When asked how he likes coaching wide receivers now after a year of mentoring the tight ends, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze didn't have to think about it.
"I'm loving it. I'm home," he said instantly.
As a little refresher course, 2006 WR Coach Matt Lubick traded in the Rebels to get back closer to home, taking a similar position with Dennis Erickson's staff at Arizona State.
Ole Miss Head Coach Ed Orgeron was in no immediate hurry to replace Lubick. He said repeatedly he would take his time and make sure the decision he made was the right one.
In the heat of recruiting, Orgeron approached Freeze about the possibility of taking over the wideouts.
"I lit up. That challenge got my juices flowing. I told Coach O I would love to do it," Freeze recalled.
Knowing Freeze, we're sure some "lobbying" followed, but it didn't take much to convince Orgeron.
"Coach Freeze is one of the smartest, most dynamic young coaches I have been around and his background was working more with skill people than tight ends," Orgeron said. "The move made sense to everyone."
Freeze was, and is, elated.
"I've always believed a good coach can coach any position, that's not the issue. I liked working with our tight ends - they worked hard and did everything I asked them to do, but I'm more at home with receivers and quarterbacks and the passing game, from my playing days to my high school coaching tenure," said Hugh. "I loved coaching (Robert) Lane and (Robert) Hough and those guys. I miss having that daily contact with those great kids, but from a fotball standpoint, I'm more comfortable with wide receivers and being more involved in the passing game with Coach (Dan) Werner."
Five practices into spring training, Hugh's evaluation of the wide receivers is somewhat vague - he's in a wait-and-see mode, but, in general, he's been pleased with the performances he's seen so far.
"The main thing that sticks out immediately is the work ethic the wide receivers have. Coach Lubick used to say that in staff meetings last year, but until you work one-on-one with kids, you don't really know. I know now - they work hard and they take pride in what they are doing," Freeze continued. "Any time you have athletes who are willing to do what it takes, that's half the battle. These kids are.
"It's human nature to sometimes wish this one was a little bigger, or this one was a little faster, but I like who we've got and we'll get where we want to go because of their attitude. They have done everything we have asked of them and some extra. I'm thrilled to have them."
There have been a couple of unexpected developments in spring training thus far in regards to the wide receivers.
It was determined that junior Mico McSwain would be moved permantnely to wide receiver from a dual role of WR/RB. It was thought spring training would be a crucial time for him to learn the ins and outs of the positions more intimately. It was declared that Mico would have to sit out spring training to get his academics in order.
"It's going to help Mico to be at one position, but we were certainly hoping for him to have a productive spring. Now, he'll have a lot of ground to make up," Freeze assessed. "That's unfortuante, but he can make it up if he works hard, which I anticipate him doing."
Also, sophomore Dexter McCluster, who missed most of last season after a vicious hit in the Vanderbilt game, is participating in all non-contact drills, but is being held out of most contact work.
"Dexter is absorbing what we are doing and going through a lot of practice drills, so that's not as big a deal, but I'm sure he's anxious to hit someone and get hit," Hugh commented.
Freeze is currently a little short-handed with McSwain out and McCluster limited, but four guys he's working have done "nice jobs."
"Marshay Green has picked up where he left off and has made some plays this spring. Shay Hodge is becoming more consistent and doing a good job. Mike Wallace is our leader, the guy with the most age and experience under his belt, and he's working his tail off and doing well. Michael Hicks caught two TD passes in our scrimmage last Friday. They are all doing some good things, but they have to get their total games honed," Hugh said. "You can tell they now have a little bit of experience. Nothing is foreign to them now. They aren't polished in some areas, but they aren't scratching their heads in wonderment and confusion any more either."
Hugh's goals for spring are very simple.
"It's real simple to say - catch the ball and get open. Become a weapon in the running game by blocking better. We should take pride in that. Third, get an attitude that we are going to win the wars with DBs and have fun while doing it," he noted. "There are a lot of things that go into executing those things, but that's the bottom line for any wide receiver in the country."
Freeze sees the potential for this group of Rebel wideouts to get a whole lot better. He intends to guide them there.
"We don't look at them as rookies any more," Freeze closed. "We have to step up and take ownership in our part of the offense. The youth excuses are gone. We have to perform and execute. That's our intention."
Hugh Freeze/WR update -
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