Ole MIss Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Dan Werner can say "been there and done that" for just about every situation a coach can face in his 27-year career.
But in his first year as the Rebs' offensive boss, he faced something new - installing an offense in spring without the quarterback who would start in the fall - Brent Schaeffer.
"Normally when you go into a new situation everyone starts off together. When we didn't have Brent here in spring, that was something new to me," said Werner.
New, perhaps, but not "undoable."
"It's a challenge, but to this point of the preseason camp, I couldn't be more pleased with the process," Werner noted. "The thing I'm happy about is that the offense is basically in. We only need to put in another 5-10% of the offense to be finished with the installation. We've gone through just about everything and all situations and the guys know it.
"Now it's a matter of fine-tuning and polishing. Now we are doing two things. One, we're making sure they are getting sharper and being on time with their execution. Two, we are strongly emphasizing staying low, coming off the ball and attacking. The thing is if players are not really sure, they will not be full speed. Now we are double-checking that everyone knows exactly what to do and that they are doing it full speed."
On the offensive line, Werner says things are slowly but surely coming around.
"Each day, we might experiment with one of two guys doing some different things, not so much to find new starters but to see who can do what," he continued. "You never know what's going to happen. If a starter gets injured, we want to make sure the next best guy gets put in there, whether he's a guard going to tackle or whatever. We are working several guys at different positions to evaluate their effectiveness."
The concern Werner has is at wide receiver, for now.
"For all intents and purposes, all our receivers are freshmen," he said. "Experience-wise, we have none. That's the bottom line. I've never faced this before, but they are responding very well. They are doing a great job.
"I can tell they worked out on their own all summer, learning their routes and getting in top shape. That's half the battle for a newcomer at wide receiver. The young guys know what route to run, but all of a sudden a coverage changes or a sight read changes and it slows them down momentarily until we can communicate with them more. The next step for them is to eliminate the indecision. If he's got a curl route, but we get a hard corner, what does he do? He has to know instantly what to do. Right now, here is some expected hesitation in those situations and that's our next task is eliminating that indecision."
Part two of the equation, and most importantly, is catching the ball. Werner has been pleased to this point in that aspect of the WR play.
"We are going to have open receivers and we have a quarterback who is going to get them the ball. They have to catch it," said Dan. "Last Saturday, we all came in after practices and said 'we had a bunch of drops.' But after we watched the tape, we only had two drops that were right in the guy's hands and one was on the first play of the scrimmage, which kind of influenced our thinking about the day. Other than those two, they caught everything they should have.
"Certainly, our goal is zero drops, but between 7-on-7 and team, there were over 100 plays and in our first scrimmage we only had two legitimate drops in our grading."
Werner was asked - with BenJarvus Green-Ellis shaping up to be the go-to back - where Mico McSwain fits in the picture.
"He's a guy we have to find a spot for. He's a tailback, but in our multiple sets, he may line up in the backfield, he may line up on the outside, he may motion, whatever we can come up with to get him the ball," Dan stated.
At tight end, Werner said he was concerned going into last spring about Robert Lane's ability to block effectively. He's not concerned any more.
"When I first was told we were moving him to tight end, during my job interview, I figured he'd be more of a receiver type guy. Most QBs that move to TE are in that mold, but not Robert. Right away, you could see this guy was a battler. He's a tough sun-of-a-gun," Werner evaluated. "Over the summer, he put on some weight and now my mindset is different. He's an every down tight end who can run, block and catch."
Werner's biggest concern coming into fall camp was whether or not he'd have to slow down the installation of his offense for Schaeffer. That hasn't been the case.
"We are way ahead of where I thought we'd be in regards to Brent. It's been as good as I could hope for. We haven't had to slow down anything because of him. He's on top of it all and is a quick study," Werner smiled.
At running back, Werner has been pelased with the whole lot of them.
"BenJarvus is a tough kid who knows how to run the football. I think he's an excellent back. Mico is a speed guy who can go all the way quickly. Cordera Eason is a promising freshman and Bruce Hall is a guy who has a knack for gaining yards and finding the end zone," he noted. "We are also pleased with both our fullbacks - Jason Cook and Reggie Hicks. They are what you want in a fullback. Tough, unselfish, team players, effective blockers and good receivers."
While Werner said there is still a lot of work to accomplish in the next three weeks and beyond, he's happy with where the Rebs are right now offensively.
"I came out of spring with an idea in my head of where we'd be in fall camp at the end of each week. We are ahead of where I imagined we'd be," he ended.
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