There has been as much concern about key eligibility issues as there has been about the coaches and players who have been here the whole time preparing for the 2006 season, which opens against Memphis in a scant few hours.
There's nothing wrong with that, but it has certainly been the source of many anxious moments for those of us reporting on the Rebels and for Ole Miss' followers. First Brent. Then Rory. Then John Jerry. Most recently, Jerrell Powe, which hasn't been officially cleared up yet, but appears to be well on its way.
Obviously, the reason for the nervousness has been the anticipated value to the team of the four or five players in question. They are all expected to be a huge part of the Rebs' fate – immediately and in the future.
With most of those issues resolved, it's past time to turn all our focus to the team. "Team" being the operative word.
How are the Rebels going to do this year?
That's a tough call because the read I'm getting from Coach Ed Orgeron has been one of mixed reviews.
One day, he seems to be riding high – pleased with some progress on that particular day from one of the units of his squad that perhaps had not been performing well but had made a small breakthrough. The next day, he shows more lines on his face. Lines of uncertainty as to how his team is progressing.
The common themes of concern from Coach O have been quality line depth on both sides of the ball, the youth at wide receiver and the placekicking being uncertain.
The optimist in me doesn't allow for too much panic in those areas, but the realist in me says Coach O's suspicions and daily reactions are true. We do have concerns in those areas.
The flip side is you can feel O is in a comfort zone with a lot of aspects of this team.
First, he's tickled with his staff, something that was obviously amiss last year. The division on the staff last year was apparent to the players and they reacted adversely to it. The staff this year, with the influx of four new coaches, is in harmony and in agreement on how to get to the promised land. You can feel it if you are around any of them for any length of time. They are all pulling the Rebel wagon in the same direction.
Second, Coach O seems more comfortable in his own skin, as I have expressed several times before. It matters that he was groomed to be a head coach by the head coaches he has worked under. Theory is a good thing in everyone's quest for knowledge, but it's not like practical application. Ed was prepared to be a head coach last year, but he had still never been one. Preparation and doing are different animals. With his rookie year behind him, and lessons learned, I expect him to meld seamlessly into his position now and I can see that maturity, experience and confidence surfacing in my dealings with him. He is no longer a rookie head coach. He's simply a head coach, our head coach, now.
Third, the players are "in" this year. To be honest, they tried to go by the team motto of "I'm In" last year, but the adjustment to Coach O's methods took them longer to achieve than anticipated. Some were "in," some were not. The ones who weren't are gone now. The ones who adjusted and endured are not just saying they are in, they are in. And they have flourished for being in. They now believe in Coach O's concepts of how to become winners and can see proof his requirements work.
From a talent standpoint, I think our quality is good, but I'm reluctant to say that about our quantity in terms of players who I consider game ready. I am a firm believer that freshmen and young players can win on this level when sprinkled in among a majority of veterans. I am not as convinced when the majority is sophomores or below that the results, in this league, are assured of being good. In other words, we are not sprinkling in frosh, RS frosh and sophs, we are relying on them heavily. While I don't fear that equation, it does make me sit up and take notice as part of my reality when thinking about the 2006 Rebels, who are going to battle with just nine seniors on the entire squad. I'm not using that as a preseason excuse, just stating a fact. We've got some kids who have to grow up in a hurry and in the fire.
To counteract that paragraph which some will read as a bit of doom, the newcomers on the team are extremely talented athletes who I am going to truly enjoy watching develop. As they get their feet wet in Division I football, they will just get better and better – they have that look to them. One has to believe, however, their inexperience has been the major source of Coach O's daily see-saw ride when conversing about his team. Inconsistency is a normal, expected trait of young players. It's inconsistency, not lack of talent, he has been up and down with.
The bottom line for me is that I am going to enjoy this year. I can feel it in my creaking bones. I like watching teams that are together, coaches who have a plan and players with good athletic ability marching in lockstep toward a common goal. I think that's what we've got with the 2006 Rebels. And that excites me.
I am asked all the time to predict how this team will fare. "I don't know" is the most honest answer I can give and I don't think anyone else does either, including the participants.
But I'm going to celebrate and enjoy the journey because what has transpired in the past eight months in the Ole Miss football program has increased my faith in these Rebels ten fold.
See you at the game.
The following are some shots from today's pep rally, attended by what appeared to be several thousand Rebel fans.
|Photos by Chuck Rounsaville|