Summer of Training

Ole Miss is two weeks into its summer strength and conditioning program. We caught up with head strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson to find out how workouts have gone so far, including players who have stood out and others who need to step up.

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On how the team has responded so far:

“Everybody knows how athletic we are. This is probably one of our most-talented teams, and through training it’s evident. It’s our fastest, most explosive team. You’ve got a lot of vets, you’ve got a lot of guys who know what’s expected from us as well as the football coaching staff. You’ve got a lot of guys who’ve played a lot of football. There’s a good mix. I do see some of the seniors stepping up in a big way.

Trae Elston and Mike Hilton, those two guys have made sure the DBs are doing what they’re supposed to do, and they’ve grabbed some of the younger ones and they’re trying to teach them the right way to go about their business. I think Issac Gross is as determined as anybody on this team to personally have a great year but then also to make sure the team has a great year. He’s actually out there right now (Wednesday afternoon) in the indoor (practice facility) doing some extra work. Offensively, we’ve got a quarterback competition going on. All three of those guys, that competition is driving them and they’re competing in everything. Who’s going to break down into group after the work out? Who’s going to win this run? That competition’s really making that room step up in all areas.”

On who has emerged as weight room leaders:

“Laquon (Treadwell) is such a competitor, and he’s doing a good job. Jaylen Walton’s doing a great job by example. He’s not as vocal as some of those other guys, but he’s doing it right and pushing himself harder than he ever has. I think there’s a very solid contingent of leaders, and I’m glad it’s some seniors and some guys who’ve played a lot.”

Ole Miss defensive tackle Issac Gross

On Issac Gross’ four-year battle to gain weight:

“It’s been a struggle, man. We’ll get Issac up and maybe he’ll be able to hold the weight for a week or two at a time, but he just struggles holding onto anything much more than 250. It’s not for a lack of effort. But his body has changed. His arms are more developed. You’ll see his chest, he looks more muscular. But as far as weight on a scale, it hasn’t changed a whole lot in the four years. That’s a little disappointing. We do want to get him bigger, but he’s gotten a lot stronger, body composition has changed for the better. His play is going to be reflective of good, hard training this offseason. But while we haven’t been able to put weight on Issac, it’s a testament to his toughness that he’s been able to play nose guard in the SEC for coming up on four years at a body weight of 245-250.”

**Ole Miss concluded its season with the Peach Bowl in December. The team was given a break until mid-January before it began its offseason program. Jackson was able to work with players for five weeks up to spring practices in March. He had them again for three weeks afterwards, which Jackson said was centered mostly on speed training.

On the work put in during the three-week end-of-semester training block:

“As a group, we were able to put some very fast times at the end-of-semester testing going into the summer, which was great. We’ve never had more than one laser-timed 4.4 (40-yard dash) guy in any training block we’ve had. We had five this semester. (Ken Webster, the Moore twins, Carlos Davis and Quincy Adeboyejo.) I was very happy with that.”

On returning players who have caught his eye so far:

“Since the summer started, the guys are handling it well. Damore’ea Stringfellow is who, if we can get him to do what he’s supposed to do in the classroom, man, physically he’s got it. Rob Nkemdiche looks great; he’s up to a body weight of about 295. Strong as can be. The biggest thing I’m the most happy about are probably those guys who got injured and the way they look. Laremy Tunsil, Laquon, Robert Conyers. Those guys look phenomenal. One of my guys, (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Dominic Studzinski, he took them in the beginning of the offseason and put them in their own group so it wasn’t where we were halfway paying attention to them. We wanted to really focus on those guys. Help in the rehab, but then also focus on what we could train while they were rehabbing the injury. They look better than ever. Laremy, not just the weight of his squat, but the depth and the ankle mobility he has right now and the hip mobility, it’s really impressive to see. Laquon looks awesome. He’s a little lighter than normal, but he’s running great, he’s strong. That’s probably, so far int the offseason, what I’m the happiest and proudest of - those guys who got injured late in the season, the way they’ve looked.”

On current players who need to have strong showings this summer:

“The guys that were too heavy during the year, they need to maintain it. Starting the offseason, that was another point of emphasis - getting those guys under control. For the most part, they did. Fahn Cooper got his weight down. Aaron Morris has done an unbelievable job. He got down to about 313 and has just kept it there. Whatever discipline switch flipped in his head, he’s found it and he’s been able to keep his body weight where we want it. Breeland Speaks, Herbert Moore, Jordan Sims, Woodrow (Hamilton) and a bunch of those guys have gotten down. One guy who needs to get (his weight) down, and he knows it, is Justin Bell, and for a couple of reasons. For him to perform better he’s got to get down, and for him to stay on the field. We’re recruiting high and there’s so much competition at certain spots that guys have got to perform. Justin is one of those guys who’s an older guy and we’ve got some talented young guys nipping at him. He needs to do everything possible to get that weight down.

“With that thing with competition, any room you look at, if you’re looking at the running backs, and we’re pretty sure Jaylen’s going to get the carries, but Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd can’t take any days off. They’re competing right now for carries, so both of them I’d say need to have a great offseason. In the receiving room, we’ve got nine or 10 guys who are high-end SEC guys potentially. Only three, four, five or six of them are going to play. So those guys all need to have a phenomenal offseason ‘cause it’s competition from day one of camp. If you have a drop or you’re a little tired, they’re not going to want to come off the field and give up those snaps. At the safety spot, Trae Elston and C.J. Hampton are competing. At the corner spot, Ken and Tony (Bridges) compete. The same thing that the depth does during the season, it does in the offseason as well ‘cause it just drives guys to get better ‘cause the guy next to them is getting better.”

On newcomers who have stood out:

“They’re definitely wide-eyed and trying to figure out what’s expected. Their heads are spinning with school and the tempo we run at and the type of conditioning and lifting and the loudness of it. The one who catches your eye the most to look at is Jason Pellerin, the quarterback. He’s 6-3-plus, 230, no body fat. Just a great-looking athlete, and he’s also very mature. You can tell he’s trained before. He’s not going through the struggles most young guys are. He’s able to handle our coaching, he’s already speaking to his class as a leader. So he’s been very impressive so far. Zedrick Woods is a guy who I don’t know how he wasn’t a bigger-time recruit when you watch his tape and then you watch him work out. I mean, one of the most explosive guys on our team right now already. He might not know exactly what he’s doing all the time with us, but he is just fast-twitch and explosive. Great short-area speed. He’s been really impressive to see. (DaMarkus) Lodge being a big guy, I didn’t realize how big he was until he got here. He’s a big kid, and he’s able to bend and he’s able to run and pick up different complex movements. Van (Jefferson) is a guy who’s not as big as Lodge, but he ain’t little either. He’s 6-1 1/2, 6-2 and he can just fly. He’s a guy who comes out here and runs all day. You see him all the time working on his craft. Not to single those guys out, but those two receivers, Zedrick and the quarterback kind of stand out physically.”

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