Ole Miss junior Billy Tapp probably hasn't felt like a very big part of the Rebel football team the past couple of years.
The 6-4, 238-pounder was moved from quarterback to tight end, saw his weight rise to the 250-pound range and saw his "importance" on the squad plummet.
The coaching change quickly gave Tapp's career a boost and new direction.
When Houston Nutt took over the program, he realized he was quarterback poor outside of rising redshirt sophomore Jevan Snead, who had sat out the 2007 season after transferring in from Texas the previous spring.
He turned to Tapp to move back under center and the St. Petersburg, FL, native responded with what Nutt and QB Coach Kent Austin called a "very solid spring."
"Billy is very bright and he makes good decisions. He gets things conceptually," said Austin after last spring. "Making the right decision and managing the offense is what we want from him, and all our quarterbacks, and that's what we get."
Tapp left spring training as someone the coaches feel they can count on to perform when he is called on.
When the dust cleared, Snead was number one, but the coaches were no longer "frantic" about a backup.
Tapp has continued working hard in the offseason, learning more about the new offense and working on the things he thought he needed to improve based on spring training evaluations.
"I did a pretty good job of learning the offense and getting into Coach Austin's head in regard to knowing what he's thinking and what he and Coach Nutt want to call in certain situations," Tapp stated. "We can always learn more about the system and reading defenses and that's what we have been working on mentally. Physically, I've been working on my speed and being a more accurate passer in 7-on-7 drills. We've been working on making sure we have good timing and understand the depth of all routes."
Billy said he started to grasp the main concepts of the offense after "10 days to two weeks" of spring training.
"I started getting a feel for the offense and started realizing the purpose of their play calls," continued Tapp. "I started knowing what the coaches wanted to get out of certain plays and getting in a rhythm with the receivers."
He and Snead have been in lockstep with their learning process the whole way through.
"Jevan is a great quarterback who makes excellent decisions. We have pushed each other hard to improve," Tapp noted. "He brings the best out in me because I know I have to come to work every day to compete or I'd get left way behind. And I think I've done a good enough job to push him to become better.
"We get along well and we help each other out a lot. We talk a lot about all the different situations we face and it's helped us both."
Different quarterbacks bring different things to the table. What does Tapp feel he brings in his QB arsenal?
"I think I can work the game out in my head. I can read defenses and make good decisions with the ball," he assessed. "In the past, our decision-making under center has sometimes been a problem, but I think management of the game will be a strength of mine in crucial situations.
"I believe in my ability to get the ball to the right receiver at the right time and being able to pick up blitzes and things like that. I think I can manage a game well."
It doesn't sound as if Tapp looks at himself as "just" a backup.
"I have to prepare like the starter because realistically I could be one play from being the leader of the team," he said. "I try to relate to the guys that even though Jevan is there that I am going to be one of the leaders of the team and I am going to do what it takes to get that type of respect from my teammates.
"I could see the field a lot this year or not see it all, but I can't worry about that. What I have to concern myself with is being ready to play at all times, at the drop of a hat."
From what he has seen thus far, Tapp is a true believer in the passing game Austin and Nutt are installing.
"I like it a lot. Coach Austin does a great job of getting the spacing with the receivers they need to have room to operate," Billy said. "They do a great job of getting the vertical game going too. They have made it easier for Jevan and me to see the whole field and they've made it where the receivers seem more open."
In summer 7-on-7, Tapp said attendance has been good and progress has been made.
"The receivers have worked hard to maintain what they learned in spring and add to that by perfecting their routes, footwork and spacing. We've gotten better throwing the ball around two or three times a week and we've stayed pretty sharp," he added.
This summer, Tapp has had the opportunity to work with the "new guys." So far, he's impressed with two, off the top of his head.
"I'm partial to (WR) Andrew Harris because he and I played at the same high school," he smiled. "He has good hands and a big body. (RB) Brandon Bolden has been to every 7-on-7 volunteer workout and has impressed me. He's fast and he looks like he can be a real playmaker. Those two guys have stuck out on offense to me."
Overall, Tapp can see a new attitude on the team developing.
"We've always been close as a team, but the atmosphere is just more relaxed. We are looser and I think we will end up being even closer," he commented. "We are all on the same page. We want to win and we want to do some big things. We are sick of losing.
"We have become more confident, but the bulk of that will develop when real practice starts. We know we have good players here and we know we can be a good team, but we have to show it. We got better in spring of not letting one or two bad plays get us down. We got better at fighting through bad things and I think we will build on that in practice and in games this year. I think we will bounce back better and fight through adversity better than we have in the past."
For Tapp, personally, his reps "count" now. His opportunities will mean something to the team, unlike before. He takes that to heart.
"I've always taken every rep seriously my whole time here, but now they have taken on a different level of importance and I will get more of them, which will help me become a better quarterback and be ready when my number is called," he ended. "I've worked hard to lose some weight and I feel good about myself. I'd like to lose a little more, but I'm OK with where I am and the progress I'm making."
Billy Tapp update -
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