It's a daunting task, replacing seven starters off a football unit, but that's what is facing the Ole Miss offensive staff this spring training.
Gone are LT Laremy Tunsil, probably the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft; Laquon Treadwell, another first-rounder; LG Aaron Morris, a four-year starter; C Ben Still, a two-year starter; RG Justin Bell, not a starter last year much,b ujt valuable; RT Fahn Cooper, a two-year starter and likely draft pick; WR Cody Core, another with good NFL stock; and TB Jaylen Walton, a very productive Rebel.
"It's hard to tell sometimes how we are doing because the defense knows our play calls and checks and formations and snap counts, but our guys have bought into our system and, despite some frustrations at times, we are getting better every day," said Co-OC Dan Werner. "We are pushing them hard because these young guys don't realize how quickly September will be here. Blink of the eye."
Vast improvement and knowledge gained by the players expected to replace the departed will be key to a successful spring.
"We have high expectations here, but it will be a lot tougher this year with the losses we had. It's tough to lose two of the best players who ever played here (Tunsil and Treadwell), five other starters and some others who played a lot, but we knew it was coming and we feel like it's time for the guys we recruited to replace them to step up.
"But anyone who thinks it's going to be easy is fooling themselves. We have to put in the work and we have to have a single purpose from now until the end of next season - to get ready and to get better."
The good thing is that the Rebels are spearheaded by a productive quarterback, rising senior Chad Kelly, which is tantamount to having a good offense in the SEC.
"He just keeps making plays and he's very comfortable now in our system," noted Dan. "It's great to have a guy more than one year. You see how much better Bo Wallace got by his third year. We won't have Chad that long, but he will be better in his second year in a lot of ways - leadership, knowing everything there is to know about our system, knowing his personnel better, etc."
And he's happy with his two young QBs - Jason Pellerin and Shea Patterson.
"I'm pleased with both of them. They know what to do in the routes and progressions, but they are now learning how to deal with different coverage looks. That's just reps, and they need a lot of them," Dan stated. "They will get things honed up - they are both bright and hard workers, but it will take time to get where they need to be."
Dan is pleased with the progress of the young receivers to compliment older guys like Quincy Adeboyejo, Evan Engram and Damore'ea Stringellow.
"I think Van (Jefferson) and Damarkus Lodge are going to be terrific in time. They have so much talent, but they need to become more consistent when things start going real fast," Werner explained. "That will come with maturity and knowledge. They are getting it more and more - bits and pieces, and they will put it all together soon. When they do, they will fall in there right with the other excellent receivers we have. We are blessed there.
"I think it helps Van that his Father, who has a great NFL background, tutored him. He understands routes and schemes better than most youngsters his age. Now, he's working on what to do when he sees different coverages. He'll get there."
Up front, Werner stated Tackles Alex Givens and Jeremy Liggins are being groomed to play either side and the cards will shake out when all hands are on deck in the summer and in fall camp.
"I like both of them. They are big and athletic and they get after it. They are picking things up very well," he noted. "I'm also pleased with Javon (Patterson) and Jordan (Sims) at the guard slots."
The run game was a huge point of emphasis last spring and it is this spring as well.
"If you can't run the ball, you can't win championships. We have put in a couple of new formations, like we did last year, and we think that will help us get things going downhill more," Dan allowed. "Also, we have more physical backs than we have had. We have had more defenders run over this spring than we have had in four years combined previously. I loved the guys we have had - Walton and Jeff Scott, loved them, but we've got two or three who can just lower their shoulders and get you two or three more yards.
"Eric Swinney, it seems, runs over someone every day. He has a rare combination of power and shiftiness. He gets hit at a one-yard gain but runs over someone and gets three more yards. (Jordan) Wilkins and Akeem (Judd) have also had those moments."
Dan Werner has a huge task on his hands - replacing seven stalwarts from 2015, but he feels it's doable.
"Like I said, we'll be fine, but we still have a lot to do," he closed.
Let the work continue.null