By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ed Orgeron has ditched the USC offense in favor of the Miami offense with hopes of finding an Ole Miss offense.
The Rebels, under Orgeron, their second-year head coach, begin spring football practice today. Fifteen practices will stretch for a month and will conclude with the spring game April 8.
Several defensive notables will be held out of drills. Linebacker Patrick Willis, strong safety Jamarca Sanford and end Lamark Armour are recovering from various off-season surgeries.
The most pressing issues for Ole Miss, however, are on the offensive side.
Orgeron fired offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone last season after he could not successfully implement what Orgeron referred to as the “USC offense” he witnessed while coaching as a defensive assistant at Southern Cal.
Dan Werner, who coached five seasons at Miami and served two as offensive coordinator, was hired in January to turn around an Ole Miss unit that scored only 15 touchdowns last year.
“In the interview process I told him that I needed a coordinator that could come in and be confident in running his own scheme,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, with me having been at the University of Miami for five years, it is a scheme that I think is fantastic. Dan has complete control of the offense.”
Ole Miss went 3-8 in Orgeron's debut season and finished ranked last in the SEC and 115th in the nation in scoring offense with 13.5 points per game.
In SEC rankings, the Rebels were last in rushing offense (73.3 ypg), eighth in passing offense (208.5 ypg) and 11th in total offense (281.7 ypg).
Complicating matters for Werner this spring is the fact that his No. 1 quarterback – junior college signee Brent Schaeffer – isn't on campus.
The former Tennessee starter, Schaeffer has already been named to that role at Ole Miss.
In addition to installing his system, Werner will work hard over the next month at developing a No. 2 quarterback.
Northeast Community College transfer Bruce Hall has an inside track at that job.
It won't go to Robert Lane, a Parade All-American at the position in high school, who has become a full-time tight end.
Werner says the key to his system will be simplicity for his players while generating confusion for opponents.
“It's a multiple pro-style attack. We are going to run certain plays out of literally 100 different formations. So it's the same play for our guys, but with minor adjustments by formation, it's a totally different play for the defense. We want to keep it simple for our player and make it hard on the defense.”
Five offensive starters return.
Fullback Jason Cook and tailback Mico McSwain are back, and highly touted transfer tailback Benjarvus Green-Ellis becomes eligible.
The top two returning receivers – Carlos Suggs and Keith Houston – caught only two passes last year.
Seven letter-winners return on an offensive line that struggled all season and has been targeted by Orgeron as a top priority for the spring.
Werner says he has resisted the urge to look at tape.
“You watch the guys in agility drills, and you can see that we have some good athletes. Now I have to see them catching balls, blocking and tackling. I like the work ethic of our guys,” he said. “Everybody has been working their butts off and studying the system and the new plays that have been put in.”