Matt Luke and the Ole Miss football team continued preparations for the 125th season of football in
Oxford with another week of spring practice.
Early orientation and retention of new playbooks on both sides of the ball is the focus in these first few weeks, and Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre are looking to instill their systems in new players and seasoned veterans.
“We don’t have a ton in right now on either side of the ball, so it’s just the basics,” Luke said. “It’s really just learning how to play and learning how to play with that edge and the toughness that we’re looking to play with to really make an impact.”
Rebel fans and national media alike have questioned whether former offensive coordinator Phil Longo utilized the surplus of talent at his disposal last season after the sheer dominance his former players showed at the NFL Scouting Combine. The new architect and leader of the Ole Miss offense Matt Corral didn’t mince words about the differences in the schemes.
“We’re going through reading the defense like a prolific offense should. Last year, we didn’t really do that. We just did a one-high, two-high type of thing,” quarterback Matt Corral said after practice last Thursday. “It’s the same philosophy, but I guess we have logic behind what we’re doing.”
Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez spoke on balancing new concepts with ones his players might already know.
“There are a lot of things that are different, but there are some things that they can relate to what they did in the past,” Rodriguez said. “So, we try to do that as much as we can even though we really refer to the past a lot.”
An issue that has haunted the Ole Miss offense for years has been its lack of a consistent running game. The Rebels have a capable back in Scottie Phillips, but they also have a few questions along the offensive line after losing Greg Little, Javon Patterson, Sean Rawlings and Jordan Sims. Senior Alex Givens will serve as the leader for that group as the most experienced veteran.
“We’re all just working at the same goal, but I feel like some people do look up to me and Royce (Newman), Bryce (Mathews) and Eli (Johnson),” Givens said. “I feel like we’ve been working as a group more and it’s been really good for us this year.”
Phillips was on his was on his way to reaching 1,000 rushing yards last season before an ankle injury early in the Texas A&M game put him on the sideline. Phillips said he’s more confident heading into this season.
“I’m coming in knowing I’m the guy. The nerves are gone trying to learn a new system and be that vet(eran) and leader for the younger guys to lean on,” Phillips said. “It hurt (not reaching 1,000 yards). That was one of my goals coming into the season, to get a thousand yards. But I’m in year two, and that’s the goal this year, so I’m looking forward to accomplishing that goal.”
The questions and concerns around the Ole Miss defense dwarf those of the offense. The Rebels had the worst-ranked defense in the SEC by far last season and lost the centerpieces of the side in DeMarquis Gates, Ken Webster and Zedrick Woods. The defense will have a lot of work to do, but senior defensive back Myles Hartsfield thinks that, under the command of Mike MacIntyre, the Landsharks can turn things around.
“We’ve got a lot to prove to ourselves, first and foremost. We knew we were a good defense. We just never put it out there. We practiced hard last year. It was just the little things last year that got us beat most of the time,” Hartsfield said. “We’re just ready and focused more this year. We have more leaders. We don’t have a lot of people talking. It’s just a few people who are leading by example.”
Ole Miss’s new leaders will try help the younger players and learn revamped systems for the rest of the spring.
The team will have a break next week and will come back to practice until early April. The annual Grove Bowl scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday, April 6 at 3 p.m.