For Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron, it always boils down to one major thing in football - competing.
From that angle, he was pleased with Saturday's 122-play scrimmage that culminated with an overtime period with the number one defense and number two offense defeating the number one offense and number two defense on a Billy Tapp to Michael Hicks 25-yard TD pass.
"We had a good scrimmage today," said Coach O. "Both sides of the ball competed very hard. It went exactly like I expected - at times the defense played well and at times the offense got it done. We also got some good work on special teams and are coming along well in all areas. Nobody really stood out, it was just a solid day, competitive in a lot of areas."
The "gameplan" for today was to keep the defense somewhat vanilla, but even when 'O' turned up the heat with blitzes, the offense responded well.
"We played our defense. It's not that we didn't want to blitz a little more, but when we did the offense picked us up effectively most of the time," he explained. "We haven't blitzed a lot this spring due to putting in a new offense and there is no need, but we've worked on that enough to get some things done."
Orgeron is still pleased with the running game and said QB Seth Adams has been a pleasant surprise as the spring has worn on.
"The running game is doing a good job, for the most part. The offensive line is coming right at the defense and is more aggressive and more effective. BenJarvus Green-Ellis also adds a tougher dimension to the running game.
"We knew Seth could play, but for him to be the first-team guy coming out of spring is pretty good for him. He's been a pleasant surprise for us as we await the arrival of Brent (Schaeffer). Seth showed a little bit of mobility today, which we liked seeing. We went downfield more today and had some success. We missed several balls we should have caught on the second team, but it was much better than last week. Plus (OC) Dan (Werner) has a good passing game. He can pick up your blitzes and get people open in his scheme. We did a good job there."
Redshirt freshman WR Michael Hicks had a productive day as well.
"I asked him where's he been," O laughed. "But it takes time for guys to learn positions. He's starting to catch on and made some big plays for us today."
Today, senior RG James McCoy was elevated to first team OL ahead of Maurice Miller, who has been playing number one there.
"It's a battle between James and Mo. It will see-saw until one of them wins the position outright or someone else beats them out. We'll see. Good to have that kind of competition," he continued.
Orgeron was pleased with the balance of the team in the scrimmage.
"Last week, the defense had the upper hand most of the day. Today, we had more balance. We started off with short-yardage situations and I think the defense won that battle," he stated. "Then the offense warmed up a little bit and we started making plays on both sides of the ball, which is what we want. We want everything to be competitive and a give-and-take deal on every snap."
Werner's first impressions were also centered around his guys competing on the offensive side of the ball.
"I thought our guys battled hard all day long," he said. "We also moved the ball around a little better than we did last week. I was happy about that. But I'm still not happy with the ball being on the ground and the penalties. Those are the things we need to take care of in spring - get that behind us and corrected before August rolls around. We got better in that area a little today compared to last week, but we still have a long way to go."
Werner was pleased with the improvement from last week's scrimmage to this week's workout in the offensive line.
"They played better as a unit this week. We're doing a nice job in the running game. We get down to the goalline where the defense knows what we are going to do and we are still able to knock the ball in," he noted. "It means we are getting more physical. If we are physical and we can run the football, we have a chance to succeed. We're getting there."
Dan said the passing game also showed some improvement, but not enough.
"It was better than last week, but we still had open receivers who either dropped the ball or we didn't get the ball to them consistently enough. Obviously, you can't be successful doing that. When plays are there to be made, you have to make them," Werner continued. "Seth Adams is doing a better job at QB, but he still needs work on getting rid of the ball quicker. There were times he held the ball too long. All three of the QBs were.
"The wide receivers made some plays today - Michael Hicks and Marshay Green caught several balls each. But the glaring thing is that we had too many drops. We'll take care of the drops and see who we can trust to put out there to catch the ball. We went more vertical today because we want to see who can go make plays for us."
The following are some notes and observations we made during the scrimmage.
* MLB Patrick Willis has not, and will not, practice this spring, but he is making progress. Today, he was out of his foot boot that was protecting his foot that was operated on during the offseason. He said he's ready to get back to work and can't wait for the offseason and summer workouts.
* South Panola LB Chris Strong and Hernando OL Bradley Sowell, who have both committed to Ole Miss, were at the workout, along with several other recruits.
* The "usual suspects" were out for the scrimmage - TB Mico McSwain, SS Jamarca Sanford, DE Reterio Brown, DE Lamark Armour. All have missed all, or most, of spring and will not participate in the Grove Bowl next Saturday.
* In early special teams work, it's apparent the Rebels are going to be more aggressive in going after punts. BenJarvus Green-Ellis blocked a Will Moseley attempt after a high snap and returned the loose ball 25 yards after the block. . . That play was immediately followed by another high snap - second-team deep snapper - and WR Mike Wallace taking the ball from Moseley, who was still juggling it to try to get it under control, and returned it 40 yards for a TD. Coach O has stated during spring the Rebs would try to block more kicks in 2006 and that certainly showed today.
* In kickoff returns, freshman WR Marshay Green and CB Trumaine McBride were the deep backs on KOR with the first team. CB Nate Banks and WR Mike Wallace, who returned on kickoff 70 yards today, were working with the second unit. But don't count out McSwain when he returns to action as one of the return specialists. The Rebels will have quick-strike threats returning kicks next season. Those are five of the fastest players on the team and Green has apparently situated himself to be the top returner at this juncture.
* The give-and-take Coach O was talking about happened quickly in the scrimmage. BJGE had some equipment problems in the first ones-versus-ones possession. Converted QB Bruce Hall, who has moved to TB, took his place and ripped off an 18-yard gain over LT Michael Oher and LG Andrew Wicker, who gave him a gaping hole to run through. But on the following snap, MLB Robert Russell stuffed Hall on the same play to the right side. It was like that most of the day - with the two sides of the ball swapping good plays. Hall did not have the flashy day he had last Saturday when he had his TB debut, but he still had some good runs and shows some spark at the TB position.
* When the twos took the field, there was more of the same. On the first play, LB Antonio Turner smothered TB Hiram White at the line of scrimmage but on the next snap QB Billy Tapp found WR Keith Houston for a 15-yard gain on a quality pass. White then picked up 12 yards on a nifty run up the middle and Tapp followed up with an 18-yard scamper when he was flushed from the pocket by DT Brandon Jenkins.
* DE Peria Jerry has been getting a lot of ink this spring and rightly so. He's contantly chasing the ball and making plays. On one play today, he penetrated the line and tracked down BenJarvus, holding him to a one-yard gain. He was also very effective in plays run right at him. He has that rare ability to play tough and strong with the play coming directly at him or quick enough to run down a play away from him. Coach O has been saying it all spring - Peria can be special and he exhibits that quality regularly, which is also the mark of an excellent player - consistency.
* In 2005, the Rebels did not have a back who could do much damage in the inside running game. That's changing with Green-Ellis in the lineup. He's patient when running in traffic, but when he sees his opening, he does not hesitate. Several times today he was able to pick up 6-8 yards right behind behind the center and guards with bodies flying all around him. He has a knack for getting the most out of an opening in heavy traffic and is a tough inside runner who seems to enjoy the contact that comes with running between the tackles. He also has a nose for the end zone, and isn't that what offensive football is all about?
* Tight End Robert Lane didn't catch many passes today, but he caught everything thrown his way and made plays when his number was called. What was more visible to us was the progress he has made in the blocking game. For someone who has never had to block in all his years of football, Robert will stick his nose in the middle of the actiona and will mix it up with any defensive lineman. His goal is to become a complete TE by the time the season rolls around and it appears he is reaching that goal with his improvement in the blocking game.
* BenJarvus will get some headlines with his running game, but the progress of the OL in that area is obvious. It appears the OL is playing lower and they are firing out harder and with more purpose this spring. The result is room for the RBs to run. The double teams and fullbacks kicking out have given the Rebel running game a different look and mindset.
* If there is an area that needs help ASAP, it's the wide receivers. It appears redshirt freshman Michael Hicks is starting to get the message. He had several nice catches and runs after the catch today. Hicks shows an ability to go up to get a high pass and has moves when he gets the ball in his hands. He made two catches today on sheer leaping ability that drew the applause from the fans in attendance. On one 20-yard catch today, he got an excellent downfield block from fellow WR Tyson Andrus that sprung him for an extra five yards.
* From the first time we saw the team practice this spring until today, there is no question the quarterbacks, particularly number one QB Seth Adams, are performing more effectively. Their play is not what you want as a finished product yet, but improvement is apparent. Seth seems under control and when he was able to set his feet, he made some quality throws. He seems much more comfortable in the pocket now than he did three weeks ago, which is to be expected, but good to see nonetheless.
* Two or three times today, we noticed the OL giving Adams time to throw, but the secondary did such a good job in coverage that he either had to tuck the ball and run or take a sack. Sacks are sacks and coverage sacks are just as big as "normal" sacks. The experience in the secondary is starting to show more and more when plays like that occur.
* The Rebs used the shovel pass effectively today in several situations. That was a new trick introduced into the offensive arsenal since last week.
* LB Coach David Saunders believes junior SLB Garry Pack can be one of the best SLBs in the SEC if he tunes in a little better to the little nuances of the position. Today, he had a QB sack and was mixing it up with nice stops against the run for short gains or losses. Saunders may be on to something if Pack continues to progress like he has in spring.
* Backup LBs Rogers Loche and Brandon Thomas need to work on their movement (speed) during the offseason, but when a play is run in their direction, both are physical players who lay the wood to running backs. They've got to get faster to contribute, but being physical is a great start for young LBs. Both of them are adept at hitting and like the physical side of football.
* Backup DT Brandon Jenkins is an enigma. On one play, he will make an All-World play, but on the next he becomes almost invisible. Today, he made several big plays that showed his immense ability, but then he seemed to "take some plays off" at times. On one running play, he broke into the backfield and clotheslined Hiram White in his tracks. On another, he pressured QB Billy Tapp and knocked the pass and Tapp to the ground. If he could just become more consistent. . . .
* LEO End Chris Bowers didn't pop on our radar much in the last scrimmage, but today he was active and visible with a couple of QB sacks, several QB pressures and some physical plays against the run. Like Peria, he's a player who can run down the LOS and make a play on the other side of the field. If Chris can get to 245-250 pounds, look out. He's already better this year than last year now that he's up in the 235 range versus 225 from last season.
* Werner doesn't have fullbacks in the lineup for window dressing. They are expected to spring the running backs with crushing blocks in the running game. Sophomore Jason Cook is having the kind of spring he was hoping for in that department. Several times today Cook kicked out a defensive end or took on a linebacker in the hole and won the battle, allowing the running backs to gain some breathing room. Good physical play from Cook, who is coming off a season-ending forearm injury.
* There weren't many placekicking opportunities today, but besides a 50-yard field goal attempt by Moseley sailing wide right, the Rebel PKs - Moseley and Justin Sparks, were perfect.
* Backup S Gary Albury was the recipient of one of two interceptions today. "Recipient" because a pass over the middle was tipped into the air by LB Rogers Loche and it went straight to Albury, who was playing centerfield in the secondary.
* Hayward Howard seems to be picking up steam in his quest to be the number one guy at DT. On one play today, he shucked Center Thomas Eckers aside, burst through the opening he created and nailed Adams for a 9-yard loss. There's no question about his ability - a good combination of quickness and strength. He gives the Rebs a "big" presence in the middle at 300 pounds.
* JUCO transfer TE Jason Hawkins hasn't gotten much attention this spring, but he's returning to the form that earned him a scholarship to Ole Miss after contracting mono in the offseason. He only had one catch today, but it was a good one that went for 20 yards over the middle. Soft hands, good speed. He just has to regain the weight and strength in the offseason he lost when he was ill.
* In the overtime period to end the scrimmage, the one defense and two offense defeated the two defense and one offense. The one offense went against the one defense on the first possession. Their effort was quickly put at a disadvantage when a holding call pushed them back 10 yards. They never recovered and the ball went over when a pass tipped at the line by Jerry was picked off by LB Quentin Taylor on a diving catch. . . . The two offense struck quickly when Tapp threw the ball up for grabs in the end zone to Hicks, who was covered tightly by CB Terrell Jackson. Hicks went over Jackson, who was poised for an interception, and took the ball away from him for the score.
We will publish a picture gallery of the scrimamge tomorrow.
SCRIMMAGE STATS FROM OLE MISS SID
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - 22 rushes, 118 yards, 2 TD
Bruce Hall - 14 rushes, 42 yards, 1 TD
Hiram White - 10 rushes, 38 yards
Billy Tapp - 2 rushes, 26 yards
Seth Adams - 11 rushes, 20 yards, 2 TD
Conner Wise - 2 rushes, 8 yards
Burnell Wallace - 1 rush, 6 yards
Billy Tapp - 10-19, 163 yards, 1 TD
Seth Adams - 11-23, 150 yards, 1 INT
Conner Wise - 6-12, 67 yards, 1 IN
Marshay Green - 7 rec., 76 yards
Michael Hicks - 6 rec., 126 yards, 1 TD
Robert Lane - 3 rec., 21 yards
Keith Houston - 2 rec., 21 yards
Jason Cook - 2 rec., 21 yards
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - 2 rec., 19 yards
Seth Michaelson - 2 rec., 12 yards
Robert Hough - 1 rec., 21 yards
Jason Hawkins - 1 rec., 17 yards
Bruce Hall - 1 rec., 15 yards
Burnell Wallace - 1 rec., 15 yards
Lawrence Lilly - 1 rec., 6 yards
Robert Russell - 7 solo, 1 TFL (-2 yards)
Rogers Loche - 7 solo, 2 assist
Bryan Brown - 7 solo, 1 assist
Terrell Jackson - 6 solo
Garry Pack - 4 solo, 1 assist, 1 QB sack, 1 TFL (-4 yards)
Peria Jerry - 4 solo, 3 assist
Charles Clark - 4 solo
Chris Bowers - 3 solo, 3 assist, 1 QB sack, 1 TFL (-8 yards)
Hayward Howard - 3 solo, 1 pass defended, 1 QB sack, 1 TFL (-8 yards)
Quentin Taylor - 3 solo, 1 assist, 1 pass defended, 1 TFL (-1 yard), 1 INT
Nate Banks - 3 solo, 1 assist, 1 pass defended
Dustin Mouzon - 3 solo, 1 assist
Brandon Jenkins - 2 solo, 1 assist
LeRon King - 2 solo, 1 assist
Jeremy Garrett - 2 solo
Gary Albury - 1 solo, 2 assist, 1 INT
Trumaine McBride - 1 solo, 2 assist
Antonio Turner - 1 solo, 1 assist
Gary Riggs - 1 solo
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