Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner says it's never a bad thing to have the guys who will be playing in the fall going through spring training.
"Having most of the players we will use this fall here for spring training has been a real positive. At this point in spring, we are further along in the offense than we were at any time last year and that's because we have a lot of returning players. That's a plus," Werner, entering his second year as the boss of the offense, stated. "We just need to keep on working.
"We are halfway through spring and our goals have not changed - to get better on third downs, get better in the Red Zone and get better in our passing game as a whole."
The quarterback position seems to be the one area that is still up in the air, so to speak.
"We are letting all those guys take reps and I think we are better there than we were at any time last year, but we still have work to do," he said. "Our timing is better - as a group. The timing being better allows us to work more on the decision-making process and the progressions these guys have to recognize and react to. Last year, it seems like we spent all our time on timing. With that being better now, we can focus on reads, adjustments, when to throw hot, all those things that make the position more productive.
"I think both Seth Adams and Brent Schaeffer are right where they need to be right now. Both of them are trying to be leaders and encourage the other offensive guys. Both are working hard to do the right things on and off the field. They are being positive and earning the respect of their teammates. They have also been real good with each other."
Werner was also complimentary of what redshirt freshmen Cliff Davis and Michael Herrick have shown him.
"Everything they do is a plus to me. You have to understand, they ran the scout team all the time last year and someone was showing them a chart and telling them where to throw," he explained. "It's easy to get caught up in those guys looking good throwing the ball in that type of environment, but that doesn't mean much to me. What can they do in live action when they are having to make reads and site adjustments and go through their progressions? This is the first I have seen of them in those situations and I like both those guys.
"I think they are right on track to get in there and battle some."
Werner said he'd like to see one of the QBs emerge as the clear-cut leader by the end of spring, but if not, it's not that big a deal.
"Ideally, you'd like to have someone taking over at the end of spring, but it's not a bad thing if one of them doesn't," he explained. "We'll just let them battle it out to the end and go with the best one when the time comes."
On the outside, in the receiving corps, Dan pointed to Marshay Green as a player who has caught his attention.
"He's really stepped it up. He's a guy we need to get the ball to. Marshay makes plays," Werner continued. "Shay Hodge has also looked good and has made plays. Mike Wallace has made plays, as well as Dexter McCluster. Mike Hicks has made a couple of catches. Right now, our got-to guys are Marshay and Dexter - guys who will catch the ball and make something positive happen, but the others are coming along well too."
Before spring started, Werner mentioned wanting to get more big plays out of the running game. That's where the wide receivers come in, he said.
"I told the receivers I'm going to praise them more for springing a back for a TD with a block than I am for them catching a TD pass. They are supposed to beat man coverage, get open and catch touchdowns, but the truly great wide receivers make blocks that spring backs for big gains," he said. "If we get a 15-yard run and the safety makes the tackle, a wide receiver isn't making a block to spring the back for the big run.
"Mike (Wallace) sprung BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) for a long TD the other day getting on the safety and blocking him. I made sure we all congratulated Mike. I didn't high-five the back - that's what he's supposed to do. I made sure Mike knew he made that play by blocking. We're getting better at that - downfield blocking by the receivers. That's how we are going to get the big running plays and I see evidence that is happening."
At tight end, Werner has beefed up the position by moving OL David Traxler to TE to go along with seniors Robert Lane and Robert Hough.
"Tight end will be a situational type of deal. Obviously Lane and Hough are receiver types and Traxler is more of a blocker, but the good thing is that all three are good enough to be well-rounded tight ends. All three have done well with their overall games," he continued. "In other words, we won't be hesitant to throw the ball to Traxler and we won't be hesitant to call a running play with Lane or Hough in there. I think they are doing fine and you can't have enough tight ends. There is so much we can do in terms of movement, motions, three-tight sets, etc. We're OK there."
The offensive line is somewhat set, except for left guard. Head Coach Ed Orgeron has been impressed with Reid Neely in spring training. Werner said he and OL Coach Art Kehoe are too.
"That's a spot we have to fill and Reid has stepped in and done a really nice job. We feel like he's come in solid and he will only get better this summer," Werner said. "That was really the only position on the OL we were concerned with and his emergence has been a plus."
At running back, Green-Ellis and Hall are having good springs, according to Werner, but what of sophomore Cordera Eason?
"We like Cordera a lot. We like how he runs. It's just a numbers thing right now. That's the only position, really and truly, where we have a lot of very good talent and he's behind two rising seniors who are having productive springs. Cordera is doing real well," Werner noted. "I'd love to have that situation at every position.
"Cordera runs hard, he's physical and I think he's going to be a heckuva back. We will get the ball to all three of those guys next year, but obviously BenJarvus is our feature back and Bruce is doing an excellent job. Cordera needs to learn and progress and work as hard as he can though because in 2008 we may run him until he can't run any more. We are setting him up to be our feature back then and he needs to prepare accordingly."
At fullback, it's a little different.
"In our system, the fullback will only be in there a little over a third of the time and Jason Cook is so smart and so good at doing what we want him to do, he will be hard to beat out for those game snaps," Dan noted, "but you never know what is going to happen. Reggie Hicks, Derrick Davis and Andy Hartmann have to stay ready and are all capable fullbacks."
Overall, Werner is not turning back flips about the results of spring training, but he's pleased with the progress and what he has seen to this point.
"I've seen enough bright spots and improvement to be encouraged. We still have a lot to sccomplish this spring and into the fall, but we are slowly going in the right direction." he closed.
Update on the offense
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