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Rebels expect to see benefits in 2021 from first spring practices under Lane Kiffin

Rebels expect to see benefits in 2021 from first spring practices under Lane Kiffin

Should Ole Miss have success this fall, another season should get a fair share of the credit. 

The Rebels got to participate in their first spring practices under head coach Lane Kiffin this year, and it is believed great strides were made upon a 5-5 2020 season that saw Ole Miss win its first bowl game since the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2016.

According to quarterback Matt Corral at SEC Media Days this week, the bonding that has taken place with the Rebels during the spring drills and into the summer has produced something that has actually been foreign to him. 

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral speaks to the media during the 2021 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days on July 20,2021 at the Wynfrey Hotel,Hoover,Alabama. (Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)

This team, this specific team right now is something I’ve never experienced in my entire life of playing football. Like when I envisioned a team a year ago, I didn’t know what this was. This is the definition of a football team.” 

Matt Corral on the closeness of the Rebel team

Ole Miss led the Southeastern Conference in total offense in 2020, and Corral became the quarterback who caught the attention of the college football world in just ten games. His coach Lane Kiffin believes having a spring training under his belt will ensure Corral’s performance reaches even greater heights in 2021.

I think…having a spring finally with him — he’s never had a second year of a system — has been good for him. (Last season), we were still trying to figure out, ourselves too, without having a spring, not just him, but our offense. We didn’t even know if he was going to be the starting quarterback when we went into camp. And it was the first year working with Coach Lebby. So he’s done a great job from a leadership standpoint. He’s a very confident kid. I think a lot of people forget…it was his first year as a starter. So we know what to build off, and we know what it should look like.”

Coach Kiffin on the advantages for Corral in having spring camp

When the topic of leadership was broached with Corral at SEC Media days, he wasted no time in praising the whole team for coming together as a single unit. 

“(The team is different this season) just from a standpoint of leadership, the camaraderie, how close we’ve grown together, just how much we trust each other,” Corral said.

We’ve got each other’s backs on and off the field and really have each other’s backs off the field. And Jaylon (Jones) can attest to that. Jaylon’s one of the older guys and he has been here with a lot of great Ole Miss football players and he’d say the same thing. This team is just different from a standpoint of we may not have the best players on paper, we may not have the flash and all that, but I guarantee you that we’re going to be the best team that plays together.” 

Matt Corral

An improved defense

As much as the offense could be counted on to put points on the scoreboard last season, the defense was not consistent. After watching the Landsharks during spring practice, Corral sees a different defense than the one that took the field in 2020. 

“They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder, and they train with a chip on their shoulder like they haven’t before,” Corral said. “They are constantly working consistently with no coaches out there and that speaks volumes. They’ve got leaders like (Jaylon) Jones, Mark Robinson and Otis Reese that are helping that defense grow.” 

Jones, a senior from Allen, Texas, has a clear view of what the defense needs to do this season to return the Landsharks to being a dominating unit. 

Ole Miss defensive back Jaylon Jones speaks to the media during the 2021 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days on July 20,2021 at the Wynfrey Hotel,Hoover,Alabama. (Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)

“Focus on the details, focus on things to get better, execution, everybody doing their job,” Jones said reciting the list of improvements.

And I think everybody will see that this year, us having a spring and the experience we have going into this season and this being the second year under coach (D.J.) Durkin and coach (Chris) Partridge’s scheme, I think everybody will see that this season.

DB Jaylon Jones

The spring practices helped the defense in another way. It allowed more players to participate and get repetitions which could quell any attrition on the defensive side of the ball. 

“We got a lot more experience coming in, but we also got a lot more bodies and it’s going to keep everybody fresh this season,” Jones said. “I mean we saw it this spring ,personally. A lot more guys were able to get more reps and I think that’s going to help a lot this season.” 

Jones knows the defense must keep striving to improve. But he believes the Rebel defenders got off to a great start to that goal in the spring. 

“(We have) everybody understanding what we need to work on, everybody being more familiar with the schemes,” Jones said.

“Like I said it’s going to be our second year going on and you could tell by this spring everybody was just more familiar, moving with confidence, it seemed like everyone knew what he was doing. Now we’re taking that step and challenging each other.” 

Jaylon Jones on the benefits of having spring camp

All the work the Rebels put in during the spring should reap huge benefits this coming season. Although it is doubtful he ever saw a football game in his life, famed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy may have described the Ole Miss off-season strategy in his novel Anna Karenina: “Spring is a time of plans and projects.” 

On September 6, the Rebels open the season against Louisville in Atlanta. The game will be televised on ESPN.

About The Author

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers. He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio. A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series. Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time. He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk. Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.

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