A slimmer, "more comfortable" David Traxler felt he had hit his peak as an offensive lineman on the…
Coach O -
Not the case.
The Rebel staff is still burning the candle at both ends because a) Junior Day is the 24th of February and b) spring training begins March 2.
"We've got a lot of preparation to do in both those areas," said Coach Ed Orgeron when we caught up with him during his busy schedule recently. "It's important to get an early jump on recruiting and we've got a lot to accomplish during spring training."
Thus, endless hours of nurturing this year's prospects and getting ready for the beginning phase of molding next year's team - spring training.
Orgeron announced his "new" staff last week and this is a month where they can all get on the same page.
Here's how that lineup came out: OC/QBs Dan Werner, OL Art Kehoe, TEs Tony Hughes (from DBs), WRs Hugh Freeze (from TEs), RBs Frank Wilson, DC/DBs John Thompson, DBs/Special Teams Chris Rippon, LBs Dave Corrao (from Defensive GA) and DL Ryan Nielsen. GAs - Offense Brad Valvaso, Defense Chris Kiffin. No surprises there, but now it's official.
"We've been busy making sure we are all on the same page. We've shifted some guys around, promoted one and brought in a new face in Coach Thompson. There are a lot of i's to dot and t's to cross," he continued. "We have to know exactly what we are going to do every minute of every practice. Our time with the team those 15 days is valuable and we can't waste any of it by not being together on some things."
Coach O brought in some outside help as well last week when Tampa Bay Bucs' Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin came in for a few days in an advisory role.
Between recruiting and planning for spring, the Rebel coaches have also been directing drill work - workouts without footballs - during the week with the players eligible for spring training.
Anyone who thinks February is a "light" month, think again.
"We've got plenty to do to fill our days, and some," O stated.
Just two weeks away from the kickoff of spring training, what are Orgeron's general thoughts on what his spring goals are?
"They are pretty simple," he began, "but getting there will require a lot of effort. First and foremost, we have to identify who our best 11 are on both sides of the ball and make sure we have them in the right positions to help the team the most.
"As you know, we are having to replace guys like Patrick Willis, Andrew Wicker, Rory Johnson, Charles Clark, Trumaine McBride and some more - guys with leadership qualities and lots of experience and production. Who will step up? A lot of that will be determined in spring. We have to find playmakers to replace the playmakers we lost." On offense, the focus will be intense all over the field, but in O's mind one area sticks out.
"We have to find a replacement for Wicker, obviously, and get more development out of our wide receivers and more production from our tight ends, but the biggest thing we have to do is get our quarterback position solidified, whether it's Brent (Schaeffer) or Seth (Adams) or whoever," he stressed. "We have to get more consistency from our quarterback, certainly.
"We also have to make sure we keep developing our running game. We did some good things with the running game last year, but we can do more. We feel we have the ability for the running game to be a strength for us."
On defense, the "back end" of the 4-3 set that will be used will be the main focus, but the DL has goals as well.
"We have to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback from our front four," said O. "On the back end, development of a linebacking corps is critical for us. We are basically starting over there. We have moved Chris Bowers from LEO to MLB to see how he fits there. We will do some experimenting at LB in spring to try to find the right people. Jonathan Cornell will go outside and we'll go from there."
The area where Orgeron is asking for, maybe demanding, more production is in the Rebel secondary.
"We're going to find out who can get it done there this spring. At the safety slots, we feel we have five good candidates for spring - Jamal Harvey, Jamarca Sanford, Ashlee Palmer, Allen Walker and Markeith Summers. One of them may have to move to linebacker - we'll see," he said. "At corner, we are very thin and not very experienced, but we will do whatever we have to do to get better there."
As stated, there will be new blood in the coaching of the secondary with Thompson now primarily handling the corners and Rebel veteran Rippon working with the safeties.
"Coach Thompson coached me in college and made me feel like I was the best player on the field," Orgeron said. "His strength is in pressure packages from the back end and coverages. My strength is the front of the defense. I think we will make a great combination there.
"John will call the defensive plays during games, which will free me to do what head coaches do and to watch the DL closer. I have great trust and faith in him. I like the match we have here."
O also talked about the importance of getting transfer QB Jevan Snead on campus for spring ball.
"Even though he can't play next year, he'll have plenty of time to learn our system for when he is eligible. It's a perfect situation, almost like redshirting a freshman QB, except he's got a year of playing for Texas under his belt, which is a plus," he noted.
The final spring goal for Orgeron and company revolves around a word that is paramount in his program - "finish."
"We have to learn how to finish. We have more kids who have been in the system this year so we are expecting them to win the close games we didn't finish last year," he ended.
Besides Cornell being at OLB, Bowers at MLB, Sanford back to SS, Walker to S, and Summers to S, O mentioned OL David Traxler has been moved to TE and so has RS frosh DL Cecil Frison. He mentioned no other position changes, but knowing O, there will be more as spring rolls around and gets underway.
The following is the tentative spring training schedule:
Pratice 1 - Friday, March 2
Practice 2 - Saturday, March 3
Practice 3 - Monday, March 5
Practice 4 - Wednesday, March 7
Pratice 5 - Friday, March 9
(Spring Break - March 10-18)
Practice 6 - Monday, March 19
Practice 7 - Wednesday, March 21
Practice 8 - Friday, March 23
Pracice 9 - Monday, March 26
Practice 10 - Wednesday, March 28
Practice 11 - Friday, March 30
Practice 12 - Saturday, March 31
Practice 13 - Monday, April 2
Practice 14 - Wednesday, April 4
Practice 15 - Grove Bowl, April 7, 1 p.m.
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