Heading into the 2007 season, not a whole lot was expected of the Ole Miss wide receivers.
After last year's below average performance, why would anyone have predicted a total turnaround?
Yet, that is what has taken place.
Certainly, some of that can be attributed to learning under fire a year ago. An experienced player is head and shoulders better than an inexperienced one, in most isntances.
But there seems to be more factors working in the equation.
One, sophomore Dexter McCluster is back and he's healthy.
"Dexter missed a couple of games, but now he's back and we have to get him more involved," said WR Coach Hugh Freeze. "It didn't take him long to get back into the swing of things.
"He stayed well-conditioned and sharp while he was injured, so his transition back after the doctors cleared him was pretty quick and easy for him. The other factor is he is not playing with any nerves or fear in relation to the injury and doing whatever it takes to get the job done."
Two, other players have stepped up and, it could be argued, some have matched McCluster in performance levels.
"Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge and Marshay Green have all improved and made themselves very valuable to the offense," Freeze continued. "They all deserve the ball, deserve their touches, and we are trying to spread things out and distribute the ball to as many guys as possible. Trying to keep them all happy is a good problem to have.
"They all have the mentality that they are the top receiver and deserve the ball more, and I like that confidence. I like that they all want the ball and I like that they are also unselfish about it when they don't get it and someone else catches more passes. They all know that, depending on the coverages, it could be their week to get the ball more. They all have different skills and the coverages dictate whose skills are best suited to beat those coverages. We will always take what the defense gives us."
To this point, the receivers have been as consistent as any group on the team, but that's not enough, according to Freeze.
"To this point, these guys have played well, but we are not winning games yet, so that doesn't matter. We, the wide receivers, have to start doing more to help us win. We take that as our reponsibility as a unit. We have to make more plays down the stretch and help us win," he stated.
Freeze credits belief for some of the improvement.
"The wide receivers believe they can get open on anyone and catch the ball against anyone. That's a big part of playing that position effectively. Also, they have a lot of comaraderie and are enjoying the process," Hugh said. "It's great to see that kind of confidence in their eyes.
"They got that way by working hard. You can't imagine the number of passes they have caught since last season. They have worked incredibly hard to gain that belief and confidence in themselves."
Three, the pass protection for QB Seth Adams has been better this year versus last year.
"A lot of credit for the wide receivers' success has to go across the board," said Hugh. "Like Coach (Dan) Werner always says, it's not just one thing that makes a play good or a play bad. It usually takes everyone.
"The offensive line has shored up some things in their pass protection and Seth has done a very good job of delievering the ball on time and to the right spots. We are doing our part to make the passing game go, but so is everyone else on the offense."
Freeze knows the Rebs' next opponent will be a major challenge for his wideouts, but he expects good things this Saturday from his group.
"Alabama is multiple in their coverages. They do a lot of things and do them well. They are a very well-coached team that keeps you on your toes out there. You have to be alert at all times and react accordingly," Freeze closed, "but I believe we can throw the ball on them. We'll see."
Hugh Freeze -
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