No Time Off

Spring practices came and went, a few weeks in April serving as but a teaser for Ole Miss fans eagerly awaiting the follow-up to last season's 7-6 finish.

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The helmets and shoulder pads are stored away until August, when the Rebels will open fall camp in preparation for Vanderbilt August 29. Even so, football never sleeps, as the off-season strength and conditioning program is well underway under Paul Jackson.

"One thing we talked about in January (is) we made a lot of improvements last year in a lot of areas," Jackson said. "We won more games, got stronger, did all these things. So I said this off-season, we need to find things we need to do better. These weeks after spring ball were an easy target for me to show them last year and remind them about last year and say we can do better than that this year."

One targeted area of improvement is in attitude. "Little things like body language and standing tall," Jackson said. "The way we carry ourselves and the way we go about this, that's number one." Jackson inherited a broken team last season, one he said fell well short of SEC standards in terms of strength and conditioning.

Jackson would know about such standards. He served as assistant strength and conditioning coach at LSU from 2007-10, working under renowned strength coach Tommy Moffitt.

"I was shocked," Jackson said of when he first arrived at Ole Miss. "My previous experience in the SEC was at LSU, which, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, is probably as good as there is. They have a great strength program. They've got a bunch of big, fast guys. So for a strength coach, that's about as good as it gets, and that was my previous experience in the SEC.

Paul Jackson
Chuck Rounsaville

"Coming in, knowing what was over there, I was thinking we'd be closer to those standards than we actually were when we got here. We're working towards that and getting closer to it."

Last season, the first under Hugh Freeze, was a step(s) in the right direction. The Rebels made significant strides both on the field and in the weight room, with Jackson playing an integral role.

Ole Miss concluded its season with a blowout win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl in January.

"The good thing about this year and the difference in our conditioning program compared to last year, last year I had to just get the guys in shape somehow," Jackson said. "We had to add a lot of volume - a lot of yardage, a lot of reps, a lot of those things - just so we could get a base. Now that the base is there, our quality of work, not just the volume of it, but the quality of it can be improved.

"Let's say we're running a 50-yard sprint. Last year, I might have had to do 20 of them, and I got to give the guys seven seconds. This year, I don't want to necessarily run 20 of them, but if you can do it in six seconds, we can run less with much higher quality reps. We're running faster, and those are the types of things that we're changing in our conditioning; we're able to get higher quality work in."

Since the conclusion of spring practices, and prior to the summer strength and conditioning program, Ole Miss has trained four days a week. Each day has different targets and different areas of focus.

The basic format is players arrive early in the morning. "Your shoes will be tied, mind will be right and your hands will be out of your pockets," Jackson said. "You'll be ready to go to work." There are four to five assigned lifting groups, depending on the day. Two days are for speed and explosion - power cleans, jerks and snapping - while the other two days are for strength, which includes heavy weights. Workouts range from squats to bench press, etc.

Warm-up includes mobility and core work before the team heads to the weight room, where the tempo is very fast, with sessions lasting around 45 minutes. Players are given supplements upon the conclusion of workouts, and then it's off to class and lunch, followed by a return to the IPF at 2 p.m. for running - speed, agility or conditioning.

Mike Marry
Bruce Newman

"I want us to be able to run faster more often with the conditioning," Jackson said. "That's basically what it comes down to: how often can I run fast? With the strength numbers, I think we made good gains last year. This year, obviously we always want to get bigger, faster, stronger. But every team in the country wants to do those things.

"But an area I really want to improve on this year is our conditioning where we can really get into our tempo that coach wants. He had to hold back a lot last year, especially in the spring. We weren't in condition to do it. I want us to be relentless, be in the type of shape where we're playing with confidence and we really feel we can run people out of the stadium."

As far as leadership is concerned, Jackson named Denzel Nkemdiche, Mike Marry and D.T. Shackelford, among others, as a few who have stepped forward.

"From a work standpoint, I'm glad to say we've got a large group of guys who consistently bring it," he said. "Denzel Nkemdiche, I call him a fire-starter. He brings great energy, and he's going to be wired up every day. He's going to be out there talking, he's going to give you what he has every day. D.T. Shackelford, Charles Sawyer, Donte Moncrief - there's a lot of guys.

"This off-season, Jeff Scott has been bringing it consistently. I feel like all three of our quarterbacks are tremendous leaders as far as the way they go about their work. Bo (Wallace), Barry (Brunetti) and Maikhail (Miller) all work very hard conditioning, running, lifting. The leadership, we're still trying to develop some of that. A guy who's really taken that on is Mike Marry. He's a guy who's not afraid to speak out. He's going to say what's right, and they respect him as a player, they respect him as a man."

Sure, the Rebels won't take to the practice fields for three months. The build-up to Vanderbilt, the first of a 12-game grind that includes four road games in five to open the season, is well in the distance.

These are busy days. For the always-intense Jackson, the helmets and pads can keep collecting dust. Because there's work to be done.

"I've been really pleased, ‘cause I was worried," he said. "Last year before spring ball, I thought we did some good work. We started from a really low point, and I thought we got to an OK point by spring ball. But after spring ball it was bad. The month or so we had leading into summer last year discouraged me. We weren't in very good shape, we couldn't do the things I had planned and I was starting to question my summer plan, if we were going to have to change everything.

"This year, I dove right into it. These two or three weeks have been basically a preview of our summer training, and they've done a tremendous job. They have an understanding of what's expected. They're so much further along than this time last year. I'm thrilled to death. I can't wait to see what we do in the summer."

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