'Good Spring'

It's rare when both sides of the football are pleased coming out of spring training, but for the Ole Miss coordinators, it was that kind of spring for Rebel football.

"I have been really proud of our guys all spring training," said Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack, even though his side of the ball "lost" the Grove Bowl 15-12 in a modified points system affair. "I thought our number one defense excelled all spring and, except for two plays today, carried that on.

"The number two defense didn't execute the way I thought they should have. We had some busts that led to some big plays by the offense. I was very pleased with the ones though."

Wommack has seen steady progress, especially from the "newcomers."

"Guys like Marquis Haynes, Fadol Brown, Christian Russell, C.J. Hampton, Anthony Alford, who we did not have last year, add so much to us and make us different, not only from a depth situation, but from quality," Wommack noted. "Some of them are still hesitant and are still learning, but the talent is there.

"It's just a matter of learning and getting more comfortable. They need to study film and have great offseasons."

Now that DEs C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson are back in the fold, and with the addition of Brown and Haynes, the Rebel pass rush is night and day better than a year ago.

"There's no doubt that the additions of those guys - starting with C.J. - is huge. Carlos has made vast strides. Fadol is a solid pass rusher and Marquis has been awesome. He hasn't clicked yet totally, but his motor runs so hard and he's so athletic, he still makes plays," Dave explained. "But it's not just hte edge guys. I think Robert (Nkemdiche), Bryon (Bennett) and Issac Gross have improved their pass rush. There's no doubt our pass rush has improved."

The Rebel coaches put the team through the proverbial wringer this spring, but Wommack said there were no issues with the demands.

"We had a very physical spring and the kids accepted it without any complaint. They brought it every day," Dave continued. "They adhered to everything we have asked, to a tee."

One area Wommack wanted to see improvement was in taking the ball away and creating turnovers. The Rebel defense caused a bunch of those in spring training, including two in the Grove Bowl early on.

Mike Hilton
File Photo

"I don't know the number of turnovers we had this spring, but it was a lot and that was something we emphasized all spring," he stated. "It's been good. A lot of our guys have developed a taste for the ball."

The Rebel defense, despite a good spring, is not a finished product, however. They are just headed in that direction rapidly.

"We need to clean up some things at cornerback and clean up some things in the learning process at middle linebacker," he noted. "I think one reason we are more solidified this spring is that we have had enough depth not to have to move guys around too much.

"Last year, for instance, Keith Lewis had to play Stinger LB, MLB and the third LB when we went 4-3. Now, he's been able to stay at Stinger and it has helped his game. The same with Chief Brown settling in at Husky instead of playing two safety slots. It's just helped those guys get better and better."

CB Cliff Coleman got Most Improved on the defensive side of the ball this spring. Why?

"Cliff has gotten stronger and can hold up in tight man coverage physically. Also, he's very smart and makes very few mistakes. He's not the best athlete we have out there but he has been productive. Our big receivers are not throwing him around this spring," noted Wommack.

OC Dan Werner also left the Grove Bowl with a good taste in his mouth.

"It's not just about winning today," Werner began. "It's about the way we progressed this spring from day one through the 15 tough days of practice.

"Other than two early turnovers today, we were very effective in a lot of areas. Right after those two turnovers, we talked to them about that and we didn't have another turnover the rest of the day. Obviously, today was not a true game environment, but if you win the turnover battle and hit some big plays, you will probably win. That's what happened today, for the most part."

The offensive line has been the question mark of spring. From start to finish, Werner has seen the progression he was hoping for.

"I think we have a good battle going on at center with Ben Still being in the lead right now," said Werner. "Matt (Luke) gets those guys ready. We didn't have many sacks today other than blitz situations when the QB should have thrown hot and didn't. I'm pleased with their progress as a group and think we will only get better when we get another couple of players available in fall."

C.J. Hampton
File Photo

The Rebels have a crowded backfield with five, itseems, competent running backs.

"That's a good thing. Two years ago, we had one - Jeff Scott, and had to convert a QB(Randall Mackey) just to get by," Werner stated. "They are all making big runs. They know if they get a chance, they better produce or the next guy will. It's a great situation now and we have trust and faith in all of them.

"I think I'tavius Mathers has really stepped up lately. Jaylen (Walton) was out, but he's a threat as well and I like what Jordan Wilkins, Mark Dodson and Eugene Brazley are doing as well."

Backup QB is still in the air, according to Werner.

"They still have a lot to do, and it will be important how they attack the offseason with their study habits and how much throwing they get in, but I like their progress to this point," Dan said. "And you see that Jeremy (Liggins) can get physical in short yardage situations.

"The bottom line is who wants it the most? They are all competitors. It will be interesting in fall camp."

WR Collins Moore got the nod as the Most Improved offensive player.

"He made a bunch of catches the QB probably shouldn't have thrown and caught a lot of bad passes. As a QB, you want to throw to that kind of receiver," said Werner. "He had a fine, fine spring. Cody Core has also come on lately. He's big, physical and he can run. We are pleased with him. We will be fine there in August when we get everyone here at WR."

The Rebel offense got a shot in the arm this spring with the return of TE Evan Engram off of an injury last season.

"I am always looking for ways to get him the ball because he is a mismatch to linebackers and to a lot of safeties," Dan added. "He's a weapon and our QBs want to throw to him.

"I'm also pleased with the progress of Nick Parker and Channing Ward at TE. Nick is very smart and can catch the ball.He understands the offense. Channing is an excellent blocker and has good hands as well."

And what about QB Bo Wallace and the spring he had? Werner saw advancement.

"He took a big step forward. This is the first time he has been truly healthy and he knows the scheme very well," explained Dan. "He can do things - due to experience - our other QBs can't do yet. I think his game is at another level."

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