Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner has his spring training goals for the Rebel 'O' outlined in his mind and he's repeated them enough that he can rattle them off without hesitation.
"We've got to create more big plays, we have to get better in the Red Zone and we have to get better production on third downs," he said. "And those goals will not be limited to spring. We will carry those goals right into August and beyond."
The casual observer might have expected a different answer - get better in the passing game and fine-tune the running game.
Werner says they are one and the same.
"All those goals I mentioned have something to do with the passing game, but we also want more big plays in the running game," he explained. "The passing game is going to get better just from the simple fact that it is our intention to call more passes.
"Last year, we obviously didn't have the confidence in the passing game for a number of different reasons and we were running the ball well and felt that was the way to keep us in games. Running it more than passing it did keep us in some games, but we couldn't finish. For us to be a good offense, we have to be able to throw the ball."
What gives Werner confidence the upcoming season will be different?
"We have all our receivers coming back, our quarterbacks are all back with a whole offseason, spring and summer under their belts to gel, and our offensvie line has four returning starters. We better be better - there's no reason not to be," he explained.
Up front, it's the consensus the run-blocking in 2006 was "pretty good," but the pass protection needs improvement. His thoughts?
"True. We've studied our pass protections hard and looked at what a lot of other people are doing. We've done our homework and can incorporate some things we think will help us in that area," Dan continued. "Then we look at our personnel and it's the same as quarterback and WRs - we've got guys in the system now for their second years. Michael Oher, Corey Actis, John Jerry, Mo Miller, Darryl Harris, Thomas Eckers, and Reid (Neely) have all been there and done that now. We can already tell the difference in their maturity in the offseason drills we ran.
"And there are things we can do in our pass calls that will help solidify the pass protections - quicker throws, etc. It got to where last year all we did was throw quick and go max protect with three receivers on third-and-long. People can cover that. We have to be able to get more guys out and protect."
Quarterback, as is the case on every team, is critical. Werner is pretty basic in his demands of the signal-callers.
"I just want them to run the offense cleanly. Last year, Brent (Schaeffer) came out in the first game and did a nice job of making audibles and running the offense. He didn't force anything," he recalled. "From there, it never got a whole lot better as we went along. Now, it has to be where we can get the play called, get to the line, have time to make checks and that alone will allow us to do some things we weren't able to do last year. That's not asking too much of our QBs.
"The next thing is to be on time with our receivers. There were plenty of times last year we had guys open and had good protection and we didn't seem to be on the same page with our timing. That's a big thing we have to correct. When guys work to get open and the protection is there, we have to hit them."
Werner said that wasn't all Brent's fault - the circumstances of his situation were tough, to say the least.
"We all knew what he was getting into and we all knew it wasn't an ideal situation. Now, that's behind us and we expect all the QBs to be more mature, more tuned in and more consistent. The competition is wide open and all of them are responding - to this point - well. We are built on competition and we've got it at QB."
The Rebels had a 1,000-yard rusher in BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2006, but in talking to different offensive players their assessment of the running game was "OK." What can the Rebs do to make it better than that?
"Again, we did some studies and brought in some NFL guys to get more sets of eyes on our situation in the running game and we have some ideas of how to change that," he allowed. "But we all know one of the main reasons it wasn't any better is the fact that our passing game was so poor.
"You don't have to be a brain surgeon to know that defenses are going to load the box when all you are able to do is run the ball. When we get our passing game clicking, things will loosen up with our running game more. One hand washes the other."
Is Werner looking to dig deeper into his playbook now that he has 10 starters returning on offense?
"I was looking to dig deeper last year," he smiled. "Your ego says 'let's run a bunch of different plays, this other stuff isn't working.' I could have easily done that and called 75 passes a game, but we would have thrown six interceptions and taken a bunch of sacks and lose 60-0. What we did as an offense last year was what we had to do to compete and give us our best chance of winning and that's what I am here to do - give us our best chance.
"We could have easily razzle-dazzled everyone with our creativity, but that would have been for our egos and not what was best for the team and situation we had. If we need to throw the ball every down, we will. Last year, we needed to run it to stay in games.
"My ideal would be 50-50 run-pass ratio. When I have had good offenses, we were pretty balanced with maybe 55-45 in favor of the run, which usually means you are ahead at the end and are running out the clock. We have to get better at both aspects to be effective is the bottom line. Then defenses can't settle in and focus on one area without us being able to go to something else and exploiting them."
Werner is anxious to see - individually - WR Dexter McCluster return to form, the emergence of guys like TB Cordera Eason and if players like TE David Traxler and OG Reid Neely are ready to contribute in a significant way.
"I think we have several guys who are on the cusp of being important contributors and we will need them all," he closed.
Werner has a reasonable amount of confidence in what's happening with the Rebel offense due to experience and the numbe of returning players/starters on his side of the ball, but he knows there is work to be done.
The good thing? There's time to do it.
Dan Werner update -
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