Even though the first full-pad lick has not been passed in fall practice, Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator John Thompson has mostly positive thoughts after three days of August camp.
"I see progress already. From the first meeting through the third day, our guys have been tuned in and are trying hard. From the first year freshmen to the few older guys we've got, have really been good. They've been great in meetings and are trying to do exactly what we tell them to do," said Thompson. "I feel a lot of progress on the way. We throw a lot at them, but the retention has been real good and the execution is getting better and better.
"Another thing I like is that the anxiety of learning something new isn't there. They know when they missed something and they are correcting their mistakes quickly."
Thompson said all of the defensive system was installed in spring, but in the fall they start all over again with a "fresh" installation.
"We install something at night, have a meeting and walk-through of what we have installed the next morning and then practice it that afternoon full speed. We are about 30% through right now of going back over what we installed in spring," he explained. "This is a fun time. We have no distractions right now. It's all football and the guys are busting it for us."
J.T. is faced with mostly new linebackers and a relatively young secondary.
"That's the same old story, but to this point, it's been fine," he said. "Jonathan Cornell has really played well so far. He's been very vocal and has been a good quarterback of our defense to this point. Behind him, Tony Fein is picking everything up well. They are different personalities. I like both their personalities - Jonathan is not as wild-eyed, but I like that in Tony too.
"Ashlee Palmer has made a lot of improvement since spring. You see him being smooth and knowing what to do. It shows these guys have put in the time off the field in the summer. They work hard. Scottie Williams is a guy who can get in the mix in a hurry as a true freshman. He's not intimidated. We have to get Lamar Brumfield more reps to get him more acclimated. He and Allen Walker and Jamie Phillips are all taking Will LB reps right now. That's a spot we have to shore up."
Cornell is leading the LBs. Jamarca Sanford is doing the same with the secondary.
"I don't want to blow him up too much, but Jamarca has been remarkable to this point. He's really done some good things and is leading not only vocally but by example. He's the guy we can show the younger guys on film and say 'this is how we want it done.' This is the technique and this is how you do it," Thompson noted. "Kendrick Lewis has been better so far. Our corners have to keep working. Dustin Mouzon is doing a good job, but we have to get more consistent on the other side. I'm concerned about the depth at CB, but we have some young guys who have a chance to get going quickly - Lionel Breaux and Jamariey Atterberry. Terrell Jackson has got to help us some there. We have to keep developing at corner, as I said.
"Johnny Brown has a lot of ability. He's a long body who is smooth and can play the game."
Thompson has also been impressed with the young defensive linemen - Ted Laurent and Lawon Scott, namely.
"Coach (Ryan) Nielsen has done an excellent job with them in a short period of time. Those kids excite me every day," J.T. noted. "They have some natural ability. You can see what they do with their hands and feet that you know will pay off for them. They also seem very tough in terms of endurance and being able to take the workload we are throwing at them.
"Peria Jerry is also doing very well and has a great attitude. Marcus Tillman and Greg Hardy are doing good jobs. Backups at DE need development. Viciente' DeLoach will help, as well as Kentrell Lockett and LaMark Armour and LaDerrick Vaughn, who can both be good pass rushers. We didn't sign any DEs, but we feel we've got some numbers there to work with."
The goal of the defense - plastered on the defensive board in the team meeting room where interviews take place - is to get 38 turnovers in 2007. How did J.T. derive that number, so storied in Ole Miss' history? It had nothing to do with Chucky Mullins. It was pure coincidence.
"We had 13 turnovers last year. I told the team we were going to have 25 more than that this year," he smiled. "Add them together and that's 38, an interesting number. It wasn't by design, but it surely has significance for us. We know we have to improve in turnovers this year."
Thompson said turnovers are stressed and emphasized every day, relentlessly.
"We chart every turnover and strip attempts. We don't give turnovers lip service. We do specific techniques and drills to ge the ball out," said Thompson. "We teach how to get turnovers and we coach it. We don't go through the motions with getting turnovers. It's effort to the ball and technique. We work it and we intend to get to our goal. We expect the ball to come out and we expect to get it.
"I'm not saying we are going to gamble more - you have to tackle first, but there's a way to tackle and strip the ball. We are teaching that religiously."
Thompson said it's been exciting watching one of his guys - Hardy - also produce on offense.
"He's a force. He's difficult to cover. If we had a 6-6, 290-pound corner, we could man up on him," J.T. laughed. "Coach O will control how Greg is used. All I know is that he makes us better on both sides of the ball. I know I don't like trying to cover him, which means our opponents won't either. He helps us get better."
How does Thompson feel about this Rebel defensive unit right now?
"We have some talent, we just have to put it all together. I think we have some guys who are going to surprise some folks this year. We have improved our team with the influx of players we didn't have in spring and with some guys healing up," he assessed. "We have some good-looking young guys and I see a sense of urgency in all their faces. I like how they are coming together. Their eyes are up and they are trying."
DC talks about early work
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