dan. “What we have tried to do with Bo is educate him on the importance of not taking unnecessary hits. There’s no need to lower his shoulder and try to run over someone 99% of the time.
“We aren’t going to run him 30 times a game, but our QB running the ball is part of the game. What we have tried to drill in Bo’s head is to be mature about it and to slide or to turn and not take a blow right on his shoulder.”
Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan are battling for number two.
“It’s going to be fun to watch these guys mature and see who comes out on top,” Werner said. “A lot of people think of DeVante as the runner and Ryan being a pocket passer guy, but to me they both can run the ball, they are both very smart and they both make good decisions.
“They both work hard in practice, in the weight room and on their own watching film. I have no idea who will step up in August, but it’s going to be a fun battle.”
In the spring, the backup quarterbacks went live, full contact. Werner found out neither one of them lack toughness.
“As a coach, you have to know that and they proved all I needed to know in terms of taking contact in spring,” he stated. “They are tough guys who love the game and don’t mind the contact part of football, in the pocket or when they are running the ball.”
The wild card at quarterback is JUCO transfer Jeremy Liggins, all 300-pounds of him. Werner’s vision for the Lafayette County product after having him for a spring?
“Jeremy is such a big, strong, fast and physical guy he could play any position on the field for us. We have to find out what spot is best for him and utilize his talents. We have not decided for sure right now, but there will be some sort of package for him at quarterback,” he noted. “With his ability to pull it and run it or pull it and throw it, he puts a lot of pressure on defenses.
“We just have to figure out his role, be it at QB or another position or both. We just know he will be an asset. There’s too much talent there for him not to be.”
Werner sees it on offense and expects it to pay dividends in 2014.
“The fact that this staff – all five of us – have been together for going on three years, and the players see that and react to it, is important. The fact a majority of the kids we will rely on know our offense thoroughly is important,” he closed. “We have continuity. I think it will pay off this year in a lot of ways.”
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