Spring Review - ‘If' story line continues

2007 could be a breakthrough season for the Rebel football team, but a lot of things have to fall fortuitously for that to happen. The saga of ‘if' continues, but based on the spring interviews with the coaches, optimism is high. Read about it inside.

Note: This is the last offering of our 11 part series on spring training.

For the past three years, due to the rebuilding process of the Ole Miss football program by Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron and his staff, the word ‘if' has become common place in my offerings to Rebel fans.

I don't try to come across as being vague in my thoughts on the Rebs, but sometimes ‘if' equals ‘vague.'

Next year's list of ‘ifs' obviously include health issues, academic issues and eligibility issues.

A short list:

How many of the 2007 signees are going to make it academically? Will WR A.J. Jackson, LB Chris Strong, DL Jerrell Powe, DL Ted Laurent, WR Rod Davis, et al, be here in August? I'm not trying to single them out, but those are the signees rumored - and mostly verified - to still be working to get eligible.

The short, and accurate, answer – for now – is that nobody knows what their future holds at this moment in time. There is work to be done and any conjecture on their academic status before all work is completed and all exams are taken is just that – conjecture, not based on anything other than innuendo and rumor. Or, as my Mom used to say, "he-said-she-said."

Suffice it to say for the Rebels to reach the lofty goals they set each year, it is imperative those guys do their work and gain their eligibility. Even though none of them have ever played on this level, it's a fact they were way up the ladder in terms of the quality of signees. All evaluations by those paid to do so have them off the charts in ability. Consequently, it is suggested here they can come in and help with the task of winning football games immediately.

Staying on academics, there are some current players who had to miss all or parts of spring training to try to get their books squared away. Mico McSwain, Brandon Jenkins and Jamal Harvey are three very good athletes who can bolster the Rebel lineup in a lot of ways, if they get passing marks in the classroom. Again, they are needed. Again, any progress report at this point is futile. We "hear" they are doing what they need to do. That's as close to real information as we can get right now.

On the health front, the Rebs have to get their DL anchors – DT Peria Jerry and NT Jeremy Garrett – back in the fold healthy. There should be no problems there – both are well on their way to recovery.

On the subject of Peria, we have not seen him scratch the surface of his ability. I remember distinctly how dominant he was in the spring of 2005. That word – dominant – is tossed around too lightly these days. Not by me – he was D-O-M-I-N-A-N-T, unblockable, disruptive, a man among boys. The Rebels need – badly – for Jerry to show that in the 2007 season.

It would also help matters to get a healthy Chris Bowers and Darryl Harris back. Mark Jean-Louis being 100% wouldn't hurt either. Oh, and we still haven't seen WR Dexter McCluster get any contact work since that fateful hit against Vandy in 2006 that sidelined the rising star the rest of the season. All feedback we have gotten is that Dexter will be cleared for contact by August. For depth at DE, the return of Viciente' DeLoach certainly would be a pleasant sight as well.

More ‘ifs' include what can be expected of some other signees who will be getting their first tastes of Division I football when August rolls around. MLB Tony Fein, OLB Lamar Brumfield and CB Jamariey Atterberry come quickly to mind. Goodness knows, we need help – ASAP help – at all three of those positions. It wouldn't shock me to see all three start in 2007. In fact, at LB, it's expected.

And then there are the ‘ifs' we know about. If Seth Adams. . . . . if Brent Schaeffer. . . . if the wide receivers. . . if the secondary. . . .

Of course, the biggest question mark is at quarterback. Can Seth, a model of consistency in spring, maintain that steady play plus learn to make more big plays when the opportunities arise? Can Brent, who makes big plays, develop some consistency? Or will they all take a back seat to Michael Herrick, who, by all accounts we can gather, may be closer to playing than most realize due to a solid spring? We'll leave that up to OC Dan Werner, but we have no hesitation in saying one of those three things has to take place for QB to be as effective as it needs to be in our league, that eats QBs like Rosie O'Donnell devours Snickers bars.

Will the WRs continue on the path of consistency and improvement they showed in the Red-Blue Game? Will David Traxler give the tight end slot the "beef" it lacks in the running game? Will our QBs figure out Robert Lane is a true weapon in the passing game – a playmaker who simply needs the ball five or six times a game and not once every other contest? Will we have enough depth in the secondary to get by? On the DL? At LB?

If those questions are answered satisfactorily between now and the opening kickoff, the Rebels will be a team that will win more than they lose.

If those areas remain question marks, we'll be "iffing" for another year.

Fortunately, there is ample time for every single ‘if' brought up today to be solved. Will they be? Probably not all of them, but enough is the guess here.

I understand that there are not many spring interviews done throughout the country with assistant coaches that aren't positive in nature. It's a time to pump up your players and team, historically.

But I have been doing this a long time and have learned to separate the chaff from the wheat – most of the time.

Based on the series of interviews with assistant coaches we published in the last two weeks, I left with some good feelings about our 2007 team. Certainly, each coach had their concerns – their "ifs" – but all genuinely believe we are further along at their positions than we have been in Coach O's tenure. The one exception to that was at linebacker, where LB Coach Dave Corrao is trying to replace Patrick Willis and Rory Johnson with a brand new bunch. But even he is optimistic about the direction his group is going in that difficult task.

I – literally – left the interview with DL Coach Ryan Nielsen with chills down my spine. He wasn't giving me a line of propaganda when he said he thought the Rebel DL was going to surprise people.

OL Coach Art Kehoe is as excited about his group as he can be. He thinks success up front on offense is there for the taking, it's just a matter of effort and time.

DC John Thompson knows he was playing in spring with half a deck, but he was elated about the direction the defense took in spring from an effort and foundation standpoint.

And even though several key players were missing in the Red-Blue game, I thought the contest showed – pretty much – across the board improvement. All things considered, it was a fairly "clean" game.

Not having the opportunity to witness spring training left me in the lurch in regard to what I was expecting, but I got more than I expected from the Red-Blue Game. That was good to see.

Stay tuned. . . the fun is just starting.

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