There are not many college football teams in America where the quarterback is not the focal point of the discussion by fans.
That is also true at Ole Miss – year-in and year-out. But because of what took place last year at QB – with the now "famous" three-headed-monster – there is more attention being paid to that critical position than ever before.
Can Micheal Spurlock comes back from the oblivion of being the starter early last year only to be relegated to the bench most of the last nine games? Is Robert Lane – who appeared to get the team to respond to him last year despite struggles throwing the ball – the answer? Will Ethan Flatt, who started more games than either last year, fit better into this system than the other two?
To this point, nobody knows the definite answers, not even Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Noel Mazzone.
"The quarterback position is a lot like our whole offense right now – we are a work in progress," Mazzone noted. "We've had good days and days that weren't as good. We've had days when we've handled what the defense has thrown at us and days when we haven't. But I expected all of that."
What Mazzone will say, in general, is that he has five willing candidates, including RS freshmen Paul Eck and Will Ducey to go along with the top three
"I think they've all done a great job adjusting to the new system they are learning. Their understanding of the terminology, the concepts and all the logistics that go with it is good, for a beginning," he explained. "We are at a point in the understanding of the system that we can start working on their fundamentals more now. For the good of the whole offense and all the players, we had to teach the system first to the QBs. Now we can spend more time correcting the little things they need work on in fundamentals.
Mazzone is pleased with the progress he has seen to this point.
"This is a quarterback-friendly offense. We won't diminish their athletic ability by burdening them mentally at the line of scrimmage too much. Consequently, they have progressed in the system very well from a mental standpoint," he continued. "Now it's just a matter of them executing properly and better."
With Spurlock, who has taken more snaps with the first team than the others in spring, it's a matter of upping his level of play in the pocket.
"Micheal is a tremendous athlete. We will utilize his running skills. What we need to work on with him are his drops, patience in the pocket and his recognition of blitzes and coverages," Noel said. "Like all of them, it's mostly fundamental stuff and exposure. He's got a lot of raw ability. It's just a matter of harnessing it."
Lane, who also took a lot of number one snaps before injuring his shoulder and missing a whole week of practice, needs as much work as he can get in the passing game.
"Robert is a bull running the ball. He's a tough kid with a lot of natural ability and a big upside," Mazzone stated, "but he's got to work hard in the offseason on his release and the processing of plays as they develop. He'll get there. Again, it's a matter of fundamentals, which we can work on now that they have a grasp of the system. I hate he missed a week of spring – he needed all the work he could get, but we've got time to catch him back up."
Flatt, according to Mazzone, has shown the most improvement in his fundamentals.
"From the start until now, Ethan has improved the most. I'm very happy with his progress. He's a very bright kid who absorbs what you tell him and works on what needs to be worked on," Noel assessed. "I don't know how all of this is going to pan out yet, but we feel good we can make good things happen at QB."
Rounding out the QB slot are Eck and Ducey, who have gotten limited snaps in scrimmages, but have gotten equal reps in drills.
"Paul and Will are green, but they are willing. We just need to be patient with them and give them time to absorb everything and adjust to what we are teaching. Since we were putting in a new system this spring, and having to do it in a hurry, they probably didn't get the looks they were hoping for, but we can make up for that and they have time to develop and progress," closed Mazzone. "They are good athletes with good minds. They'll be fine."
Mazzone also offered some brief snippets on the other components of the offense.
Offensive Line: "We're a work in progress. We're looking to fill a couple of holes and have tried a lot of personnel in different positions. We will go into August with a good foundation, but still searching for two or three players to step up their games."
Tight End: "We need more production there because tight end is an important part of this offense. Jimmy (Brooks) has stepped up his game, but we are expecting more from Lawrence (Lilly) in the fall."
Wide Receiver: "Fundamentally, they have improved a lot of things in their games – their blocking has been very good, but they need to be more consistent catching the ball."
Running Backs: "This area has been my biggest surprise. I think we are three deep and solid at tailback and Larry Kendrick has had an excellent spring as our utility guy. They are all competing hard for playing time and have all shown good qualities."
Fullback: "Jason Cook is young, but he's been very consistent. We need him to get a little more physical in the offseason, but he'll get there because he knows what is needed and will do it. We are also optimistic about Brandon Jacobs fitting in here somewhere. He's a senior with a lot of experience who we need healthy."
QB - Mazzone pleased with spring results
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