With a staff comprised of half "new" coaches, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze likes the energy he has seen from his five new guys and the returning coaches on his staff, but he would have liked to have seen a little "more" from his troops on the first day back from spring break Tuesday.
"I like the energy of this staff. I like, on offense, we're working on a better Red Zone package and a better run package within the framework of what we've always done. And on defense, I like the enthusiasm our new defensive staff has," he began. "We didn't have a great start today, but we finished OK. It looked like we hadn't had a drink of water all day the first 15 periods or so, like, we were just trying to survive, but we played like we were on fire the last four or five, which was good to see.
"It might be normal for the first practice after spring break to be sluggish, but I'm not into excuses. I just want performance, and we can't afford to waste days. When the special forces guys were here before spring training, it showed we needed to develop more leadership on defense, and that's what we're working on every minute. How do you handle adversity? We're going to learn to handle it better than we did last year, for sure."
Freeze said he isn't looking for a magic wand on defense. Most schemes are the same, but he's expecting a certain mentality he believes new DC Wesley McGriff brings to the table.
"We won't reinvent the wheel on defense, but we can have a different, more intense mentality and that's what Crime brings with him. He'll be demanding every rep, every series, every practice, every day and every minute," he stated. "On defense, it'll be about creating new habits of getting to the ball like our hair is on fire, swarming and being relentless. Wesley is the man for that job along with Freddie Roach, Jason Jones and Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto.
"They are all demanding, high-energy guys who will not settle for anything but a player's best. They will stay out there until we get it right. We have to. They will be challenged every minute of every day."
The Rebs, according to Freeze, are not playing as fast as they will eventually, but he's pleased with the pace thus far, all things considered.
"We're still learning terminology and getting used to that, so it will take time. I can see some hesitation in Shea (Patterson) and the other quarterbacks that won't be there by the end of spring, I don't believe. We'll get faster and faster as we learn, but we expected all of this while everything is new," he explained. "We needed to change signals and verbiage; we have to do that every year it seems, so we've been through this before.
"I like what Phil (Longo) is doing with the entire offense. We have a chance to be potent again there, but we need some time to develop and fine-tune. By the end of spring, we should be pretty good."
Freeze is happy to have Tailback Jordan Wilkins back, obviously.
"He handled his absence well and was a model of how to handle adversity. I really like what I'm seeing from him. He's leading and he's running with more authority than ever," Freeze noted.
"He was sluggish today a little, but he's been very good. He'll be a phenomenal player for us. We missed him last year. He just knew how to go get the ball in the Red Zone. He understands positioning and has great size and strength. He has potential to be special," Freeze added.
DE Marquis Haynes opted to come back for his senior year rather than go to the NFL early. Freeze said he just had a "real" talk with him.
"He was slotted for the third or fourth round and I think he can do better than that and so did he when he thought about it," Freeze added. "Coming back helped Evan Engram, and it will help Marquis. We need him to get to 240 pounds and see where that takes him. I believe Marquis will improve his stock as well. He's such a great athlete, he just needs more size. He is 230 now."
Jason Pellerin is working one day at TE and one day at QB. Tuesday, he showed out.
"He caught four balls that I saw and all of them were off reads and it is obvious he understands everything going on, I like him at TE and QB," he noted. "I also like Jordan Ta'amu at quarterback so that has allowed us to use Jason at tight end. Jordan is throwing the ball well and picking up the offense well."
Asked about a couple of standouts, Freeze did not hesitate.
"On defense, of course, Marquis, but Myles Hartsfield has been outstanding at cornerback. He has picked that up quickly and is one of our better defensive players already. Also Breeland Speaks is having a very good comeback spring after an average year last year," he said. "On offense, the offensive line is the pacesetter. Rod Taylor has looked really good on tape.
"I feel really good about all of our top seven or eight guys on the OL and don't care who is first team and who is a backup of those guys."