Ole Miss football is gearing up for the annual Grove Bowl Saturday as it prepares for its upcoming campaign. The intra-squad scrimmage, which is being broadcast on SEC Network, will give the Rebels a chance to showcase changes and improvements the team has implemented this offseason.
It may tempt spectators to focus entirely on the players, but some attention should be spared for the coaching staff. Head coach Hugh Freeze shook up the locker room this offseason, replacing his offensive and defensive coordinators, as well as adding new wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker coaches.
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo, whose history of high-scoring offenses and fast ball movement at Sam Houston State attracted the Ole Miss athletic department, looks to refresh the Rebels’ offensive front this year. Sophomore offensive linemen Greg Little, a day one starter, spoke highly of Longo’s system.
“Coach Longo is definitely a tempo kind of guy, and we’ll look to make explosive plays,” Little said.
Wide receiver coach Jacob Peeler, who set a number of school records during his coaching tenure at University of California, will serve as a catalyst for an extremely exciting Rebels receiving core. Connections with AJ Brown and DK Metcalf, a pair of freshman receivers who Peeler almost recruited for Cal, have made the transition near seamless for the Rebels.
Peeler did not take long to leave a positive impression on his new receivers.
“Coach Peeler is really a technician. He knows what he’s doing. He’s sent six receivers to the NFL in three years,” Metcalf said. “His track record speaks for himself. He knows what he’s doing, and he knows what he’s talking about.”
Metcalf, who had his 2016 season cut short after suffering a broken foot against Wofford, demonstrated plenty of promise last season and hopes to pick up where he left off.
“I looked at it as a time to grow and perfect my mental game,” Metcalf said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Freeze appointed Wesley McGriff, who spent time at Auburn and in the NFL before arriving in Oxford, as defensive coordinator. Ole Miss will rely on McGriff to shore up defensive woes, especially after a 2016 season that saw the Rebels ranked 119th against the rush and 108th in total defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
With plenty of inexperience across the line, McGriff figures to rely heavily on veteran leadership next season. Senior defensive end Marquis Haynes, who will enter next season ranked third and fourth in school history for sacks and tackles for loss, respectively, will play a big part in that.
“All of our defensive ends are athletic,” Little said. “We have a mixture of guys, and we’re not one dimensional.”
The defense, however, will only succeed if the Ole Miss secondary, which finished 45th in the FBS and seventh in the SEC, improves, as well. Metcalf, who matches up against the best cornerbacks in Oxford on a daily basis, seems optimistic.
“All the corners out there are working,” Metcalf said. “I think coach McGriff and coach Jones are a big part of that.”
Saturday marks an opportunity for Freeze, Longo, McGriff and Peeler to test their players in a game setting, in front of a limited home crowd. And while the matchup is nothing more than a scrimmage, the players will not be taking it lightly. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday morning at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.