Offense improved, defense promising

Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner liked what he saw in spring training in terms of improvement, in spite of playing with a short hand. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack believes his group can be salty - deep and talented - in 2015.

After the annual Grove Bowl, OC Dan Werner and DC Dave Wommack were treated to a rapid-fire barrage from the media about their respective sides of the ball.

Both expressed optimism - Werner from the standpoint of improvement; Wommack from the standpoint of having the talent and depth he has confidence in.

"Overall, I was really pleased with the spring from the standpoint of our guys working hard and improving," said Werner. "With the injuries we had going in, we knew it was going to be tough, but some of our younger guys, who got a lot of reps they normally wouldn't have gotten if everyone had been healthy, dug in and got better.

"Going against one of the best defenses in the country, I was wondering going into spring if we were going to be able to get a first down, but our kids ended up getting a lot done and actually the last couple of scrimmages, and today, they showed they can move the ball and score. The young offensive line did a great job in allowing our quarterbacks to operate so we could really get an idea of what they can do."

And the QBs?

"All three of them had good days and bad days. I was pleased with all three of them overall," Dan continued. "We did move the ball even though we split up and already depleted offensive line and our QBs did some good things in The Grove Bowl, all three of them.

"The QB race is really close. At one point this spring, all three of them were throwing for right at 66%. It was so close it was ridiculous. It's a wide open race to September, in my eyes."

The "new guy" was Chad Kelly.

"His strength is his arm - he's got a live arm. I was really pleased with the way he caught on to the system, to the calls he had to make and to the tempo. In the whole spring, he only called one or two wrong plays at the line of scrimmage," Werner allowed. "It was amazing to me he caught on that quickly. He has a high football IQ."

Werner took a moment to pat OL Coach Matt Luke on the back for his work in spring.

"Matt was pulling his hair out before spring wondering how we were going to get a first down without Laremy Tunsil, Aaron Morris, Daronte Bouldin and then Robert Conyers a week or so into spring, but he did a great job molding the ones left into a line that allowed us to operate the offense, even with a left tackle (Jeremy Liggins) starting the whole spring at a position he had never played before," Dan said. "Great job by Matt and those guys, incredible really."

Hugh Freeze expressed a bit of disappointment in the lack of consistency with the wideouts this spring. Werner's thoughts on that matter?

"There is no doubt in my mind they will come around. Catching the ball from three different QBs is tough. Those guys will bounce back. They are really talented," he continued.

In The Grove Bowl, the Rebel offense showed an obvious improvement in the run game.

"We tweaked a few things. We got some ideas from some other teams who run a similar offense and it's been really good for us. We are better in teh run game now than we have been, in my opinion," Werner stated.

Wommack is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Werner.

Dave has quality athletes across the board and they were relatively healthy all spring.

"We lost some outstanding players and along with it some good chemistry, but I like the bunch we are working with now," Dave stated. "They are physical and we showed we are developing some chemistry for next year.

"I am confident, if we stay relatively healthy, we will have a nice unit next year."

Wommack is now the linebackers' coach as well as the DC and, as fate would have it, he inherited a spot that lost D.T. Shackelford, Serderius Bryant and Keith Lewis. Hence, the Rebs went into spring moving C.J. Johnson to the middle.

"I thought the MLBs made a lot of progress and C.J. seems natural at it in most cases," Wommack explained. "I need someone to step up as a third-down MLB so we can put C.J. back on the edge in those situations, so I moved (DeMarquis) Gates there. We just need to keep developing that position.

"Christian Russell and Temario Strong have improved, but we have to eliminate some mental mistakes they are making. Those are the guys who have to set the defense, so we have to get rid of those mistakes. That's critical."

Wommack has the luxury of 11-12 defensive linemen he trusts. Newcomers DT Breeland Speaks and DT D.J. Jones are at the forefront after spring training.

"We lost three guys up front, but we replaced them with two guys - Breeland and D.J. - who I think are going to be special and unique. We were already strong up front, but now we have gotten stronger because both those guys are strong, quick and athletic," he stated. "In this league, you better be strong up front and I think we will be, and we have some good depth to keep them all fresh as the games and the season wear on."

With Tee Shepard, Tony Bridges, Kendarius Webster and Kailo Moore at the corners - and Carlos Davis on a rapid mend from knee surgery last August, Wommack is optimistic.

"We weren't sure if we were going to be able to move Mike Hilton to Rover and keep him there due to our situation at corner, but those guys came through and I think Carlos Davis, when he comes back fully, will help us out too. You need five because of the nickel and dime packages we go into and I think we will have that," Wommack stated. "They all progressed nicely. Kailo improved a lot, Tee and Tony were more than what I expected and Kendarius is as good as any of them. He is a steady guy we can rely on."

Tony Conner is the man at Husky, but what about a backup for him and backups at both saefty slots?

"A.J. Moore is doing a real good job backing Tony. We can trust him. I was concerned more about free safety behind Trae Elston and Rover behind Mike Hilton that anything, but C.J. Hampton is light years ahead of where he was last year as a true freshman behind Trae and Chief Brown and C.J. Moore got a lot of reps when Mike got hurt and it helped them get a lot better," he noted.

Wommack didn't throw the kitchen sink the offense in The Grove Bowl - he only called one corner fire and a couple of inside blitzes all day, but he said that did not matter in the overall scheme of things - he tipped his hat to the offense.

"From the first day of spring through today our offense got a lot better, in my opinion," Wommack closed. "I was proud of the offense for what they accomplished. They challenged us more and more each day and that was good for them and good for us."

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