Shea Patterson

Ole Miss is learning the Air Raid offense of new offensive coordinator Phil Longo this spring

Phil Longo sat alone in his office Monday evening, enjoying the peace and quiet after a whirlwind two weeks of spring football practices.

Longo is in his first year as Ole Miss offensive coordinator after being hired by head coach Hugh Freeze to replace Dan Werner in mid-December. Longo was one of five new assistants brought in by Freeze, whose Rebels finished 5-7 in 2016.

Still, while Ole Miss is off this week for spring break, Longo continues to work. Sure, it’s nice to have some time in isolation, especially when Longo is glued to film of the five practices the Rebels have held so far. But there’s much to be done.

At least the hard part — the step-by-step installation of a brand-new, Longo-led Air Raid offense — is over. Well, save for putting in a goal line package at some point. But, really, the objective the rest of the way is for the Rebels to master what they’ve learned. 

The Grove Bowl is set for April 8.

“We had four days of learning-intensive install,” Longo said. “There’s nothing else to learn now. The learning part of it now is improving our fundamentals and technique and getting better at what we’ve put in. Everything that was foreign has been taught. There’s still some wrinkles we want to put in, but the base offense, the fundamental offense these guys will be running during their careers here, is in.

Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

“There’s been zero resistance to it, and that’s a credit to the entire offensive staff. They’re all professionals, and they’re all great coaches. I feel very blessed to be with the group of guys we have in this room. They attacked it and they learned it and they taught it that way. And I think that’s the way it was received by the players. They really helped make this whole process go a lot easier. We’re not very good at what we’re doing right now, but we will be. I think a large part of us knowing the system after five days is a credit to the way the coaches learned it and taught it with the players.”

Longo is formerly of Sam Houston State, where he headed a Bearkat offense that totaled a combined 22,243 yards over the last three years and smashed FCS records. Sam Houston State was ranked No. 1 in total offense and No. 2 in scoring offense and passing offense last season, which followed a 2015 campaign that saw the Bearkats set a Southland Conference season record with 7,975 yards of offense — a total that sits third all-time in FCS history.

Obviously those numbers would appeal to any quarterback, and Longo, who also holds the title of quarterbacks coach for the Rebels, said his group is no different. Shea Patterson and Co. have quickly taken to teaching.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Patterson, a sophomore and the presumed starter in 2017, started the final three games of his true freshman season, engineering a come-from-behind road win at then-No. 8 Texas A&M in his college debut. Patterson finished with six touchdowns compared to three interceptions. He averaged 293.3 passing yards per game.

Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

“I’ve been very blessed during my career to have had one great quarterback after another,” Longo said. “My quarterbacks have been different, but I really haven’t been through but maybe a year or two in my 23 (years) that I felt like we didn’t have a quarterback who could really play for us. I’ve been spoiled.

“I was kind of cautious early on not to expect more than I really should out of Shea or any of the quarterbacks in this room. But my luck has not run out yet. We have some good-character kids in this room, and obviously Shea is maybe the most talented of the group right now. He’s putting the time in he needs to to learn the system. Jordan Ta’amu has done a great job the first five days. That’s probably our backup right now, and Jason Pellerin is splitting time (at quarterback and tight end), so he’s doing double-duty. So I’ve been thrilled with what these guys have done and are willing to do to learn the offense and get good at it.”

Longo said what’s helped ease the spring transition to his offense is the Ole Miss offensive line. The Rebels return four of five starters from last season and several others who earned starts and significant snaps throughout the season.

Returning starters include Rod Taylor, Javon Patterson, Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings, while others who started games were Greg Little, Alex Givens and Daronte Bouldin. Ole Miss also has depth in the form of four redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen.

“Days four and five really were practices that looked like the light was coming on,” Longo said. “We’re really blessed with depth up front. The most consistent group and the group we will forever balance the entire offense on is going to be the offensive line up front. I’ve been thrilled with that group particularly. I think (Ole Miss offensive line coach) Matt Luke has done a great job over his entire career here of developing guys so that if you lose one or two that were great impact guys in the past, you have guys ready. That’s the mark of a great coach that you can develop to take over. You reload and move on.”

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