When they came on the scene in 2006, they were babes in the woods.
Now, one year later, they are the cornerstones of their unit.
"They" are sophomore wideouts Marshay Green and Dexter McCluster, who lead the Rebel receivers into Saturday's opener with Memphis as the apple of their mentor's eye.
"I can't say enough about what those two have done, not only in fall camp but all the way back to spring," said Wide Receivers Coach Hugh Freeze. "They are not only playmakers, but they set the kind of example we want set for the other players.
"It is my job and Dan's job to make sure we get them the ball where they can make plays in space. If we can get them some room to operate in, they are dynamic."
But Freeze did not limit his positive remarks to those two.
"Mike Wallace has also done a nice job this fall camp, Shay Hodge is coming along nicely in his comeback after a summer injury, Greg Hardy gives us an extra dimension, and Mike Hicks has had a good fall camp too," noted Freeze. "Freshman Lionel Breaux helps our depth and is doing well for a freshman. He definitely has talent, he's just in the learning phase right now. Markeith Summers is also making a good transition back to wide receiver after being at safety for most of last year.
"What we have to do as coaches is understand their individual strengths and put them in the position that plays to those strengths. They all have things they can do well, so it's up to us to put them in spots to utilize those talents and not ask them to do things they can't."
Hardy is the intriguing one of the group. He is the starter at LEO (rush end) on the defensive line, but Coach Ed Orgeron is encouraging Greg to play both ways and, to this point, Hardy has shown he can be a valuable weapon on offense.
"How much we will use him will depend on whatever Coach O says, but we want him on offense as much as we can get him. We hve a package for him that utilizes him all over the field. We can use him at any point and we know he's a playmaker," Hugh commented. "His size and athleticism is hard for any DB to handle. And Greg has terrific hands in traffic. He can take the ball away from a defender in jump ball situations. He's physical getting off coverage and he's got good enough speed to get open. He's a tough matchup for man coverage."
Back to Dexter. There was some concern early in August about his health, but that was all put to rest in the live scrimmage two Saturdays ago. On the second play of the scrimmage, McCluster ran a crossing route with his back to the linebackers. Just as as the Seth Adams pass arrived, so did LB Ashlee Palmer, who leveled the quicksilver WR in a terrific collision. Dexter popped right up.
"It was a tense moment for me. I didn't want to see that the second play of the scrimmage, but I was relieved when he bounced up and didn't have any issues," Freeze sighed.
Freeze said the Rebels will try to use "6 or 7" players in the WR rotation and that may be where guys like Summers and Breaux come in.
"I'm glad to have Markeith. He's our best blocker and is a big, rangy guy with a great vertical jump. You can throw it up and let him go get it against smaller corners.
"As I said, they all have talents. It's just up to us to coach to those talentes. We have to play a chess game with our personnel. With my unit, they are all different and we have to make sure we put them in positions where they can have success."
Freeze said there has been a lot of emphasis put on the blocking aspect of wide receiver play.
"In our run game, the wide receivers have to do their part to help spring guys for long runs. We have stressed that a lot both in spring training and this fall camp. I grade our guys hard on blocking. Our top guys are not big guys, but they are effective in the blocking game because they position themselves correctly to get in the way. They understand they aren't going to get many earhole shots, but they have to get fit right and get on the correct side of the would-be tackler to get in the way and give the runner more daylight," he explained. "They've done a good job in blocking to this point."
The Memphis game has extra significance for Hugh. One, he coached in the high school ranks there for double-digit years and was quite successful at Briarcrest. Two, he recruits that area for the Rebels.
"To go up there after a win to recruit is a lot easier than going up there after a loss. I haven't had to do that yet and hope I never have to. This game is very important to the team and to us and me in recruiting," he explained. "It's a big game. It's the opener, it's a school close to us in an area we recruit hard and we have some kids from there.
"We have a big fan base up there who live up there year-round. We want to win the game for them too."
Wide Receiver update -
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