Ole Miss OC Phil Longo (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

Coordinators liked spring improvement, but still more to do

After the Grove Bowl, the Ole Miss coordinators both were pleased with spring training in regards to progress and where their respective side of the ball is right now, but both acknowledged there is plenty to do between now and the first game in September.

The Rebel coordinators, Phil Longo on offense and Wesley McGriff on defense, both felt relatively good about the work done in spring training, but they both had a warning to the Rebel faithful.

"We still have a long way to go to be where we need to be."

Anyone who watched the Grove Bowl could easily see both sides of the coin - improvement and the need for more.

"I think we have restored the right mentality to the defensive players this spring," McGriff began. "We have guys playing fast and flying around again, guys swarming the ball. We've kept it simple, and we'll continue to, but we have areas we have to work on and improve on to be the kind of defense we are going to be in the fall.

"Mainly, we have to get better on the back end in the safety area and we have to stay on top in coverage to eliminate explosive plays. We got better in both areas in spring, but still have more to do, as you could see today when the offense hit us for three big plays where we lost our leverage on receivers."

Crime Dog (McGriff) liked the way his guys learned the system.

Ole Miss DC Wesley McGriff (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

"They did a tremendous job of digesting and install," he continued. "They were very professional in the way they took notes and then they way they took things from the media room to the field. I was really pleased with Breeland Speaks and Benito Jones, Marquis Haynes, Zedrick Woods and our corners got a lot better. Myles Hartsfield did a great job outside and he can go inside to safety as well. He can help this team either place, it's just a matter of where we need him most. Overall, it was a good spring. We're where I'd hoped we'd be at the end of spring.

"But make no mistake - we're not a finished product. We have to get better in a lot of areas and in a lot of situations, but we've also come a long way since day one."

Linebacker was an area last year that struggled. Those slots progressed in spring.

"Detric Bing-Dukes was the most improved player on defense from day one until now, by far. I think this staff is pretty good at identifying what a youngster can do and putting them in the position to be successful," McGriff said. "Detric is one of those who needed to be put in a different setting - staying in the box and playing downhill. That suits his skill set. He thrives in the box.

"We can make our adjustments on the back end and let the LBs fit the run in the box. When you keep a player's job smaller and keep the menu shorter, they become experts at what they're doing and it helps them play with confidence. Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto is doing a great job with those guys."

Back to the spring Achilles heel - the explosive plays.

"Like I said, we got better at it, but there are two things in play here. One, our offense is very good at the vertical passing game. Two, our guys are still in the learning phase of our system. Consequently, we had good days avoiding big plays and we had bad days where we gave up too many. We gave up too many today. We didn't keep the top on the coverage a couple of times today and it hurt, but we've gotten better at it. It's about confidence and technique and fundamentals. We'll get there. If a corner tells you he's never been beaten, he's never played corner.

"We have to get better at safety, as I said. Corners were OK. Safeties have to do better."

Up front, McGriff discussed the stalwarts, but one player who came on strong at the end of spring was DE Qaadir Sheppard, who had two sacks in the Grove Bowl.

Ole Miss DC Wesley McGriff (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

"He's a guy in the fall who will help us, we believe. We wanted to see him going against the No. 1 offensive line some and he showed flashes of how good he can be. We just have to get him more consistent," Crime noted.

McGriff's biggest concern coming out of spring training?

"We just have to stay healthy. We have some areas where we aren't real deep, so we need to be healthy," he closed. "If we do that, we will have a solid defense next year. I really believe that."

Longo was looking for a "cleaner" Grove Bowl, but he tempered any disappointment of the day with an overall passing grade for spring from his offense.

"We're where I hoped we'd be at the end of spring," he said. "I thought we threw the ball very well today and we ran the ball OK, but we can get better. We had a limited package in. We looked OK with the No. 1 offensive line and our receivers were pretty good in a vertical passing game. I thought our backs and run game were fair.

"We improved in the spring. Overall, I'm happy with the 15 days. Obviously we want to look much, much better in fall, and we will, but we're where I thought we should be going into spring training."

The Rebel receivers will be a focal point of the skill positions, obviously.

"This is a receiver-driven system, so it's  important to have a lot of wideouts because we'll use a lot of them. We also use tight ends in the passing game a lot. So far, I'm pleased with both those areas," he stated. "We'll be a lot faster in the fall than we are now. Shea (Patterson) will get faster and so will everyone else.

Ole Miss OC Phil Longo (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

"Remember, this is just a 14-day product. Now, we can slow things down, teach some things in the summer that they can work on on their own and we can get to the finer points of the offense. By fall, we'll be past the Football 101 stuff. Also, our staff is now tuned in and know the system perfectly. They're pros. They're correcting me now at times and it's my system, so that will help in fall as well. In August, we'll be able to coach the little things and we will sharpen things up and expand things more."

Longo said the run game is in its infancy, so to speak.

"What you saw in the Grove Bowl was a skeleton of what we'll run in the fall," he explained. "We'll move around more and do different things to mix things up. We only had 14 plays in for the Grove Bowl, so that gives you an idea of how much more we'll work on between now and the first game.

"In short yardage and Red Zone, we had one practice where we were bad, one where we were OK and one where we were really good," he stated. "Those areas are priorities, but they weren't repped as much from a technique standpoint as we'll rep them in fall now that the system is installed. That will be a focus in the fall."

Patterson is, no doubt, the No. 1 QB, but Jordan Ta'amu also showed some skills after an up-and-down start.

"After spring break, he came back and turned it on," Longo added. "He put in the time and he has some skills. He finished spring ball strong."

Bottom line?

"Like I said, I'm really happy with where we are right now, but I wouldn't want to play a game tomorrow," he closed. "There's plenty of work to do this summer, but we've put ourselves in a position to be able to get it done and be a good finished product in the fall."

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