From a team perspective, Decker gave the Rebs a thumbs-up in reaching those objectives and, individually, he's been just as pleased with the results.
It took hard work, and overcoming a couple of obstacles, but all's well that ends well.
"There's an interesting situation when you approach and plan the summer workouts," Decker, now entering his third year at his all-important post at Ole Miss. "From January 1 until the summer begins, due to NCAA rules, we have to give the players eight weeks of discretionary time with no mandatory workouts.
"We have five weeks of that built in – two weeks after the bowl, spring break and two weeks after the spring semester – but that leaves three more weeks of discretionary time we have to come up with. Consequently, we have to add a week off to the two weeks between the spring and summer semesters. If that time is not handled properly by the player, it can put you behind the eight ball as summer workouts begin."
Decker understands, sort of, why some players don't do much during that three weeks, but it certainly doesn't jump start the summer workouts.
"They figure they have worked hard for a long time and deserve a break. We give them a guideline to follow of light work, and most of them do it, but it's never the same as being in here with the strength staff," said Decker. "Consequently, some of the guys who left here in May in a good place came back behind a little.
"Two examples stick out. Tight End Ferbia Allen left in May at 242 pounds and looking good. He came back after three weeks off around 225 pounds. He's back to 242 now, stronger than ever and will be close to our goal of 250 when August camp starts, but it took us almost all summer to get him back to where he was before he left in May. Offensive Guard Alex Washington had lost some weight before he left, but when he came back for summer workouts, he had gotten up to 362 pounds.
"Now he is a little under 338, and doing a nice job, but it took us all summer to get him back down. There were just a few of those examples, but I am trying to illustrate part of the process. In some cases, summer is spent just getting them back to where they were when they left for those three weeks in May."
In the summer months, Decker also has to battle the nutrition and diets of the players.
"When August camp starts and in the fall, we can feed them all they can eat and control their diets, whether they need to gain or lose weight," he continued. "It's tough during the summer. Although they are given money for food, when we are not providing the meals, we don't know for sure what's going on in the area of nutrition."
With those two factors in mind, and to overcome, Decker still had mostly good news as the summer workouts draw to a close.
For the purpose of this two-part article, we'll focus on the highlights of the summer workouts of the Rebel defense first and the offense and a wrap-up by Decker in Part II.
Up front, in the trenches where the big boys reside, Decker had good news.
"DT Jerrell Powe weighed in the other day at 317 pounds. Starting off at 386 when we first got here, that's very substantial. He's quicker, more explosive, his vertical has gone up and his conditioning is much better. He's able to go through all our drills now without any issues and he's become one of the vocal leaders of our team," Decker assessed. "Nothing fazes him and, in fact, he's leading the pack most of the time."
JUCO transfer Defensive End Wayne Dorsey has gained roughly 27 pounds since he reported to Ole Miss in January. He's gone from 238 to a consistent 265 now.
"Every time he comes in the weight room, he's doing something he hasn't done before in terms of his lifts. He's getting personal bests almost every day, which indicates he's getting stronger and stronger," Don noted.
"Monday, we did some linear speed drills, 10 yard sprints, and he was wearing everyone out. Ten yards is where linemen live and nobody could beat Dorsey. Kentrell Lockett and Gerald Rivers were up there too, but nobody else. With the added strength, Wayne has gotten quicker and faster."
Rivers came to Ole Miss as a slender 218-pounder.
"Gerald is now 245 pounds and stronger than ever. He's quick and doing a good job in the summer workouts, but he was another one who lost a little when he left for the break in May," Decker stated. "He's climbed back now and is looking good."
Redshirt freshman DT Corey Gaines piled on too much weight before he reported to Ole Miss as a true freshman last year. The goal was to trim him down.
"Corey was in the 305-310 range last season. We wanted him between 285-290. It will help his movement and endurance. He's worked hard and weighed in the other day at 288. He's fluctuating between 288-291, and has done a good job of reaching his goal while getting stronger and fitter," said Don.
Veteran DTs Lawon Scott and Ted Laurent have also shined this summer.
"Teddy is a given. He's going to do what he needs to do," Decker said. "Lawon has always struggled with his weight, but now he seems to have it under control and it's showing up in his running and conditioning. He's also taken a leadership role. LaMark Armour, who is also coming off knee surgery, has his strength levels up and is moving very well."
Lockett had two surgeries in the offseason – sports hernia and knee. He's fine now, but in that time frame he lost almost 20 pounds.
"Kentrell got down to around 240 due to those surgeries, but he's now back up to 252-253 and is healthy," Decker added. "By the time the season comes around, I think he'll be back in the 260 range, which is where we want him."
DE Cameron Whigham, who joined the team during on-campus Cotton Bowl practices and went through spring training, has gone from around 244 to 258 since his arrival.
"You never have to worry about effort with Cameron. He gives us all he's got all the time. He's also very, very strong for a freshman, and getting stronger by the day, it seems. He'll be a candidate for the Iron Rebel poster next spring," said Don. "(DE) Jason Jones is, like Kentrell, someone who has had to overcome some injury problems, but now I see him turning the corner. He's gotten stronger and now has more confidence in the knee he was rehabbing. He looks good."
Decker, who can be a tough "grader," had nothing but good things to say about the linebacking corps.
"For the sake of this interview, discussing players who needed to change and improve some things, I'll start with Mike Marry. He's down from 250 to 238 and his strength levels have soared. His movement is so much better and his body has changed. He's had a really good summer," Decker evaluated. "Those ‘backers – Jonathan Cornell, D.T. Shackelford, Joel Kight, Allen Walker, Marry and Alex Williams – wow! You almost do not have to coach them. We never have to coach effort with them. We may have to coach technique, but not work ethic.
"Shack is the same weight as before, but he's rocked up. We didn't want Joel to get any bigger, but we wanted to work on his movement and strength. He's quicker now and benched 400 pounds this summer, as did Shack. Joel is much more explosive in his squats and cleans. Cornell has been quiet for most of his career, but now he's become the leader, the vocal guy, and he's working hard. He made Iron Rebel and has done a great job."
On the back end of the defense, the secondary, senior S Johnny Brown has worked hard to improve his flexibility.
"Johnny's flexibility is an ongoing process and we believe he has gotten better. He's also becoming a leader. JUCO Safety Damien Jackson has also had a good summer, putting on 10 good pounds. He's now around 205 pounds and he was already a very physical player," said Decker. "(Safety) Fon (Ingram) has had some circumstances where he could not be here as much as we would like, but his knee is OK and when he's been here he has brought it. The absences, though, have prevented him from being a guy who jumps off the page at me."
Redshirt freshman Cornerback Charles Sawyer also drew Decker's praise.
"At the corners, Jeremy McGee has healed up and has had a good summer. Marcus Temple made Iron Rebel and is a hard worker. Charles, to me, is an excellent corner who works hard and continues to improve. He's one of our best guys. He has tremendous ability. Ryan Campbell is a try-hard, effort guy and he's improving too," Decker noted.
Overall, Decker has been impressed with the summer put in by the defensive players.
"I believe the guys – overall – reached their individual goals, for the most part, and will be in good shape to start August camp," he closed. "We will give them a week off before fall camp and the process will continue when August camp starts because we are not trying to peak them now. We want them to peak when the season starts.
"I've been pleased so far with the process."
Tomorrow, Decker discusses the offensive personnel and gives a more detailed overview of the summer workouts and fall camp as it relates to strength and conditioning.