New Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator John Thompson realizes he's got a challenge, one he's never faced before, in front of him as he tries to mold the Rebel defense this spring into a workable unit, but he says it's one he looks forward to.
"Everything is going very well. This is a lot of fun. There is a lot of activity going on," said Thompson. "We aren't doing anything but football. It's been high intensity.
"I really like our players. They know how to work, they give a lot of effort and we practice at a high speed. It's been fun to be out there."
Several players have indicated Thompson and Coach Ed Orgeron mirror each other in intensity. JT laughed at the notion.
"No way," he smiled. "I don't think anyone can duplicate his intensity, but I'm enjoying following his lead. We put more into practice preparation than anywhere I've ever been. When we get out there, we are ready to practice.
"We are not wasting any minutes when we are out there practicing. Every detail is covered. When you go to practice thinking 'OK, let's see what happens,' the intensity falls off. When you know every step that is going to be taken, everyone is on the same page and the intensity level stays high."
JT has spring football somewhat mapped out in terms of what he wants to see happen with the defense, but a lot of it centers around the unusual situation he's in - learning a defense that is already in place rather than introducing a defense that is totally his.
"I want to come in here and learn this defense before taking it any further," he explained. "If you don't do that, you are subject to mess things up. There are some very good things in place - the foundation is solid and the players understand it. I want to make sure that everyone is tuned in to the base defense - including me - before we go any further.
"Once we do that, let's see what needs to be tweaked or added to help the foundation. We probably won't see any of that until after spring break."
Thompson's process of learning the defense is on pace, he says.
"I'm getting there. I'm getting a lot of reps too," he laughed. "It's been challenging. It's a whole lot easier to bring in your own system and try to teach everyone else than it is to come in and try to learn what everyone else already knows. I'm getting more and more comfortable and I know it's best to do it this way for the players and the overall program.
"I've never had to do this before, but it's the right thing to do. I've never gone into a situation as a DC where the system was already in place, but it's a good thing here because I believe in the system that's here. This was no battle between Coach O and I - we both wanted to do it this way. I want to come in here and learn this defense, help him and produce. We will teach a progression and we will stick to that and we, as a staff, will grind it out. There's nothing easy about it, but we are very confident we will get it done."
The consensus of spring training watchers is, basically, that the corners are thin, the safeties are relatively new, the linebackers are completely new and the defensive front should be pretty good. Has he seen things that way in the early going of spring training?
"I hope the front is going to be OK," he stated. "Obviously, we have some guys who have played there who should be tuned in to what we are doing. We have very little experience at LB and in the secondary. Even the experienced players we have need to be more consistent across the board. It's all a work in progress.
"We've got a little bit of a foundation on the DL with Jeremy Garrett, Marcus Tillman and a few others. I think the pieces to the puzzle are there, but it's going to take us some time to get it all connected. We are not set on any position - we may need to get a couple of safeties to play LB, for instance. We talk defense and personnel every day and every night, constantly. You just have to put your head down and get it done, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel if you keep working at it."
Thompson does not believe the Rebel defense will come together at one time and does not expect the light to come on down the road collectively. He believes it's a one-piece-at-a-time proposition.
"It's a big puzzle. All the pieces are out there, but we have to put it together. There are pieces out of joint right now, but this is the nature of spring practice and that process is taking place all across the country," he continued. "We have to find the pieces of those puzzles and fit them together into a nice, neat picture."
In individual drills, Thompson is working with the corners, Chris Rippon is in charge of the safeties, Dave Corrao has the linebackers and Ryan Nielsen - and Coach O and GA Chris Kiffin - is working the DL.
"I work with the corners in indidivual work, but I'm all over the place in team drills," Thompson said.
Only three practices into spring, JT was asked if anyone has stood out yet.
"On the back end of the defense, Ashlee Palmer has stood out. We have him playing Sam LB and some nickel back and he's done well," he noted. "Who knows who will end up where, but I feel good about him to this point. We are looking for speed over anything, so that's why I said earlier we might move a safety or two to LB - things like that. We aren't through moving folks around to find the best fits."
At corner, Thompson has one returning starter in Nate Banks and three guys who have played "some" - Dustin Mouzon, Cassius Vaughn and Terrell Jackson.
"Cassius has played well and all of them work really hard. I have been impressed with how they work. We just have to keep getting it. All four of them have covered well to this point," he said. "We are teaching them some new techniques - we call it the basketball technique, but we haven't incorporated that into our practices yet. They want it a little more than we are giving it to them now, but we are taking that slowly. We are not very good in press coverage and we want to be a press team, so that's where we are concentrating our efforts right now. We want to get in the receiver's face and do it. When we get that down better, we will introduce the other technique to take some pressure off them on occasion, but right now we want to keep the pressure on to learn press coverage and be effective with it."
Thompson said he's having a lot of fun, except for one thing - he misses his family, who will remain in Conway, AR, until the end of the school year.
"I've really enjoyed the haven of football and really missed it when I was out of it. We come in here early and stay late, which is what needs to be done," he closed, "but I really don't want to talk about my family right now unless you want to see a grown man cry. Daddy's not handling that real well right now, but I have football to fall back on until I can get them here. That's keeping me fully occupied."
John Thompson update -
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