Are you concerned with the late position changes from linebackers (Chris Strong) moving to the defensive line and other linebackers (Tony Fein) moving to new positions?
"We have two separate packages and you go after it and just hope for the best," added the always quotable John Thompson. "You just have to hope for the best and think that the best is going to happen. You can not go into battle with negative thoughts or bad things usually do happen. It is kind of like preparing for injuries. You know that some things are going to happen. You do not plan on it, but you have to have a plan for it. We are still mixing and matching. Some of our nickel package we might have some guys down. Some of our first down package we might have some guys up. We are not sure who is going to be in there all of the time, but hopefully we will have 11, not 10, or 12 (laugh) on the field."
How has Chris looked on the defensive line for you this week in practice?
"You know, the first snap that we threw him down there he was like a bull parting the sea. We talking to him about it, and he had a smile on his face. His eyes got bright. I do not think it is a situation where it is like a player moving to a position and he is thinking to himself, I am a linebacker and I am not going to be happy playing something else. Chris just wants to be out there and making an impact. I can truly sit here and look you into the eye and tell you that Chris just wants to play. He can be effective at end or tackle, and he can be effective at linebacker. We have only had these guys less than three weeks. I thought all along that Chris would be a defensive lineman when we recruited him, and then he comes in here and just rips it up at linebacker. I was like, wow, I was wrong. Then we throw him down at end and tackle, and we are like he is a real good lineman too (laugh). We are still going through that stage, and we will probably find out a whole lot Saturday also."
How big of an adjustment will it be on Chris to play both positions?
"You know, you just play the call. I do not think it is that big of a deal. We are trying to make sure that we do not ask him to learn the whole package at linebacker and the whole package for the defensive linemen. We are going to mix and match and then you have to specify some things. Here if you go in at this position, you are going to do this. To be honest, at defensive line we may just have him coming off of the ball. We are going to keep it real simple for now."
What weight do you want to see Chris at right now?
"I do not know, but
(282) is pretty big for linebacker. That is weight that he has maintained for
a couple of weeks now, so it is not like you get him here and you drop 15 pounds
of excess weight. He is big enough to play both, and he is fast enough to play
both. He is just a rare blend of speed, size, and power that you do not see very
often. There are not too many Chris Strong's around. I will say that."
What about Tony Fein's new role from inside to outside linebacker?
"We need him to just smooth out like he did after a week or so. When he first got here he was all over the place, trying too hard. When he got to learning the playbook, he calmed down. He has to just calm down and be Tony Fein, make plays, don't tie yourself in knots physically and mentally just because you moved out there (to OLB), and he has to tackle."
You must feel good about Jonathan Cornell at MLB?
"Well, we try to get our best guys on the field and we are comfortable with that. We think we have our best people on the field and obviously in our best spots."
Just how good is Jerrell Powe?
"Powe is exceptionally talented; he just has to get in shape. I think being out two years, he is now like, wow, this is not an easy game. You just have to keep working. You know, he comes off of the ball so hard. That is a huge man with great quickness. He is going to be a tremendous player (smiling)."
What weight does the staff want Jerrell to play at during the season?
"We just need him to get down to where he can stay in the game. That is all, and he is not to that point right now. With the way the heat is, and the way everything is going, we can only get a few plays in at a time with Jerrell. I would rather get him in there where he can get in there for a couple of series."
How critical is it for your defense for Jerrell to be declared eligible?
"It would be very helpful. I am not going to say critical, but I am going to say helpful (laughing). Like Chris Strong, there just are not that many Jerrell Powe's out there (laugh)."
What do you do to prepare for the spread offense?
"We still have some battles going on in the secondary. Terrell Jackson has had a really good camp. Dustin Mouzon has played really good. Corner, safety, outside linebackers. You have to know where their players are, and you have to recognize that, and you have to make the open field tackle. They can be in different personnel grouping and give you all kinds of different formations out of it. It is not like there is going to be just two backs, or one back, or power running, or option, or one set, or two set receivers, or even three of four set receivers. They really spread the field and do a good job of it, but our guys have handled it pretty well."
Three of the first four games are against spread offenses; you are either going to be really good at it before the time it is over or not so good, right?
"Well, I guess that is one way of putting it (laugh). I know this, we better be good at it Saturday. That goes to getting as much speed out on the field, and recognizing it as soon as possible and having our guys play fast and downhill. If we get to thinking out there, we will look like we are running in mud, and the scoreboard will show it (laugh). You just have to tackle, especially in the open field. They are a screen team. They are also a vertical team. We have to protect against the big passes, long passes. They also run what we call fly sweeps where they hand it to a WR and the ball is outside and in open spaces. They throw hitch screens to create mismatches, so you have to tackle them in the open field. Protect against the big play, playing fast, and tackling. It will all come down to those three areas against any spread offense, especially Memphis'."
How much time has the Ole Miss defense prepared against the spread offense?
"Well, we got a copy of the schedule in the Spring and went to work. We knew exactly what we were facing when we went over the schedule. You know, it is tough, but guys have to be very disciplined and recognize the plays and play fast and make the open field tackles. You can not lose your patience. The ball gets out quick. You know they only gave up 14 sacks last year and that is not really a drop back passing team as many times as they threw it last year. They are not getting sacked, but you know you have to get them off rhythm somehow, and that is really just tackling. They throw a screen, you tackle it and now it is 2nd and 8. You now have a chance. You throw a screen and it is 2nd and 4; they are going to move the chain. It all comes down to three things we are stressing; tackling, recognition, and playing fast."
Jevan Snead is going to become a pretty good QB in the spread offense working as the scout team QB, right?
so, but I am not too worried about Jevan right now (laugh). Really though, Jevan
is doing a great job for us on the scout team. There are probably not that many
scout teams with a Jevan Snead on it. You know what I mean (laugh)."
What is the Ole Miss defense going to do about the match up problems against the taller Memphis receivers?
"Well, we do not have anybody 6' 8" like Singleton (laugh). I know that. Really, on the jump balls, you just have to go up there and get it. The safeties have to be there for help. You have to know where Calhoun is. He is a very/very good player. Very talented. You have to know where he is, and we may have an extra set of eyes on him. Singleton is the guy who is a hard match up too. 6' 8" is not your every day receiver. Like I said, you throw up those jump balls and you have to come down and get it."
How valuable has Greg Hardy been for the defense to practice against someone with that kind of size at wide out?
"The scrimmage a week ago, we really got to practice the jump ball a lot, because he did a great job. We have not worked in the last couple of days against him, but that is who we practiced against when we do the jump ball drills. When you are a smaller DB, which we are, and you have a big receiver going up there, you have to use your techniques to make sure he does not come down with the ball. It is as simple as that."
How worried are you that Greg will now play 50% of the snaps at receiver when you are already thin at DE due to the injuries with Chris Bowers and Kentrell Lockett?
"We are not really worried about that. If Greg can help us put points on the board, then I am all for it. He can play 140 snaps (laugh) if it helps our team. We are in this thing to win games, and that is it. It is all about winning, and right now, Greg is one of our biggest playmakers on both sides of the ball. You have to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers."