Football Practice Report: Defensive Developments
OXFORD, Miss. — (Release) On day three of fall camp, the Ole Miss football team practiced in shoulder pads for the first time since spring ball, getting a step closer to game simulation. Energy and enthusiasm remains high as plenty of work lies ahead.
On the defensive side of the ball, co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge are adapting defenders to multiple places on the field, even the established veterans. The Rebel defensive coaches met with the press following Tuesday’s practice to answer questions about those changes and their progress in taking the next step this fall.
The Rebels were second-to-last in the nation in total defense in 2020 and will look to right the ship in 2021. Partridge was not shy in admitting that the unusual circumstances surrounding last year’s season didn’t excuse what happened on the field. The past three days have been spent assuring this defense lives up to expectations, all across the depth chart.
“You actions are speaking so loud, we can’t hear what you’re saying. We don’t want standing around at our practices,” Durkin said. “Their actions are showing it, all the way from January… We have to keep stacking those days.”
Nearly the entire starting defense returns from 2020, and in addition to that veteran presence, a handful of newcomers are expected to see significant action this fall. Some newcomers enrolled early and joined program this spring, giving them a head start in the evaluation period.
“We’re only three practices in. It’s not the first time going through it. I’m very pleased where we’re at,” Durkin said.
“They stand out physically,” Durkin said. “They are very physical at the point of attack and they take great pride in it. That’s an identity for them. Looking forward to seeing how they progress.”
Chance Campbell was also brought up as an experienced transfer linebacker from Maryland who, like a few others, are being yanked from place to place on the defensive side of the ball. Jake Springer is another senior going through a similar experience as defensive back.
“We’re counting on him,” Durkin said. “He’s playing more than one spot. He’s played a lot of football. He’s really good for our room. We’re going to keep moving around… (Jake) is smart player, has a lot of experience. We’re counting on him to do a bunch for us. A lot of our guys are playing multiple spots. It’s good to see that, for them to get a feel for that.”
Questions persisted about last year’s defensive performances and the strides the unit took as the year progressed. They held Indiana, one of the best offenses in college football, in check in last year’s 2021 Outback Bowl victory. Momentum has carried ever since.
“First and foremost, no one knows more than us about last year,” Partridge said. “We eat that and it motivates us every day. We’ve all shouldered that. It took longer than we hoped. We’re constantly getting better. We can gain confidence at the end of the year and we haven’t taken a step back from last year.”
Partridge attributes part of that to his players taking the initiative.
“When players are leading, that’s what you want as a coach,” Partridge said. “The progression of teaching. Those are hard to do right away… Now, because we have maturity, we can get where we want to be.”
With the players taking hold on the field, it’s now up to Partridge, Durkin and Co. to keep them focused. An hour into practice and before the presser, the USA Today Coaches Poll was released, with the Rebels checking in (No. 25) for the first time since 2016. When this was brought to Partridge’s attention, he had one simple comment about it.
“Rat poison,” Partridge said.
The Rebels open the 2021 football season in Atlanta, Georgia, and will face Louisville in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game. Kickoff is set for Monday, September 6 at 7 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ESPN.
(Photo credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)