Sideline notes -

After the Ole Miss Rebels had defeated the Memphis Tigers 28-25 to open the 2006 season yesterday afternoon, Rebel QB Brent Schaeffer said everything that needed to be said in one short sentence. "It was a good start." We concur. Read about it inside.

Sideline notes from the Rebs' 28-25 win over Memphis.

* Thank you, Ole Miss and all involved, for retiring Chucky Mullins' cherished number 38. It belongs right where it is now - forever hanging on the face of the press box next to Archie Manning's number 18. To me, it shows we have a heart that beats the right way. Chucky's exploits on the playing field were minimal in his brief career, but nobody's spirit has ever done as much to bring a university together. The immortality that spirit now has is appropriate. P.S. - It was really cool to see guys like Nate Wayne, Artis Ford, Shawn Cobb, John Darnell, Todd Sandroni, Archie, Eric Oliver, Jamil Northcutt, Joel Jordan, Ronnie Heard, Brad Gaines, Billy Brewer, and many more, who came for the retirement ceremony. Shows their hearts are in the right place too.

* Prior to the game, I bumped into DE Lamark Armour, who has not been practicing due to rehab from a surgically repaired knee in the offseason. He told me he will start back to practice this week, if all goes well.

* Hey, Coach O's been saying the little guy can play. A hint should have been the opening kickoff return. You know who we are talking about - freshman Wide Receiver Dexter McCluster. How about this for a debut? 268 total yards of production - 122 via KO returns, 86 receiving on six catches and 60 rushing on four attempts, including a 31-yard TD scamper on a trick play for the Rebs' first score of the day. Breathtaking. The concerns about the young wide receivers just lessened, by one player at least.

* An already beat up defensive line, which couldn't afford any injuries, got a rude coming out party when starting DE Chris Bowers and starting NT Jeremy Garrett were limited in their availability with injuries. Frosh Marcus Tillman and junior Brandon Jenkins filled in admirably, but this insanity has to stop. Peria Jerry is already playing with a gimpy foot and hand, leaving DT Hayward Howard, Tillman and Jenkins as the only frontline DL who aren't nicked up.

* The only phrase I can come up with to describe QB Brent Schaeffer is "slick operator." Forget he's physically gifted, which is a big part of his arsenal. Where he impressed me is the way he managed the offense. No delay of game penalties - I saw Steve Spurrier's offense get a handful against Mississippi State just three days prior due to the new start-the-play-clock-immeidately rule, no turnovers - as OC Dan Werner said, not a single pass Brent attempted was even close to being picked off, no fumbles - flawless ballhandling, and, according to those who know more than I do, Schaeffer was "very astute for his first game in making the right checks and reads." Marvelous coming out party for number 7 and it will only get better as he acclimates himself more and more into the offense.

* We saw BenJarvus Green-Ellis' toughness all last fall when he was imitating opposing running backs on the scout team. His relentlessness was as apparent then as it was last night when he gained 127 yards and kept getting stronger as the game progressed. BJGE won't dazzle you or take your breath away, but at the end of the day, you know you are going to get a good day's work, and production, from the talented RB. What a difference a ground game makes. What a difference he makes.

* One question - who will be the PK? - was somewhat answered yesterday when freshman Joshua Shene took the field four times for PATs and connected on all four successfully. Getting broken in to a game atmosphere with four easy kicks may be just what the doctor ordered for him. Right now, he's still perfect in his attempts. Not a bad start. Not bad at all. Ditto on Punter Rob Park, who averaged 47.3 yards on three punts - excellent job by the sophomore who battled inconsistency issues last year.

* There was also a battle going on all camp to see who was going to deep snap. Walkon freshman Preston Powers emerged as the winner of the race and did a very good job yesterday on placement snaps and punt snaps. Another concern erased, for now.

* This aspect of the game will get very little play, but I thought it was critical in the outcome yesterday - kickoff coverage. Memphis never got good starting field position on kickoffs because of the aggressiveness and effectiveness of the Rebel kickoff coverage team. Kickoff specialist Will Moseley and his band of wild men were a weapon yesterday. The importance of that is immeasurable, and often times overlooked.

* I don't know how good Memphis defensive line is in comparison to who the Rebels will face the rest of the way, but on this day our offensive line was very effective. The holes for BenJarvus and Brent to run through were there, Brent had time to throw and I can't recall a negative yardage rushing play the whole day. This with five guys who had never played the positions they were stationed at in a Division I game before. Kudos to first-timers C Corey Actis and RG John Jerry. I'd say they held their own, and more. There were a lot of good signs for continued OL success in the opener, and that was another major concern coming into the season. I'm not saying they are where they need to be yet, but you can't complain about yesterday's showing. We'll win a lot of games if we can rush for 240 yards an outing.

* Coach Ed Orgeron was not pleased with the defensive effort. He knows a million times more than I do about defense, but I didn't leave the game with a panic attack about the defensive showing. When you consider all the variables - our depleted DL, Memphis' somewhat unorthodox scheme, a pretty slick QB in his own right, tall and effective wide receivers, and a scatback who fits perfectly with the misdirections they like to run - I thought it could have been worse. And everything they did wrong - like the two drive-sustaining roughing the QB penalties - are correctable. I look for vast improvement by the time the next game rolls around in Columbia, MO.

* Speaking of defense, did MLB Patrick Willis make a hundred tackles yesterday, or was I just daydreaming? I had number 49 tatooed in my brain all night last night. We all know how good he is and P-Willie still takes us by surprise. I don't know if I have ever seen a defensive player who is any more valuable to a team than Patrick is to Ole Miss. It's that simple.

* While a lot of newcomers were used, the Rebel coaches - for the most part - stuck with their starters throughout the game. It was good to see some guys get their feet wet, but kudos to the coaches for easing the backups and freshmen in and not throwing them to the wolves before they are ready. The exception, due to Bowers' injury, was DE Marcus Tillman. I tried to watch him closely. With my limited knowledge of DE play, I thought he held up well. His future is bright.

* Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner got the game ball from Coach O. Very deserved. In no time at all, relatively speaking, Werner and his staff groomed Brent Schaeffer, got freshmen wide receivers ready, pieced together an OL that got the job done in the opener, installed the offense, coached them to an erorless performance and kept Memphis off balance most of the game with a very basic gameplan. It just goes to show - it's not what you call, it's when you call it, and Dan won the chess match against a wily, crafty Memphis DC in Joe Lee Dunn. Dan's work was game ball worthy, without a doubt. Again, a good start. . . As a sidebar to that, Dan was in the press box orchestrating the show with WR Coach Matt Lubick. We shouldn't forget the calm heads on the sidelines - Hugh Freeze, Art Kehoe and Frank Wilson, who kept the players focused and into the game without fail. The communication between the press box and the sidelines was flawless.

* The Rebel special teams took a lot of criticism last year, and quite a bit of it was deserved. So it's only fair to extend congratulations when they do well. Special teams play yesterday, was, well, special. Every phase of it was effective and made a difference. Congrats to SC Coordinator Chris Rippon, the whole staff and the players who take those tasks seriously.

* I don't like to use the term "great" very often. "Great" is so watered down these days by sportscasters with a limited vocabulary. But the outcome of the Memphis game was "great." 1-0 is fine by me. Now, it's up to the Rebels to build off this start and keep the momentum going. Memphis was a challenge for this young team, a challenge they passed, but the challenges will get stiffer, bank on that. It's "great" they will face them with a good taste in their mouths.

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