A question was asked of Rebel Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin about the play of starting Rebel Quarterback Jevan Snead in the annual Grove Bowl, which ends spring training each year.
About that time, Snead was walking by the media members gathered around Austin and Kent saw his star QB out of the corner of his eye.
"Jevan was absolutely horrible today," Austin deadpanned, loud enough for Snead to hear him.
It caught the strong-armed Snead off guard, but soon he realized Austin was joking about Snead's gunslinging day that ended with Jevan being 11-15 for 254 yards and 3 TDs.
"Great job Jevan," Austin said, shaking the junior's hand.
Great job indeed. Darn near perfect.
"He threw the ball great. He made excellent decisions and threw the ball on time. He could have had a couple of more TDs too," Austin said, "but there has never been a quarterback who had a perfect game - ever. He had a real good one today."
Austin realizes part of Jevan's success was due to the coaching staff getting things situated on the offensive line after a couple of weeks of early spring experimentation up front.
"We just determined who we were going to hang our hat on up front in the last week and a half. Previously, Jevan and the whole offense was affected by us experimenting up front," Austin explained. "We are set up front going into August. Our experimentation was necessary, but we think we have the right guys in the right places now and I could tell toward the end of spring we were starting to develop some continuity in our offense. That helped Jevan as well.
"It takes work to get things right up front when you lose three starters. We had no choice but to try different things and see what worked. Once Coach (Mike) Markuson figured it all out, we started to see some chemistry. Moving Rishaw Johnson to the right side at guard and Reid Neely to LG balanced out the inexperience factor of having Bradley Sowell and Rishaw side by side. Bradley and Rishaw benefitted from having veterans next to them and in turn that helped the offense operate more smoothly. Bradley has gotten a lot better, especially the last seven or eight practices of spring. You could see where he was turning the corner in the second scrimmage. He still needs to get stronger at the point of attack but he has all the skills you need athletically, I think."
More on Snead in a moment. . .
Austin is looking for more depth at wide receiver, depth beyond Shay Hodge, Dexter McCluster and the developing Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers.
"I think it is a stretch to say we are two-deep at wideout right now. We need Lionel and Markeith to keep coming on strong and we need to see someone like Andrew Harris continue to improve and surface," he said. "Andrew is a big, strong receiver who is a great run blocker. We just need him to be more consistent and improve his route-running. Consistency is an issue with Markeith too. We need those things to happen to really be able to call ourselves two-deep there."
. . . back to Snead.
"I was pleased to see Jevan make good decisions and handle the offense with confidence, no matter who he was going against. It's good to see him improving in reading the coverages and handling the offense," Kent noted. "He's not thinking as much as before - he's just playing. He now knows where to put his eyes before the ball is snapped and that's where it all starts. You have to see the right things to make those pre-snap reads and judgments. He's doing that more consistently and quicker. Every once in a while he'll have a couple of plays he doesn't execute well, but he has the ability to come back from that and string together seven or eight in a row where he executes very well. We need to eliminate those down times, but they are fewer and further between now. I can always see it in his face and in his mechanics. When he misses, he's not throwing the ball aggressively, but that's not nearly as often as it was last spring."
An area that has not been discussed this spring much is the fullback position, where the Rebs are replacing Jason Cook, as solid as they come.
"Andy Hartmann is doing well. He's dependable and tough. He brings strength to that position that we need in our running game. We still need some depth there, but the good news is our candidates have different skill sets at the position and we have identified those skills so we, as coaches, can ask them to do what they are good at and capable of doing," Kent said. "We can blend different guys in that position based on what we are trying to accomplish offensively."
At running back, there's a minor logjam, with Brandon Bolden leading the way and three more on his heels.
"Brandon did a nice job all spring. Devin Thomas is one of our most improved players, in my opinion. He had a good spring. He needs to gain more consistency in the protection aspects of the game but he has some big play capabilities," Austin assessed. "He has good vision too. Cordera and Enrique had good springs too."
There is a friendly, but heated, battle going on for backup quarterback between the "old man" Billy Tapp and the young gunslinger Nathan Stanley.
"Billy is calm and bright and he knows the offense. He is not going to struggle getting the plays or running the offense," Kent continued. "He's going to make good decisions. That is his biggest strength. He needs to be more consistent with his throws, but he knows that and he works on it.
"Nathan is very good fundamentally. He has a great arm and great lower body mechanics. He knows how to distribute his weight and that is what makes him accurate. What he needs to work on is his decision making and to be more consistent in his pre-snap reads. He also needs to learn how to prepare better and that is just work. He made strides in those areas in spring and he will make more in two-a-days."
Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix has said he has identified 16-17 players he feels are ready for SEC action. What about Austin?
"We are not two-deep across the board - yet. We need the guys up front to come on and, as I said, we need some wide receivers to keep coming on strong," he closed. "I have seen progress across the board. We have a lot to build on, but we are not there yet.
"I think we can still get a lot better offensively than we are right now."
Kent Austin -
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