In the past two weeks, you have read what the Ole Miss assistant football coaches have had to say about the positions they coach based on the results of spring training.
Certainly, as Rebel fans, you should put more credence into their evaluations than in mine, but I took a lot of notes during spring training and here are some of my thoughts from a fan's perspective.
We'll start this series with the quarterbacks, the focal point of any offense and a position that has had its share of turmoil since you-know-who graduated.
Granted I am a softie when it comes to our players, past and present, but it is my strong belief part of the ongoing problem at quarterback has been the volatility and instability of the program they have been in since Eli Manning's departure. Without playing the blame game, it's been hard for that position to gain any rhythm or momentum since number 10 methodically swash buckled his way into our hearts.
Since 2003, there have been three offensive coordinators and a defensive-minded head coach who could not leave well enough alone to allow all parties to operate comfortably in an environment they were versed in. It could be argued he needed to step in at times, but in reality that was like letting me paint the Mona Lisa. Instead of a masterpiece, you'd get stick figures.
That has now changed.
Rebel head man Houston Nutt, who has co-coordinated the Arkansas offense for years, brought in a coach many consider a passing game "genius" in Kent Austin. The combination of Houston and OL Coach Mike Markuson's knowledge of the run game coupled with Austin's expertise in the passing game is not only going to give our quarterbacks stability, it's going to automatically, I believe, put them in better positions to succeed based on staff harmony alone. The staff will be in synch and that gives the QBs a better chance to be in synch as well.
In this type of environment, it boils down to the individual athlete under center and from everything I saw in spring training, the Rebels are blessed to have sophomore Jevan Snead.
I am not ready to anoint him as the second coming of Eli, but after the rough edges are knocked off and some polish is applied, this young man will have the right stuff.
Athletically and mentally there is no question he's the real deal. Jevan has a live, quick arm and can make all the throws, he's fast enough to get himself out of trouble and even be a weapon running the ball, and he's extremely bright, according to Austin, who has Rhodes Scholar intelligence himself.
There are fundamental flaws that need fine-tuning, but a lot of that was addressed in spring and taken care of. Jevan was losing some zip on the ball with poor footwork but that was eliminated. He was a little awkward dropping back from under center, something he had never done much in his career. That's on the way to being conquered.
What's left? As Austin or any reputable QB coach will tell you, quarterbacking in today's offenses requires a high level of processing information quickly and reacting the correct way. Seeing what's happening quickly and reacting to it even more quickly. That's what separates most of the great ones from just another gunslinger with a big arm. The last two Super Bowl winners proved that conclusively, as if it weren't already known.
When spring began, you could almost see smoke coming out of Snead's ears from info overload, but as each day ticked by, you could readily see the wheels were being greased and things were becoming more second nature to him. As his comfort level progressed, so did his production and ease with which he ran the offense.
From what I have been told by the coaches and Jevan, he'll go through another brief overload period at the first of August when the rest of the offense is introduced and installed, but he should be able to handle it because it will have a natural progressive feel to it.
It is hard not to be excited about an athlete of Snead's caliber, but I find myself needing to temper my enthusiasm as I try to compare where Manning was and where Snead is as a sophomore. Jevan, like Eli, will make first-year-starter mistakes. There will be times when you will say to yourself "what in the world was that?" It is almost inevitable. Tim Tebow had moments like that last year and he was declared the best player in the country.
But we will also be able to witness the evolution of the youngster and be able to mark down the moments when he gets something, files it and we never have to worry about it again. It's called experience and it's called going through a little darkness to get to the light. Manning was the best I've ever seen at the process of storing information and not making the same mistakes over and over. Snead has the same kind of steel trap mind Manning does, it says here. Patience, dear Prudence. Patience.
I have to boast a little here. I had faith from the start Billy Tapp, with the proper mentoring, could be a competent signal caller.
Tapp is not devoid of physical ability, which has been a misconception among some Rebel fans, but what puts him over the top is that he is on the same level as Snead in the intelligence department. We're talking about a kid who had Ivy League academic credentials and it shows on the football field. As Austin said, Tapp learns the best way – conceptually.
Getting concepts of an offense is another level beyond just learning the plays.
Billy does not have the arm that Jevan does, but both are fearless in the pocket and both can make snap, good judgments. Good judgment and decision-making, dare I say it, is the most important attribute of quarterbacking in today's complex offenses. A little coach speak, if you will. Seeing Tapp go in the game would not set off an alarm of desperation to me.
When you combine solid-to-excellent ability with a stable environment, you will get productivity. It's a simple, proven equation.
All the ingredients are there, but a word to the wise. Don't expect miracles. But do expect that position to transcend way beyond where it has been since Manning dazzled us.
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