OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke kicked off spring football with a press conference Tuesday afternoon in the Manning Center, expressing excitement about the chance to work with the Rebels’ new staff members and early enrollees.
He welcomes new coordinators, Rich Rodriguez (offense) and Mike MacIntyre (defense), along with two new position coaches in Calvin Magee (tight ends) and Tyrone Nix (linebackers).
“It’s exciting to get a fresh start with installing a new offense and a new defense. I think there’s energy in the building. The guys are excited about learning a new system. They’re excited about Coach MacIntyre and excited about Rich Rod. A log of energy in the building—a lot of excitement and we’re ready to get started.”
Coach Matt Luke
This afternoon, Ole Miss begins its 15 spring practices that will culminate with the Grove Bowl on April 6. Along with the new staff members, the Rebels will be joined by the following players who have enrolled early:
Ashanti Cistrunk – LB
Snoop Conner – RB
Kinkead Dent – QB
Dontario Drummond – WR
Jonathan Haynes – DB
Jadon Jackson – WR
Eric Jeffries – LB
Jalen Jordan – DB
Jamar Richardson – DB
Tay Standifer – LB
Grant Tisdale – QB
Sam Williams – OLM
Early enrollees already garnering attention
Of the early enrollees, a few have already caught Luke’s eye. “Jared Conner (running back) is just a good kid, a hard worker. He fits right in in that running back room. I’ve been very impressed with him,” Luke said.
“Jadon Jackson (wide receiver) is very, very fast,” Luke continued. “He’s got a lot of ability, and he’s got the extra gear that you want. I’ll be interested in how he handles getting off the press and some of those things, but he’s very explosive,” he added.
“Dontario Drummond (wide receiver) comes from junior college, and he’s a little bit more developed,” Luke noted. “He does some natural things. he’s a playmaker, so I’m really excited about him.”
Luke was asked how he thinks true freshman quarterback and early enrollee Grant Tisdale fits in as a quarterback in Rich Rod’s system—a system that is different from that of former offensive coordinator Phil Longo.
“I think he fits really, really well,” Luke commented. “It’s so important that he is here and that he’s been here. We’re going to go four with the one’s, three with the two’s, and two with the three’s—that way, we’re able to get all the quarterbacks reps,” he explained.
“He (Grant) comes from a great program at Allen,” Luke said. “He’s a very good thrower. He’s also a very willing runner. I think he has the ability to do both, and that’s really what we want to do. We still want to be balanced but with a little bit more of an emphasis on running the football, especially in the red zone,” he said.
A ‘physical, blue-collar mindset’
Coach Luke was asked about the balance he intends for the Rebels to have this season and what he envisions that will look like in his new offensive coordinator’s scheme.
“Part of being a good offense is doing what your skill-set allows you to do,” he began. “Coach Rodriguez is known for his quarterback runs, but he’s also had success where he’s had talented passers and talented receivers,” Luke continued.
“…I do want a physical, blue-collar mindset. I think that’s the edge he’ll bring to the offense in a run-first, successful play-action off of it mentality. A lot of it is predicated on Matt Corral and how he does and some of these young receivers, as well.”
Coach Luke on what the offense will look like
Coach MacIntyre will be instituting a 3-4 defensive scheme this season, and Coach Luke was asked about players who will be filling the outside linebacker role in the system.
“The two (current players) that have really, really jumped out are Qaadir Sheppard and Chuck Wiley,” Luke said. “We (have also) moved Kevontae Ruggs out there and Jonathan Hess,” he added.
Luke is also excited about getting JUCO transfer Sam Williams on the field. “Sam Williams (Northeast Mississippi Community College) is a new guy. He’ll start (off) at outside backer. It just depends on how big he gets; if he continues to grow, he may move inside. He’s just such a good athlete. That’s what he did really well in junior college was rush the passer. We look forward to seeing him come off the edge,” Luke noted.
Coach Luke was asked about the rehabilitative progress of Rebels who were injured last season, specifically redshirt freshman wide receiver Demarcus Gregory, junior defensive back Jaylon Jones, senior defensive back Montrell Custis, and running back D’Vaughn Pennamon (injured in 2017).
“Demarcus (Gregory) will be out there practicing,” Luke said. “(Montrell) Custis and Jaylon Jones still have a ways to go. They will be in green jerseys. They’ll be doing the walk-throughs but won’t be able to participate in any drills. They will be out there in green jerseys to help with the installation of the defense,” Luke said.
D’Vaughn Pennamon, injured in November, 2017, is expected to practice with the team today.
“D’Vaughn is getting in really good shape,” Luke commented. “He looks pretty good right now, so I think we’ll be able to see him for the first time at the running back spot,” he added.
“He is looking good, starting to cut, starting to change directions and doing all of the things that we need him to do. I’m looking forward to seeing him back in action.”
Coach Luke on running back D’Vaughn Pennamon
Throughout his press conference, Coach Luke emphasized the importance of chemistry amongst the staff. “I love the staff chemistry we have,” he said.
“I think chemistry is a huge part. I think people can feel it; I think the players can see it; I think the fans can sense it. It’s just a huge part. (Chemistry) is the secret sauce between a really good season and an average season.”
Coach Luke on the importance of team chemistry
VIdeo: Archie Breland, The Rebel Walk