Ole Miss offseason program in full swing with spring practices around the corner

Ole Miss strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson spoke with The Ole Miss Spirit to discuss offseason workouts, the eight early enrollees and more.

On his first offseason without Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and others:

“Obviously it’s different. Those are three very special, unique athletes. They’ve been major parts of what we’ve accomplished the last couple of years. But they’re not the only players who’ve contributed. The other guys who are gone - the Trae Elstons and the Cody Cores and Mike Hiltons - it’s just as weird for them not to be around. These are the guys who’ve been on the field for us making it happen. So it has been different. Now, the look of Rob and Laremy always make you feel good as a strength coach; when you see those guys walking around it always makes you feel pretty good. But these coaches have been recruiting (well) and these players are working hard. We played a good portion of last year without Laremy, we played the bowl game without Rob. I’m more than confident that we’ve got guys ready to step up and take on those roles. As far as leaders, Chad Kelly by example getting his hard work in, and he’s a vocal guy. It’s great to have that at the quarterback position. Not having somebody that you have to make come work out. He wants to be the first one here. He wants to win every drill. Super competitive guy. Evan Engram, who’s in that group with Rob and Laremy but he decided to come back to school, is huge for us. He’s so mature and knows how to go about his business; a guy who’s respected for what he’s done on the field and the way he carries himself off the field. Those are the two guys on the offense, for sure, that are helping to lead the way. Defensively, we’ve got some younger guys stepping up. Breeland Speaks is a guy who wants to be a leader, who wants to do it right and is doing a great job so far. Demarquis Gates wants those roles. C.J. Hampton wants to be vocal. Spring time is when you figure all that stuff out. You figure out who can really get it done, you figure out who your leaders are and you figure out who’s ready to step up and maybe who’s not quite ready. Everywhere in the country there’s questions. You start to answer them over these 15 practices in spring.”

On expectations for the players in year five of his strength and conditioning program:

“Going into the fifth offseason, from a physical standpoint, we’ve been able to get some good consistency going from year to year. Everybody here now I’m the only college strength coach they’ve had. They understand the program, and we can kind of just continue to build on everything we’ve done. This offseason and this spring, it’s really about developing leadership from this next generation of guys and seeing if they can really step up and take charge and be vocal. How quickly can we mature some of the guys who’ve maybe not been in quite as many of the battles on Saturdays. That’s how you really mature. You grow up on those days. But how quickly can they mature in training? Holding them to a higher standard and letting them know that they have to be the role models. We’ve got eight new guys on campus who are looking up to people. Some of the people they’re looking up to maybe aren’t used to being in that role. It’s a crucial year for us to make sure that that’s happening openly.”

On early reports on the eight mid-year enrollees, led by former five-star quarterback Shea Patterson:

“No. 1, the first thing I see is a high-character group of kids. Our coaches are recruiting high-level athletes, and they’re also recruiting a certain type of kid. It’s great to see that. All (eight) of them are going to school, they’re getting to class on time and they’re very coachable. They’re ‘yes, sir’ guys, and they want to do things the right way. That is excellent. That makes it a lot easier for us to deal with them if they come in that way, instead of having to deal with a whole bunch of egos and attitudes and break bad habits. The second thing is some of the skill guys in that group - the Miles Hartsfields, the Greg Eisworths, Shea Patterson - they’re pretty advanced. They’ve done some work before. They’ll ease into our program pretty well. I'll be able to transition them here (this week). We’ll start to integrate those new guys week five of the offseason when we can. They should have no problem with that. The bigger guys, Eli Johnson is a hard-working guy, wants to be a Rebel. Glad he’s here. He’s going to work hard and be tough. You’ve got Donta (Evans), Charles (Wiley) and Benito (Jones), some more defensive players - as well as Gabe (Angel), who’s a tight end - who I would say they’re ahead of most freshmen at this stage. It helps them coming in as a smaller group because we can give them more individual attention and really take those eight aside and get them right. We talk to them about being the leaders of their class and then being able to show the rest of their class how to do this college thing once they get here. Benito is a guy who everybody assumes is going to play. I would be shocked if he doesn’t. Just watching his body change through four weeks, he’s obviously a gifted young man and has a high motor. I’m excited about working with this group.”

On expectations for the early enrollees/2016 class:

“Having Shea come in, highly-touted guy, brings some attention to this group. That’s a good thing. Having them be high school guys vs. JUCOs, all it means is they don’t necessarily have to get ready to play. You’re hoping these guys are coming in to add depth and push the guys in front of them. When you bring in JUCOs mid-year, usually, it’s to play. They know that and you know that. You’ve got to rush their development a little bit because they’re there (to fill) some hole on our roster. These high school guys, hopefully, we’re recruiting at a high level (and) they can get on the field. But we don’t necessarily need them to. That’s a little different thing. We don’t feel the pressure to rush the process. We’ve just got to get them ready for spring ball for when the coaches get their hands on them for the first time. But it will help us with the overall class having these guys here. They get a head start, and they’ll be able to show the other 16 guys how to do college when they get here.”

On who needs to step up this offseason:

“It’s important for the o-line. You’ve got a bunch of guys who are going to become full-time guys who either have only played part-time or haven’t played a whole lot. We need those guys to step up, of course. It starts with them. We’re losing both tackles. That’s big. The receivers, I think there’s an abundance of talent, but we’ve obviously leaned on Laquon a little bit. You’re hoping for the rest of those guys to step up and become the premier, go-to guy. We’ve got to replace Rob Nkemdiche. I think we’ve got the weaponry for that. David Jones is not a young guy, but he’s a guy who’s a great player and will get a lot more attention this year, along with Breeland Speaks inside. Issac (Gross) getting healthy is going to be big for us; Rod Taylor getting healthy is going to be big for us. One guy who I think needs to come on, and he could help us a lot if he would, would be C.J. Hampton. If we can get C.J. Hampton to what we thought he would be, that would be a big help to our defense.”

On the rehab process for senior husky Tony Conner:

“Rehab’s going well. He had a major injury and we all knew it was going to be a long way back. But he’s handled it well, attitude’s been great. He’s great to be around right now, and he’s working hard, doing everything he can. He’s coaching up these other guys. We’ve got a lot of young guys playing that husky position right now going into spring to see who can do what. He’s been a great mentor, great leader for that room in helping them, doing extra stuff and talking to them about whatever questions they may have. That’s great. He changes your defense. If he comes back and he’s Tony Conner, that is a deep breath that our defensive staff can take. We’ve got to see that, but we’re obviously hoping for that to happen. We think that’s what will happen. I wouldn’t even want to think about it, to be honest, if it doesn’t ‘cause he’s a huge piece to that defense.”

On the most freakishly athletic player on the team:

“Of the big guys, and he’s probably a crowd favorite, Jeremy Liggins is an unbelievable athlete. I still don’t know what position he’s playing; I’m assuming it’ll be an o-lineman. But he’s 308 pounds, he runs a 4.8 (40-yard dash), he’s strong as an ox. Jeremy is an unusual athlete, for sure.”

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