OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke and the Rebels hit the field Thursday for their second practice of the season, continuing to work on installing new systems on both offense and defense. NCAA rules dictate that the first two practices are without pads, so having fulfilled that on Tuesday and Thursday, the Rebels will work out Saturday in pads for the first time this spring.
One thing that has obviously not changed is the excitement of head coach Matt Luke. There has been an obvious energy in his voice and spring in his step during both practices this week.
Two big changes that have added to Coach Luke’s zeal come in the form of new hires, offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre.
“I’m really excited about the experience and the knowledge they bring,” Luke said of his new staff members.
“I think that’s your job as a leader to bring in the best people that you can, and probably what I like most is they’ve sat in my chair, they’ve seen the big picture and even more importantly, our staff chemistry is really, really good,” Luke added.
(Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre talks after practice Thursday.)
As of Thursday’s practice, the media was allowed to watch six periods of practice. Following is what we can glean so far, with respect to what appears to be the first unit in the Rebels’ new 3-4 alignment.
Tariqious Tisdale (22) and Ryder Anderson (89) were in the defensive end positions, and redshirt freshman Quinten Bivens (94) was at the nose.
Defensive linemen Benito Jones and Josiah Coatney are both injured and wearing the green jersey. Coach MacIntyre says they should get Josiah back after spring break, but he is doubtful Benito will be able to be a full-go during spring.
Nevertheless, MacIntyre says the two are still learning the new system.
“We’ve been doing a ton of walk-throughs, and they (Benito and Josiah) have been in all of those. I’ve made sure we’ve done a lot more walk-throughs instead of just meeting—especially for those guys.”
Coach MacIntyre on injured Benito Jones and Josiah Coatney
At the linebacker positions, we saw MoMo Sanogo (46) and Willie Hibbler (17) at the inside linebacker spots, while Qaadir Sheppard (97) and Charles Wiley (99) were working with the first team as outside backers.
Coach MacIntyre has been impressed so far with Sheppard and Wiley.
“It’s definitely early, but so far they’ve picked it up real well,” MacIntyre said after Thursday’s practice. “Coach (Tyrone) Nix has done a good job with them. And they have a good feel for it out there. They both can run and they’re big and powerful, Q and Wiley.”
Corners and safeties
Keidron Smith (20) and Myles Hartsfield (15) handled the first team cornerback spots Thursday, while Armani Linton (29) and C.J. Miller (8) handled the safeties duties with the ones.
Note: Jaylon Jones and Montrell Custis are being projected as starters or impact players but are not seeing the field at this time due to injuries.
Learning a new system
As for how quickly the defense is learning MacIntyre’s system, the coordinator commented: “We don’t have a lot of things in yet, but what we’ve put in they’ve got a good feel for.”
MacIntyre believes going up against Coach Rod’s offensive unit can be nothing but beneficial for the defense.
“Going against our offense with what (Coach) Rich (Rod) does and how he attacks you in all different ways and spreads it all over the field and has different sets has helped us adapt a little quicker I think. So hopefully we’ll be able to do that. So far I’ve felt they’ve done well with it.”
Coach MacIntyre on his offense working against Coach Rod’s offense
(Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez talks after practice Thursday.)
Coach Rodriguez spoke with the media after Thursday’s practice and explained that the first two on-field workouts have gone well.
“They’ve done a great job getting ready for practice,” he noted. “And then the first two practices, we’ve done a lot more than I’ve done in the past, scheme-wise. We won’t do a lot more going forward. It’s more about execution going forward.”
Coach Rod was asked how long it will take to implement his new system.
“Typically, it takes through a whole spring and maybe a week of camp,” he said. “I’m hoping it doesn’t take that long because that makes you nervous all summer. It just depends on how fast we progress,” he explained.
Coach Rod’s offensive philosophy
When asked to specifically describe what his offense will look like, run vs. pass, Rodriguez gave an in-depth answer.
“I think a lot of time scheme is overrated,” he said. “I think you have to have a philosophy, offensively, of what you want to do. For us, it’s not whether we’re just going to run it or throw it—we have to be able to do both, inevitably, depending on how they defend us,” said Rodriguez.
“But it’s more about an attitude and the way we’re going to attack each and every day as an offense, and what we’re going to try to do to win games. And a lot of it is unknown, because we will study our opponents and see how they’re going to play us—but we have to have the ability to adjust in all phases of offense based on how people are playing us and who they are playing us with.”
Coach Rodriguez on the Rebels’ offense
The offensive side of the football has been less affected by injuries than the defense; although, wide receiver Braylon Sanders is out with an ankle injury but is not expected to be out for long.
Redshirt freshman Matt Corral (2) has handled all the quarterback duties with the first team, and his offensive coordinator is pleased with the job the young QB is doing.
“I like what I see,” Rodriguez said of Corral.
“Matt’s done a great job. (We have) probably the only room in the country with all freshmen quarterbacks—which makes me a little nervous. But Matt’s done a great job of taking charge of that room in a lot of respects.“
Coach Rodriguez on the Ole Miss QBs
Corral has been joined by Scottie Phillips (22), D’Vaughn Pennamon and Tylan Knight at running back. Sophomore Isaiah Woullard is expected to be Phillips’ backup and took reps with the twos at Thursday’s practice.
With respect to the receivers, redshirt freshman Miles Battle (6) and junior college transfer Dontario Drummond (11) were running first team at the edge receiver spots, while Elijah Moore (8) was in the slot.
Coach Rod talked about what the wide receivers can expect in spring camp.
“I think some of the stuff they did before will help them. I don’t think scheme-wise or route-wise it’s a whole lot different. But there’s gonna be a learning curve because they’re still learning how to run a hitch route or a slant route or a go route—on top of how it fits into the play-calling.”
Coach Rodriguez on the wide receivers
As for Corral, he is excited about his receivers. “They’re starting to get in their groove, starting to get comfortable, and finding their swagger on the field,” he said.
The QB room
As we mentioned earlier, Matt Corral is joined by two new faces in the QB room. True freshmen Kinkead Dent and Grant Tisdale will vie for snaps this spring. John Rhys Plumlee is not on campus yet as he will graduate from high school this May.
All the talented signal-callers will be learning a new offensive system under Coach Rod, and Corral says that being young has its advantages.
“The culture that this team has, we are young—but we all look at it as a positive thing. We’re excited because we will be going against the best as freshmen in the SEC West.”
QB Matt Corral
Corral was asked about any differences in this year’s offense under Coach Rod. “(We are) reading a lot of coverages,” he said.
“We’re going through reading the defense like a prolific offense should. Last year we didn’t really do that. We just did 1-high, 2-high type of thing. It’s the same philosophy, but we have logic behind what we’re doing. And like me, I’ve got to read a coverage and so do the receivers so we’re on the same page, and that’s where we find our confidence in what we’re doing.”
Matt Corral on the difference in this year’s offense under Coach Rod
With the departure of so many talented offensive linemen to the NFL Draft and graduation, the O-line room has much less experience than last season.
Fortunately, the Rebs have proven talent in Ben Brown, Alex Givens, and Eli Johnson.
Tthe other side of the line, however, is more up in the air as offensive line coach Jack Bicknell continues to rotate through several different combinations of Royce Newman, Chandler Tuitt and Bryce Mathews.
From what we saw in Thursday’s practice, the offensive line looked as it did in Tuesday’s practice:
Royce Newman (72) at left tackle; Chandler Tuitt (68) at left guard; Eli Johnson (61) at center; Ben Brown (55) at right guard; and Alex Givens (67) at right tackle. Jason Pellerin and Octavious Cooley (15) shared time at tight end.
Coach Rodriguez was asked about the Rebels’ offensive line and how things are going with so many new faces. “Coach (Jack) Bicknell is outstanding, one of the best in the country,” he said.
“Those guys have to be the most selfless players on our team and have to work harder. Particularly with the young guys, they’re learning how to play, playing hard all the time, and that’s a little bit shocking,” he continued.
“They did uptempo last year, so that’s not completely different. But these are guys who didn’t play a whole lot—well, a couple of them did—but they will be learning how to play hard in uptempo scheme, and that’s part of the process, and then just get bigger and stronger in the weight room. They have a terrific attitude and they’e going to be well-coached.”
Coach Rod on the Rebels’ young O-line
In Pads on Saturday
By rule, the Rebels had to go through two practices without pads, which they accomplished on Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday will be their first day in pads this spring. The practice, however, is closed to the media.
Stay tuned to The Rebel Walk for more info on Ole Miss spring camp. Hotty Toddy!