Q: Have you ever started a true freshman middle linebacker, and what are the plusses and minuses there?
O: Obviously we have to simplify. But we do this all over our team. On the front end, we‘ve been installing everything that we have. Now we're going back and find out what our players can do the best. With Chris (Strong) I think we have a tremendous player who can fill the gaps. He can be a run stopper. I think he's got to lose just a little more weight to be a great coverage guy like we would expect. We had Patrick (Willis) there who had a pretty good 40 time. We got used to that. I really believe (Chris) will be a tremendous football player for us. He and Jerrell and Peria have defensive personalities that we really like.
Q: Is there a possibility that Chris might get into the rotation at end at all?
O: No, not right now. He's going to be our Mike linebacker. We need to make sure he's cleared through the clearinghouse. We expect him to be our Mike linebacker. That's not etched in stone. He has to lose a little weight. Right now we're seeing what we need to see in a Mike linebacker.
Q: How much risk is involved in the work you're giving Jerrell (Powe) and Chris (Strong) when you aren't certain they will clear the clearinghouse?
O: We're giving them work, but the other guys are getting reps too. The other guys have their turns. We're going forward. We're thinking positive. We expect them to be cleared. We're not going to hold this team back. Other guys have had their chance. Other guys have had the red jersey and got beaten out. It's not that we're giving it to them. These guys are earning it. So we're going forward.
Q: How has having Coach John Thompson around mad things different for you?
O: I'm able to go into the offensive meetings. I'm able to know exactly what the offense is installing. I get to go watch Coach Kehoe's line every once in a while, which I like. I get the stats on the quarterbacks. I do more head coaching duties than I ever have. I don't have to be in the defensive meetings every second, although I am in there most of the time. I'm closer to the players, and I;m able to do some things I couldn't last year.
Q: What is your comfort level in year three and your expectations of the program at this point?
O: Well we have to start fast. It all depends on how well we can play on defense? Does Jerrell become eligible? Is Jerrell in football shape? Is Chris Strong eligible? Is Chris Strong lean enough to play every downat Mike linebacker? Those two guys are keys. Is Peria Jerry healthy to go every play? I think we'll be defined at the defensive end position. How well will the cornerbacks be able to defend against the deep ball? We don't know that yet. How well can our quarterback, whoever it is, operate within the system we want them to. Is our offensive line as good as I expect them to be? I know BenJarvus is good. We have to have somebody on the edge who can catch the ball. Those are all questions we have to answer, and we have to answer them fast. We have a tremendous schedule in the month of September. We all know our goal is to go to the Sugar Bowl and win it. We feel that this year a step forward is to have a winning season and to go to a bowl and win it.
Q: What's your overall depth situation?
O: Along the lines it's great. Along the lines it's better than it's ever been. We're really thin at receiver, and we're really thin at cornerback. We have to do a great job of recruiting, especially junior college players. We were hurt by some not being eligible.
Q: Does Jerrell Powe remind you of any players you've been around in the past?
O: He reminds me a lot of Cortez Kennedy (at Miami). Cortez came to us, was about 350, ran three 110s and passed out. He was on the PAT/field goal team in 1989. Cortez Kennedy got down to around 285 pounds and became a one-manwrecking crew. He was very quick. He had girth. He was powerful, was a great young man, and loved to play. Jerrell reminds me of him. Jerrell is a little bit heavier than Cortez was when he came in. But he has the quickness and the attributes of Cortez.
Q: What is roughly Jerrell's weight now and what would an ideal weight for him be?
O: He's just a little bit heavier than we want, and we want him to get a little bit lighter than he is now.
Q: With all Jerrell's been through, talk about his fight?
O: He's determined. Jerrell loves Mississippi. He loved Mississippi from the get-go. He totally bought in to represent his state. He never, ever gave up during the two years. That lets me know his character. You'll see that when you talk to him, and I hope all of you interview him. He's a tremendous young man. He has a smile about him. He has great heart about him. He has special qualities that big young men sometimes don't have. When you talk to him, you can tell what he has inside. He speaks very well. We're just proud that he's here. What a great story. What a great story for Jerrell to be at Ole Miss, to fight, hopefully to get through the clearinghouse, to get his degree and go on to be a great NFL player and represent Ole Miss. What a great story. What a great story for all learning disabled students out there that are struggling that they know there is a path, a way, and that we care about them. I think it's important that we understand there are learning disabled students out there that some people turn their back on, and they should never do that. Because there are ways that learning disabled students can come to school. There are techniques that we can teach them that they can live a productive life. I think he's the one that's going to start that here at Ole Miss.
Q: Where does Allen Walker stack up in the (linebacker) rotation?
O: He's been up and down. He's got a little camp booboo right now. He ain't practicing. He's going to be in there (at linebacker) somewhere. He's an athlete. He's made a lot of improvement. How high he's going to go is up to Allen.
Q: Talk about Seth Adam's development.
O: He knows the offense. He has some leadership qualities. He throws the short ball well. He can make decisions at the line of scrimmage. I think some of the team believes in him. He hasn't done it out there yet. He's played in some games. He has those attributes. He's there every day. He's doing everything we ask him to. Those are some of the things. We talked him into walking on here. He's a competitor. He knew Brent (Schaeffer) was coming in and was the starter (last year). He decided to come compete. What a great story if he does get (the starting job).
Q: Talk about Greg Hardy.
O: Every coach (on the staff) fights for Greg. He could be a great offensive weapon, a great defensive weapon. He's that good of a football player, that good of an athlete. He has really come along at defensive end the last couple of days. He has made some great plays out there. He has a tremendous attitude about going both ways. I think he's settled in to the amount of time he's getting on defense and on offense. We're definitely going to use him both ways. He is defense first and offense second, but there are some situations there that he could be a force for us.
Q: Do you feel your team is where it needs to be at this point?
O: I feel that we have more talent than we had last year. I feel we're better along the lines. At some points in practice, I feel we're better than at any point last year, even when we played our best and didn't win. We feel we're better. Again we have to prove it on the field. We still have some things to put together. The attitude of the team toward work and becoming a good team is there.
Q: Why has it been so hard for this program to find a quarterback to nail it down, like Robert Lane tried to do and like Brent Schaeffer tried to do?
O: I wish I had that answer, I really do. Let me say this about Robert. We think he is a tremendous force on offense. He made a great decision to move to tight end. He thinks that's his spot in the NFL, and he sees it now. He's a great young man and is a leader. He's a hard worker and bought totally into our system. We want to get him the ball, and I think that's worked out fine. Brent had a shot last year, given to him, which was a mistake and I've said that before. His condition and level was nowhere it should have been when he came in. During the season he became inconsistent. Is he an athlete? Yes. Does he have the talent? Yes. Does he have the total makeup of what it takes to become a great quarterback? That remains to be seen.
Q: Talk about Michael Oher.
O: You can see the light in his eyes. I attribute that to Aaron Ausmus and Art Kehoe, really getting Michael to become a man, and Michael has become a man. He has tremendous character and has a great support family at home. I'm starting to see that light in his eyes that says ‘Hey, I'm gonna get it.' It's like he is ready to take it to the next level. He's becoming that player.
Q: Last year at the end of spring, you said you wanted better pass protection and you wanted better pass rush from your front four. Are you seeing those things?
O: I'm seeing better pass rush. I'm seeing better blitzes. I think John (Thompson) is bringing that. We have some good pass rushers and some guys who are starting to understand pass rush. We're having a little problem with protection right now because of those guys, but we're going to solidify that this week.
Q: Talk a little more about Jamarca Sanford.
O: Jamarca gets everybody lined up He's always talking. He has a great spirit about him. He's probably the best tackle on the team. He's also learned how to cover man to man. When we bring him up in the front, he's like an outside linebacker. He played for us last year. I really think Jamarca does some of his best job off the field. We've challenged our team to be closer off the field, to be a more cohesive unit off the field. He's one of those inner fibers there to get the guys going, get the guys in the right direction. You can see the chemistry on our team being a lot closer. He's one of our leaders.
Q: Talk about Thomas Eckers.
O: He's doing a good job. He's doing a lot better than he did last year. He really is. Corey (Actis) had a couple of nicks. Thomas came in and got the honor of taking the first snap against Jerrell. I think it was a fumbled snap. I think there was a little nervousness there. He's done an OK job and he will be there with the depth of our football team.
Q: The only player taking intercession courses that I didn't hear you mention was Brandon Jenkins.
O: I expect him to be back. He's not cleared yet, but these guys should be back around Wednesday. I don't know exactly what their grades are, but I expect him to be back.
Ole Miss Media Day - Coach O: Part II
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