Going into Grove Bowl 2007, to be brutally honest, I wasn't expecting much.
First of all, I knew of all the quality players who would be missing the scrimmage due to either injury or academic situations. You don't take Peria Jerry, Robert Lane, Dexter McCluster, Brandon Jenkins, Jeremy Garrett, Chris Bowers, Jamal Harvey, et al, off of a roster already paper thin and not feel it.
Then, when I showed up for the contest, I see star RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis dressed in a jersey and jeans. He was being held out of the "game" for protection purposes. Smart move, but his absence impacts the overall look of the team as much as anyone.
Having factored in all that, my mind was kind of made up in advance the game would be a dog with fleas. I was wrong.
What struck me instantly during warmups was what Coach Ed Orgeron had been saying all through spring training in his post-practice interviews – the offensive line. We have some muscle up front and they are now well-versed, experienced players. They look, and act, the part of an SEC line. In this humble opinion, if they stay the course in the offseason, we can have an OL equivalent to the Chris Spencer-Marcus Johnson- Tre' Stallings-Doug Buckles days. That's a nice arena to be in and a good starting point for any team.
While the physical presence of John Jerry, Michael Oher, Reid Neely and Maurice Miller draw the ooohs and aaahs, the guy who is taking charge and orchestrating that group on the field is Center Corey Actis. I can't help but recall how disappointed I was in Corey his first spring and how incorrect those feelings turned out to be. I like being wrong in those situations. Actis – through hard work and a forceful, yet engaging, personality – has made himself as valuable as anyone on the squad, in this humble opinion. It's apparent he is the glue up front and everything needs glue to hold it together and make different pieces function as one.
After the game began, I also noticed very quickly we were seeing a different Seth Adams. Calm, cool, collected, playing within himself, making good decisions and doing what the coaches asked him to do. I have had the opportunity to have a lot of long talks with Coach O and Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner and, for now, they want a QB who doesn't get the team beat with poor decisions. They feel the playmaking ability of the QB position will progress as long as it's accompanied with a sound thought process from the guy taking the center snaps. Adams exhibited all of that in the Grove Bowl.
I realize Seth has his critics in Rebel fandom. I realize he's not an All-SEC guy, most likely. I have some doubts about him too, but many of my "fears" were lessened with what I saw Saturday. Seth is a way more accomplished and mature signal-caller than he was at any time last year. He's worked hard and it's paid off. Flashy? No. Reliable? Certainly seems to be.
Brent Schaeffer? Michael Herrick? Jevan Snead? Cliff Davis?
Briefly, Brent spoke candidly to the press last week about being disappointed in his spring performance. His Red-Blue showing was not much different – sporadic, but he was playing behind the number two OL. Werner says he's better than at any time last year. He did not show that Saturday, but I'm not giving up on a guy as athletic as he is.
Herrick has more arm than I thought he did and looks composed in the pocket, but from what I have been told, it was not one of his better days. I was disappointed Davis didn't play. I was looking forward to seeing him. As for Snead, everyone could readily see the potential, but I'm not going to get worked up about him yet because, as we all know, he won't be the 2007 QB. Suffice it to say he's got the look everyone is searching for at QB and there is a reason he was as highly-rated as he was coming out of high school. I will reserve the "wow" factor for later. I know he's got it, but why discuss it now?
At running back, with BJGE sitting, the one who jumped out at me was Cordera Eason. It was a given Bruce Hall was going to be reliable and a quality player – no surprises there, but Eason showed why he was so highly-touted out of high school. Guess what? He's no longer a newbie. He's a quality college back and will only get better.
Did any of you notice the difference in FB Jason Cook? Geez, he's a man out there now. No longer the 230-pound rookie – he's 250 pounds of granite and he blocks accordingly. Even though he's headed into his third year as a starter, his transformation was eye-opening as well.
An area that performed better than I was anticipating was the wide receivers. Coach O had not been bragging on them a lot this spring, but I thought they were accountable and efficient in the scrimmage. I only recall one drop, I thought they did pretty good things with the ball after the catch and it appeared they were in synch with the quarterbacks, for the most part. Not eye-popping, but certainly satisfactory considering McCluster was not in the mix. If you can base anything on the Red-Blue game, which I will do with a grain of salt, they could surface to be our most improved unit if they continue on their current path.
At tight end, I was pleased with the blocking of David Traxler – when I watched closely - and Robert Hough is certainly a reliable, seasoned performer. Lane's return will make them a pretty good group.
On defense, I was not as impressed as I had hoped to be, but it was apparent Defensive Coordinator John Thompson was holding back some on his calls and playing things conservatively. He told me postgame he wanted to mix things up a little, but he really just wanted to make base calls and see them play without being too cluttered up mentally. Coach O mentioned postgame the middle of the defense as not as physical as it has to be. True, but the "real" middle of the DL for 2007 wasn't on the field due to the missing players and a guy who has had a real good spring stopping things up in the trenches – DT Daverin Geralds – got hurt early in the game. By the end of summer, I predict, the look of the defensive middle will change drastically and for the better.
What was impressive on the DL, to me, was the play of the defensive ends – Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett. Rangy, fast, hungry – they played with an abandon I like to see from the pass rush areas. Tillman will be a beast – write it down.
I couldn't tell a lot about the secondary other than Dustin Mouzon seemed to have a good day and nobody really got burned badly. The Rebel offense utilized a short passing game most of the day and, for the most part, the DBs got receivers of short throws on the ground fairly quickly. Hung jury on them for now, but I liked the way FS Kendrick Lewis carried himself. He seems to be a self-assured player who is up for the challenge.
The Blue Team defense – the twos – sported a few players who stood out too. We all know the ability of DE Greg Hardy and OLB Ashlee Palmer is a quality athlete who, you can tell, is feeling his way through a new position. The move of Terrell Jackson from CB to FS seems to have rejuvenated him as well – he seems more comfortable there.
In the whirlwind that was the game, I have to admit I didn't get as much of a look at some players as I wanted to formulate much of an evaluation. I did, however, notice the physical presence of FB Andy Hartmann; the sheer size of Reggie Hicks, who seems to be playing a lot of TB now instead of FB; the athleticism of LB Allen Walker, who has some growing and maturing to do; ditto on LaDerrick Vaughn; and the improved play of OT Marcus Cohen. Red TB Hiram White, who had some nice runs, also showed why he's going to be one of the aces of the special teams – kid plays hard and finds a way to produce.
Overall, with the realization of the players missing, I thought the Rebels put on a pretty good show in Grove Bowl 2007. There was very little, all things considered, I was disappointed in.
Now, I will enter the offseason with a good taste in my mouth and the task of trying to envision the Rebels with the missing players and some of the newcomers, such as Tony Fein, Lamar Brumfield and A.J. Jackson.
Not a bad vision. Not a bad vision at all.
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