Spring Review, Part IV

After a year of learning under fire, the Ole Miss wide receivers, with "new" Coach Hugh Freeze in the lead, showed some maturation in spring training. Read about it inside.

Editor's Note: The following is Part IV of our spring review series that was originally published in the special Gove Bowl issue of The Ole Miss Spirit. We hve tweaked the story to reflect the results of the Grove Bowl. Today, the wide receivers.

New Wide Receivers Coach Hugh Freeze, who was moved from mentoring the Rebel tight ends to the wideouts this spring, doesn't know where his group will end up when all is said and done.

There are still a lot of variables to take into consideration – incoming players, offseason progress, etc.

But what he does know, without reservation, is the effort put in during the spring by his wideouts.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the work they have put in," said Freeze. "They are into the program totally. Their attitudes and work ethic have been great – every day.

"We still are not where we want to be, but mentally they have the will to get there. When you have players who want to be good and want to get better, and will do anything you ask of them to do so – and some extra, you know you are on the right track."

Freeze began his wide receiver assessment with the ‘X' position, where junior Mike Wallace, last year's leading receiver with 24 catches for 410 yards and two TDs, returns.

"Mike has caught the ball very well this spring. In our two full scrimmages, he caught 14 balls and had no drops. Mike has got a lot of speed and he's a pretty good blocker," Hugh evaluated. "What he needs to work on is getting in and out of his cuts better and getting more yards after the catch. He's dancing around too much after the catch. He needs to make a move and go. I'd also like to see him get more physical in his blocking. He has good technique in the blocking game, but I want to see him blow up some DBs more often. Overall, he's had a very good spring, he just needs to keep grinding on the little things, like all our young receivers."

Sophomore Shay Hodge has also been impressive, said Freeze, despite having a personal tragedy during spring that cost him some practice time.

"I am very pleased with the way Shay has performed this spring. He has really stepped his game up this spring and has matured as a player," Hugh noted. "Shay is our best route runner and has the best hands of the receivers. He gets yards after the catch and he's a good blocker.

"What he needs to work on is running great routes on every snap. Sometimes when the play is going in another direction, his intensity level will drop off, but he's working on that and is starting to understand that 100% effort means every play no matter if you are the primary receiver or not. I'd also like to see him get more physical against press coverage, but that will come as his technique improves and he gets stronger in the offseason."

Walkons Kelvin Rolack, a freshman from Memphis, and Billy Dobbs, a RS frosh from Amory, are also working at the ‘X.'

"Kelvin is an excellent walkon. He's learning the system right now, but he's shown decent speed and hands. He's only been a wideout two weeks – he was a DB, but he's showing some potential," Freeze stated. "Billy is a good, dependable kid who works hard and has made some plays. They both need to continue developing, but they have the work ethic to do so."

At ‘Z,' sophomore Marshay Green has drawn the most attention this spring, and Freeze says he deserves all he's getting.

"Marshay is the leader of our unit. He comes to work every day. He never loafs and he loves to compete, whether it's in practice or in games. He loves having the ball in his hands and he leads us in yards after the catch," Hugh assessed. "What Marshay needs to do is make sure his concentration level doesn't drop on the easy catches. He needs to be more consistent. At times, he has taken his eyes off the ball on easy passes and that has resulted in a drop here and there on passes he normally could catch in his sleep. He just needs to overcome those lapses he has every once in a while. In the blocking game, he gives it everything he has, but he needs to work really hard in the offseason to get stronger."

Sophomore speedster Dexter McCluster has not had any contact work in spring, but he has participated in every drill that didn't require contact.

"Dexter is a guy we have to get the ball to – he proved that last year," said Freeze. "He's a playmaker. We will be glad to get him back fully recovered. He's a guy who makes plays all over the field and we need him back."

Sophomore Michael Hicks has also had a productive spring catching the ball.

"Michael has real good hands and is a big target who helps us a lot in the controlled passing game, but he needs to continue working on his speed and on getting off the line of scrimmage against press coverage," Freeze stated. "He's made some nice catches in spring, but he knows what he needs to do to get on the field a lot. He's working hard at achieving those things."

Senior walkon Josh Zettergren and junior walkon Jacarious Lucas are also working at the ‘Z' position.

"Josh is a kid who can help us. He's had three TDs in the last two scrimmages. He's got really good hands and is a reliable guy. He needs work on his speed to make an impact," Hugh closed. "Jacarious has only been at receiver for a week. He was in the secondary. He's a guy who can give us some depth, it looks like, but we are still learning what he can do. He is a good athlete, but he's got a lot of work to do in learning the wideout position."

Wide Receiver Overview: This group cut their college teeth the hard way last year – without a teething ring. Out of necessity, they were thrown in the fire of SEC play with no experience and learned to survive. Now, they want to go beyond survival, to thriving, and with a year under their belts, marked improvement has been seen in spring and is expected in the fall. With their work ethic, do not bet against them. A go-to guy has not been established yet, but some candidates are getting closer to that status. Expect better, more reliable, production in 2007.

Grove Bowl Results: It stuck out like a sore thumb - a sore thumb we've been hoping for. No drops in the Reb-Blue game. Hodge and Wallace led the way for the Blue squad with five catches each while Zettergren snagged five aerials for the Red Team. Green had three catches for 27 yards and a score for the Blue offense while Hicks had a 2-yard TD catch for the Red. . . "We didn't have any drops - that's the main thing," said Freeze. "There was one pass over the middle that could have been caught - it was behind the receiver, but it would hve been a great catch in traffic. Overall, I was real pleased with what the guys did in the game in front of a crowd."

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