When Rebel Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner first stepped foot on the Ole Miss campus last January, he declared the tight end position would be more "vital, visible and productive" than it has been in the past in Rebelville.
The first four games of the 2006 season, that plan was not working the way all involved had hoped.
Junior TE Robert Lane - who was expectd to be one of the chief playmakers this year - had only caught a pass or two all year.
Against Georgia, that improved - a little. Lane had two catches for 16 yards with the Rebel coaches using him in different positions to try to get him more involved in the offense.
"First of all, it was really important for the team to have some success. The two or three weeks prior to the Georgia game, we had not played well," Lane said. "To be able to compete against one of the top 10 teams in the country and play like we did - with a chance to win - helped us out some.
"Don't get me wrong, we are not satisfied. We were trying to win, but we did better and we needed that. It's good to see things turning for the better."
Individually, Lane liked his "new" role in the offense. He lined up at fullback on the first snap of the game. He was in a tight wingback position some, going in motion part of the time. He was at a straight TE slot other times and even split out wide on a few snaps.
"I was comfortable doing all those things. That's kind of what I did last year," he said. "I want the football and I know our coaches know that. If it takes moving me around to give me a better opportunity to get the ball or to help more blocking, I want that.
"I'm very confident I can help this team by having the football in my hands. If that is at tight end or fullback or split end, I don't care. That's fine with me. The coaches will tell me where to line up and I will do whatever they say. I understand they are trying to get me more involved in the offense and I loved my role against Georgia. I felt I had more opportunities to get the ball. Even though I only got two catches, I felt like a bigger part of the offense."
The Rebel passing game has not clicked like anyone had hoped to this point. There are a myriad of reasons, but Robert is a football purist and believes everything starts up front.
"We've got to give Brent (Schaeffer) more time to throw the ball with better protection. Georgia had some great defensive linemen and we had trouble with them in the first half, but we did a better job in the second half of giving Brent a little more time," he explained. "We have to give him more time to get into his reads and give our receivers more time to get into their routes and get open.
"We are getting better there, I believe, and it will start paying off, but when Brent does have time, we - as receivers - have to make sure we catch all the catchable passes. It's demoralizing when you get every phase of the passing game right and then we drop a ball that should have been caught."
Lane thinks that's coming too.
"I see the young receivers getting better every day in practice because they work hard and it means something to them," he continued. "We have all made mistakes, but what separates winners from losers is not getting down when you make one. Our young guys pick themselves up and keep getting after it.
"If they continue doing that, the mistakes will be fewer and fewer."
Robert's biggest challenge still remains in the blocking game. At 240 pounds, he's kind of small to be taking on 270-pound DEs and 300-pound DTs, which he is often asked to do.
"Robert makes very few mistakes in the blocking game, but sometimes he's just overpowered," said TE Coach Hugh Freeze. "He's one of the toughest kids on this team and will put his nose in any battle, but sometimes he gets into a bad matchup.
"Consequently, we have started moving him around some to give him better angles and give him the opportunity to pick up some momentum before he attacks his block. That worked well against Georgia and it worked better to put Lawrence Lilly in the standard tight end position. Lawrence played well against Georgia and so did Robert."
Freeze said the objective is to play more to both of those players' strengths.
"Lawrence is 270 pounds and is doing a pretty good job taking on DEs and DTs. Robert is better in the passing game, so we are moving him around trying to get him open and putting him in positions where he can be more successful blocking," Hugh continued. "We know what we have in Robert - he's a gamer, a worker, a talented, tough kid - and we need to get him the ball more. We're working on it, but everyone we play knows he's good too and they are keeping a close eye on him. He's not a surprise to the rest of the league."
Robert's goals are simple - do whatever he has to in order to help the team win, which is always first, and to get the ball in his hands more.
"We want to win and I can help this team win," he closed. "I've said all along, I will do whatever I need to do for those things to happen."
There's no doubting either.
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