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Coach O says Rebels ready to turn corner

FERNWOOD — Ole Miss head football coach Ed Orgeron believes hisRebels are ready to turn the corner in the rugged SoutheasternConference. Speaking to the South Mississippi Ole Miss Alumni ClubTuesday night at the Fernwood Country Club, Orgeron oozedenthusiasm as he shared his vision of the 2007 season.

A large crowd gathered in the FCC banquet room and applaudedOrgeron’s observations. He was introduced by outgoing presidentRalph “Catfish” Smith, a Brookhaven High graduate and an Ole MissAll-American from the early 1960s.

Starting his third year at the Ole Miss helm, Orgeron hascompiled a 7-16 worksheet. His Rebels beat archrival MississippiState in last November’s Egg Bowl and finished 4-8 overall and 2-6in the SEC. That’s one rung above the cellar-dwelling Bulldogs(3-9, 1-7).

Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone, showing his infinitewisdom, gave Orgeron a 2-year contract extension because so muchpositive progress had been made. The Rebels are still a long wayfrom four years ago when they beat Oklahoma State 31-28 in the 2004Cotton Bowl under former head coach David Cutcliffe.

Ole Miss finished 10-3 and was SEC West co-champion, under theguidance of quarterback Eli Manning. A year later, the Rebels went4-7 and Boone, again showing his high aptitude, fired Cutcliffe,much to the chagrin of many Ole Miss faithful.

At that time, Ole Miss legend Archie Manning said he wasembarrassed for Ole Miss. And the beat goes on.

In contrast to the laid back Cutcliffe, Orgeron is an energetic,fired up, wide-open, charismatic character who is recognizednationally for his recruiting skills. Boone is giving him plenty oftime to “turn the corner.”

Asked about his busy schedule, Orgeron said he relished theopportunity to speak to alumni groups. “I can look in their facesand see how hungry they are for a winning program.”

Survival in the SEC is difficult. For the record, Ole Miss lostto Georgia by 5 points, Auburn by 6 points, Alabama by 3 points andLSU by 3 points.

“All we needed were seven more points,” said Orgeron, reviewingthe heart-breakers. He and his offensive staff have been hard atwork in the offseason, compiling a different approach to put morepoints on the scoreboard.

Orgeron heaped praise on the Rebels’ offensive line. They arehuge and agile. “Mass kicks …” according to Coach O.

Quarterback Seth Adams made tremendous progress in the spring.Orgeron said Adams completed 80 percent of his passes and was 70percent on third downs, drawing smiles and nods of encouragementfrom the crowd.

Brent Schaeffer, recognized a year ago as the next All-SECquarterback, fell woefully short of Orgeron’s high expectations inthe 2006 season. To his credit, Schaeffer is achieving success inthe classroom and still has a shot at the starting quarterbackjob.

“We want to improve our passing game,” said Orgeron. “We wantmore creative play calling. We want more touchdowns in the redzone, not just field goals.”

Another QB of note is Michael Herrick who Orgeron plans on usingin shotgun formations. Jevan Snead, a transfer from Texas, isprojected as the future quarterback in 2008 when he becomeseligible. Snead also had a good spring.

The Rebels’ rushing attack should be stronger and deeper withthe return of Ben Jarvis-Green. Former Meridian all-stater CorderaEason displayed speed and power, sparkling at running back.

The main focus on defense is replacing All-American linebackerPatrick Willis. According to Coach O, you don’t replace a playerlike Willis who won the Butkus Award and gained Ole Miss a milliondollars’ worth of free, positive publicity.

In the 40-yard dash, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Willis ran a 4.38for the NFL scouts on pro day. Then he ran another one. Coach Osaid Willis could be the highest-ever selection at linebacker inthe NFL Draft.

“Kids on the west coast know all about Patrick,” said Orgeron.”They know he played for Ole Miss, too.”

Coach O said Rebel defensive end Marcus Tillman made greatstrides his freshman season. Tillman, a Franklin County product,was The DAILY LEADER’s 2005 Defensive Player of the Year on theAll-Area Football Team.

“Marcus is going to be an All-American,” said Coach O. “He wonacademic and athletic awards in the spring.”

The 2007 campaign kicks off Sept. 1, at Memphis. It will be thefirst of 5 September games for the Rebels who host Missouri Sept.8, visit Vanderbilt Sept. 15, host national champion Florida Sept.22 and visit Georgia Sept. 29.

For sure, that early menu will determine how close the Rebelsare to turning that corner.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com