Tuesday morning, Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, center Sean Rawlings, and defensive lineman Josiah Coatney addressed the media in Atlanta about the 2018 season.
ATLANTA – Coach Matt Luke started off his first SEC Media Days as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels with comments to reporters who were eager to hear from him, expressing how happy he is to be at the helm of his alma mater.
Speaking at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Coach Luke addressed questions centering on topics such as the appeal process of the Rebels’ postseason bowl ban, the talent of star wide receiver A.J. Brown, the growth of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, the development of the defense, and how his team will remain motivated if they are not allowed to play in a bowl game this season.
Coach Luke began by saying he feels better about the defense this season than last year, noting that through the spring, the Rebels have been able to kill two birds with one stone. They’ve gave numerous reps to young running backs Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard and also used their development to give the defense better reps.
Coach Luke feels good about the strength of the run game this year and the depth that his Rebels have there. He says Phillips and Woullard have really pushed Eric Swinney, as well, creating a three-way battle at running back that Luke thinks greatly helps the Rebels’ depth and future production.
Similarly, he feels that the Rebel defense has grown in the run-stopping department, despite the loss of some key defenders from last year’s squad.
Expectations for the Ole Miss offense are as high as ever going into 2018. In addition to his talent at quarterback, senior Jordan Ta’amu has really grown into a leadership role. Coach Luke feels Ta’amu will shine this season in offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s offense, thanks to the weapons at this disposal and an entire offseason to build on the chemistry he has with his unit.
With 103 combined starts, the Rebels’ offensive line should be the building block of another record-setting year. Guys like Sean Rawlings, Greg Little, and Javon Patterson bring experience and stability to the offense–something that excites the coaching staff.
Coach Luke believes that the O-line play is what will help establish a better run game for the Rebels, which, in turn, will help open up the passing game. Wide receivers A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge, and tight end Dawson Knox will benefit from a solid run game, as well as an entire offseason with Ta’amu.
When asked about the development of star receiver A.J. Brown, projected to be a first-round draft pick, Luke commented on the work ethic of A.J. and his fellow receivers. “It’s been fun to really watch him push the other receivers and other receivers push and continue to develop,” he said. “Obviously a phenomenal player,” Luke continued about Brown.
“There will be people trying to take him away. The good news is you have D.K. and Lodge there, as well. I’m really excited about A.J. and the leadership qualities he brings to the table.”
Coach Luke likes the offensive balance the Rebels will have this season and believes that both the receivers and running backs will help each other’s success, making the entire offense dangerous at all times.
It is also clear the Rebels believe in their quarterback. Center Sean Rawlings explained what it is that makes Ta’amu special.
“A guy that has zero SEC starts under his belt, and you see this guy coming in who is so composed and confident,” Rawlings said of Ta’amu. He portrayed that to the whole offense, and then the offense adopts that confidence,” he added.
“Having him and his composure is what sets him apart.”
Center Sean Rawlings on QB Jordan Ta’amu
Ole Miss defensive lineman Josiah Coatney offered a glimpse into the defensive unit’s mindset. “Work as hard as possible,” he said of their mentality.
“The team, we want to take the next step this season. They are trying to do everything possible to get better–like working hard, learning plays and learning schemes.“
Josiah Coatney on expectations for this year’s defense
Coatney also stressed the importance of mental toughness, saying in order to be successful the Rebels need to know that they can stop anyone at any time. Both Coatney and Coach Luke emphasized that they’re pleased with the depth the Rebels have on defense this season and are looking for a great year from the Landsharks.
Luke’s first “real” year
Although he was the Rebels’ head coach for the entirety of last season, this will be Coach Luke’s first season at the helm following the removal of the “interim” tag. But regardless of his title, one thing is clear: his players love playing for Coach Luke.
The Gulfport, Mississippi native is often described as “authentic,” and that’s precisely what word comes to mind when one hears him speak. It was clear at SEC Media Days that Coach Luke lives and breathes SEC football and loves the University of Mississippi with a passion. Though it’s his first year as head coach, Luke is entering his 18th season as a player or coach in the SEC, meaning he knows the ins and outs of what it takes to be successful in the league.
One key component of success for a head coach is having a great staff. Alongside Coach Luke, Phil Longo and defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff have assembled a very solid staff of whom the team speaks highly.
Both Josiah Coatney and Coach Luke praised defensive line coach Freddie Roach at SEC Media Days. “We’re really fortunate to have him. He is a rising star in this profession,” Luke said.
“The thing he does best is he has an unbelievable relationship with his players. I think that also carries over into recruiting.”
Head coach Matt Luke on defensive line coach Freddie Roach
Wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler is another assistant coach who receives high marks. His receivers and Roach’s D-line are two of the Rebels’ strengths, and we expect their respective units to continue to dominate under the tutelage of these talented coaches.
Coach Luke also mentioned linebackers coach Jon Sumrall Tuesday, praising the work Sumrall did earlier this year with his group. “Jon Sumrall was a very easy hire for me,” Luke explained. “He is a tremendous, tremendous person and football coach, and I’m very impressed with him and what he was able to get out of our linebackers this spring.”
To sum up the appearance of the Ole Miss contingent at SEC Media Days, I would say they are excited about what they have in front of them this year. They no longer have to answer questions about a seemingly never-ending NCAA investigation or about a coach who is no longer with the program. Instead, they are focusing on the game they love and are looking forward to playing this season.
To hear a more in-depth report of what all went on at SEC Media Days, check out our Facebook Live from Tuesday afternoon!
SEC Media Days Wrap Up and Q&A https://t.co/EQMRUoKy8o
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) July 17, 2018