As Ole Miss' August practice rapidly approaches, and Quarterback Brent Schaeffer is finally on board, we interviewed Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner on his thoughts about Brent and the 2006 offense.
What are Werner's expectations for Schaeffer in terms of being ready for the season opener?
"Brent and I have talked a lot of football in the last six months or so. He knows more than the normal newcomer," said Werner. "He's not like a true freshman. He has gone through this - twice. Once at Tennessee, where he won the job in an August, and at College of Sequoias, where he had to learn another offense in a relatively short time. I think he will be fine."
Werner said bringing Brent along in the offense will be the same as it is for any offensive player, to a certain extent.
"I'm one of those offensive coordinators who has a package in place. We have scripts and plans and everything already lined up," he continued. "We will install the package for all the offensive players. When we watch the film after practice that night, if we feel we haven't executed well, we will run the same stuff the next day again until we get it right. It's not exclusive to just the quarterback.
"We will feed him and all the offensive players until they can't take any more, get that right and then feed them some more. Basically, the progress he makes, and the progress they all make, will be up to them."
There is a caveat to that scenario, however.
"As coaches, we have to do a great job of not overloading him or any of the players. Brent's a great athlete, but we have some good players around him too. We have to be smart with our installation of the offense and be sure we don't short circuit anyone. We also have to be cognizant that Brent doesn't have to do everything by himself."
While that is a good explanation of Werner's plan, what is the reality of the situation? How much can Schaeffer really learn?
"I wouldn't feel as good as I do now if he'd never played college ball before or if we hadn't been talking a lot of football the past six months," Werner stated. "Honestly, I've never dealt with this type of situation before. Not many coaches have. But I know a lot of true freshmen have started and succeeded on this level before - he did at UT, and he's much more advanced than a true freshman.
"His deal is different from a true freshman in that he's seen the coverages he will be facing. He's played at this speed before. He's learned two offenses in two years on the college level, so we know he's bright and can do it. His deal is simply learning this system. I am very optimistic he will get that done. Also, I have to believe he's going to be a lot better than he was two years ago at Tennessee. It's up to me to coach him up and get him ready and I'm comfortable with being able to do that."
Brent, said Werner, understands the whole situation he's facing.
"He sounds comfortable on the phone. He sounds tuned in and excited," said Dan. "We've got everything in this package to fit his strengths. We can roll him out, move the pocket, whatever we need to do to fit what he does best, but I don't want him to be a running quarterback who throws a little. I want him to be a pro-style QB who looks to throw first and run second.
"If a guy is open, hit him. If everything breaks down, he has the freedom to run and make something happen, but his first option is to get the ball in the hands of our receivers and backs. We know his legs are a weapon, but he won't get a steady diet of running the ball himself unless he sees something he likes."
Two huge parts of Brent's success will hinge on the effectiveness of the wide receivers and the running game.
"The wide receivers are a concern because of the experience factor. Our job will be to find out what our players can and can't do and play to their strengths. We will stay away from their weaknesses," Dan noted. "I feel one of my strengths as a coach is to be able to figure out what players do best and figure out ways to put the ball in their hands in those strength positions.
"Even though we lack experience out wide, I liked what I saw in Marshay Green, Burnell Wallace, Michael Hicks and some others in spring and I know we have some excellent young receivers coming on board. Between our returning players and the newcomers, we will be able to find three-to-five who are big time players and can help us win right away. I believe that."
The ground game starts up front.
"We aren't where we want to be yet, but our OL improved every day in spring. Early in spring, guys were taking steps we don't teach and that was hurting us. But as the spring progressed, they were all tracking well, which is the whole key to our running game. I was pleased with that progress," he continued. "I didn't get to see much of Mico (McSwain) due to injury, but I saw a lot of BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) and I liked what I saw. He's a North and South runner, which fits this offense well. He'll make a quick cut, but then he gets back North and South quickly. He's bigger now than he was in spring and looks great. I look for him to have a big year for us.
"I also think we have some young backs who will do well and I've seen film of Mico. I think he can help us a lot out wide or in the backfield."
Werner said he's anxious, excited, optimistic and ready to roll.
"I am very excited about the attitude of the players and the way they are responding to the coaches. That's half the battle," he closed. "We can work everything out from there. This is an exciting time for us and I'm enjoying being a part of it here."
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