Petre Thomas

A comeback and positional youth have S Coach Corey Batoon hopping but he's optimistic moving forward

Safety/Husky Coach Corey Batoon has a lot on his plate this season, namely dealing with a slow ut sure comeback by Husky Tony Conner and the slow but sure progress of his youthful safeties, freshmen Myles Hartsfield and Deontay Anderson and sophomore FS Zedrick Woods.

One of the worries coming into the 2016 football season at Ole Miss was the inexperienced, youthful safeties and how much could the Rebels count on the comeback effort of Husky Tony Conner.

They are all under Corey Batoon's charge - talk about a coach with his hands full.

Through five games, some things have become clearer - the young safeties and Tony are improving weekly and if they continue to do so, they will become a strength instead of a concern.

"We had some learning bumps early, that we expected, but now they are playing faster, our communication has been much better and our fundamentals are getting better each week," said Batoon. "When you put those three things together - sound fundamentals, better communication and being able to play faster because of those two things, you are going to start making more plays, like we did against Memphis with Zed's (FS Zedrick Woods) two interceptions and some good plays not only in run support but in coverage.

"I'm happy, but we have to keep improving, We are not a finished product by any means."

The areas of improvement needed, in a nutshell, are all-inclusive.

"Everything. We need to keep getting better in communication and getting in better position pre-snap. I think we have gotten better tackling since the first game, but we can continue improving there. We are better now at playing the ball and finishing on the ball, but we can get better there as well," Batoon explained. 'Those areas got better prior to the Georgia game and prior to the Memphis game and I think they showed in those games.

"Those are some things we always harp on in our room and the kids are listening. Also, we are loving the open week because we get three days where we aren't exclusively gameplanning to get a little mid-season fundamental work in, which is very good."

Conner interviewed early during the open week and claims his knee is getting better weekly. One reason is because he has gone to a lighter, less bulky knee brace the last two week.

"It was really big to get the smaller, lighter brace on him. He was comfortable with the big one, but he's moving more fluidly now," Batoon added. "I think any time you have a big brace on your knee it may not be a big hindrance, but it is in the back of your mind all the time and any little pinch of anything is just a constant reminder. I think he is forgetting he has it on more and more and has even talked of playing without one."

One recent blight was the targeting penalty/suspension of freshman Rover Deontay Anderson. He will have to miss the first half of the Arkansas game next Saturday night in Fayetteville.

"He was too high in the strike zone. I didn't think he hit the quarterback with the crown of his helmet but he did have contact above the shoulders and when you do that, you put yourself in jeopardy," Corey stated. "It's certainly not what we teach, we teach knees to chest, but sometimes it happens. He did not do it intentionally and this will be a good learning lesson for him,

"Beyond that, I am very happy with Deontay. He's coming. Every rep he gets - good or bad - he is learning from. It's a process and he's doing well in the process. The more reps he gets, the better he will be."

As Batoon mentioned, communication is a big deal at the safety slots, but who is responsible?

"They all are," he said. "We all have to communicate what we are seeing. It has never been just one guy. Even though a guy like Cody Prewitt appeared to be doing all of the signal-calling, Trae Elston and Mike Hilton and Tony were all involved as well. Cody was just a little more demonstrative and assertive with his calls. 

"It's a triangle communication. The safeties, the corners and the linebackers are all involved. If you know what you are seeing and you make a call and are sure of it, it's affirmation and everyone can get on the same page. Earlier this year, our younger guys weren't quite sure what they were seeing all the time, there was hesitation and even incorrect calls, We will continue to battle that some this year, but we are battling it less now than we were the first two or three weeks.

"The goal is to be thinking less. See the picture, know what to call and get it called correctly quickly. Now, we just have to execute the call."

Corey would not say it - he's not an excuse maker, but it's obvious he would have preferred to play the likes of Tennessee-Martin and Fresno, like last year, instead of Florida State and two weeks later Alabama with his young troops.

"Hey, they are young, but you still have to get the job done and be successful. I started off real patient, which I needed to, but I don't have to be as patient now with five games under our belts," he closed. "Every year is different, but we have no excuses, as coaches, we have to bring the young guys along and get them ready for battle."

The safeties have cut some baby teeth now and Conner seems to be closer to the Tony Conner we all know. 

The growing pains had their moments of good and bad, but now Corey Batoon seems to have his crew headed in the right direction.

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