July 15, 2008

Tapp knows he's always one play away

Billy Tapp has one of the toughest jobs on the Ole Miss football team.

Each week, he has to prepare for an opposing defense, knowing at any moment he could be forced into action as the leader of a Southeastern Conference club.

Each week, Tapp also has to mentally and emotionally prepare for the very real possibility that he won't play down, knowing that most of the fans in the stadium to cheer for the Rebels are hoping he's nothing more than a clipboard holder and ultimately, a human victory cigar.

"The best way to do that is pretty much the same way I've been trying to treat everything in the spring and the summer since they named Jevan Snead the starter," Tapp said Monday. "I try to just realize that I'm one play away from being the leader of this team. That's something that I try to relate to the guys. I try to let them know that even with Jevan there, I try to be a leader of this team. I need to get that respect from them. I could see the field a lot this year or I couldn't see it at all, but that's not my mindset. I'm ready to play as soon as I get the chance, whether that's if he gets hurt or if something happens. I'm ready to go as soon as the first snap against Memphis takes place."

For his part, Tapp is just happy to be back under center after a failed _ and ill-conceived _ stint as a tight end. Tapp was one of the more pleasant surprises of the spring when he solidified his role as the Rebels' backup quarterback.

"I think I did a pretty good job during spring just to learn the offense and trying to get inside (Ole Miss offensive coordinator) Coach (Kent) Austin's head and know what he is thinking and the plays he's going to be calling.

"I think probably after the first two weeks, I was able to settle down and realize that they're calling the plays for a purpose and knowing what they wanted to get out of certain plays. That's when I really felt comfortable, knowing the receivers' depths and things like that."

While it was confusing at first, Tapp came to appreciate and then embrace the new offense, one that includes some of Austin's ideas from the CFL and some of Houston Nutt's ideas from his days at Murray State, Boise State and Arkansas.

"I like it a lot," Tapp said. "Just the way that we attack space on the field, Coach Austin does a great job. Coming from a bigger field in the Canadian league to a smaller field, he's still keeping the spacing that's needed for the receivers to be effective. That really helps us a lot. They do a great job of getting the vertical game going. It just opens up everything down the field. They've done a good job of making it easier for me and Jevan."

Tapp, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound junior from St. Petersburg, Fla., doesn't want to be Snead's backup. He'd love to switch roles. However, he knows the former Texas quarterback earned the starting nod in the spring and he knows a part of his role now is to support and push Snead.

"He's a great quarterback," Tapp said. "He makes some good decisions. More than anything, he makes me push him and the same thing from him to me. Every day I know I have to come and compete knowing he's a good quarterback and he's going to leave me behind if I don't come and compete. We do a good job of talking about things, we get along great and both of us are able to help each other a lot."

If Tapp were forced into duty, however, he believes he's more than capable of leading Ole Miss back to the postseason for the first time since Eli Manning quarterbacked the Rebels to a win over Oklahoma State in the January 2004 Cotton Bowl.

"I'm a smart enough quarterback where I'd be able to read defenses and make good decisions with the ball," Tapp said. "I really think I'd be able to manage the game pretty well in crucial situations, third downs and things like that, getting the ball to the right receiver, pick up blitzes and stuff like that. I just really think I'd be able to manage the game.

"I've always, since I've been here, tried to take whatever reps I could get as serious as I could and hopefully, they'd turn into more and more. Now that I've kind of settled into a role right now _ it's not really a role that I'm proud to be settling into; I'm always trying to get better _ it's definitely one where my reps count. It's certainly something the coaches are looking at and it's something where I think I can definitely improve. I'm going to get a significant amount of reps at every practice and that's something I'm excited about and I can work toward becoming a better quarterback every single day in practice."

As much as anything, Tapp is ready to win. Like every other member of the Ole Miss team, he hasn't seen the postseason in a Rebel uniform. He wants that to change this fall, and he thinks the new environment around the Ole Miss program is one that is going to make that more possible.

"We've been close in the past, our whole team, but with it being more relaxed around here, it's just allowed _ especially the players _ everyone to be a little looser and to be able to get along with each other," Tapp said, echoing a sentiment shared by teammates last spring and this summer. "I think we're a lot closer this year than it has been in the past. Everyone gets along pretty well with each other and there's just a respect that we have for each other and the coaching staff. Now we know that everyone that's here wants to get better and wants to be the best and we want to win this year. Just bluntly putting it, we're just sick of losing."

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