Getting It Done, Part II

Ole Miss Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker talked with us about the summer workouts as the football season quickly approaches. The following is Part II - focusing on the offense - of a two-part series.

As we continue our conversation with Ole Miss Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker, the focus today will be on the offensive personnel.

Again, we'll start with the beef and go from there, and as was the case with the defensive story, not all players will be highlighted.

"There's not much I can say about guys like Brandon Bolden, for instance. They are always going to work hard, improve and stay steady," he explained.

In the middle of the line, where there are concerns by the coaching staff, there is mostly good news.

"(Center) A.J. Hawkins didn't take advantage of his time off in May. We had a long way to go to get him back to where he was when he left. It was frustrating to me to see how far some of the guys could lose in three weeks," noted Decker.

A.J. Hawkins

"Three weeks off does not sound like much time, but it has a tremendous affect on you if you don't do anything. A.J. is around 295 pounds now and he's an excellent athlete with good movement patterns and flexibility. Now, he's getting back to where he was with his strength levels."

At the guard slots, Alex Washington and Rishaw Johnson have had productive summers.

"As we already discussed, Alex has lost from 362 to 338, so he has made strides. We hope to get him down some more during two-a-days. He's worked hard and his conditioning is much better than before," noted Decker. "Rishaw played last year at 295 pounds. Right now, he's 310 and his strength levels are up. He's a very good athlete and he made Iron Rebel this year. He's done well since spring."

At the tackles, Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie have made significant strides.

"Bradley has had a phenomenal summer, a really great summer. He's stronger than he's ever been and is fired up about reaching new heights in strength development. He's also providing some leadership up front," Don added. "Bobby got down to 295 pounds in spring, which is too light. Now he's back to 310 and I think we can get him to 320 and that he can handle that weight. He has great movement and runs well. I think he's a guy who, when we can control his caloric intake in the fall camp, will put on some weight."

Decker is excited about some of the backups as well.

"Evan Swindall is now at 300 pounds and he's a hard-working, smart young man. Chase Hughes is just now starting his clock and had shoulder surgery when he got here. He got down to 280 and now we are putting it back on the right way. He's 290 now," Decker said. "It's fun to see him get stronger every time he comes in the weight room. You don't have to worry about those two pushing themselves.

Evan Swindall

"Michael Brown has had a good summer. His strength levels are up and he's changing his body. He looks different than when we first got him. He's putting on solid weight now. Emmanuel McCray has had some difficulties with knee tendonitis which has caused him to have an up and down summer, but he has worked hard when he could. Logan Clair has had a solid summer. Josh Tatum needs to be more consistent. He's had good days and days where he hasn't done as well."

At tight end, Ferbia Allen has gained back the weight he lost in May and is now around 242 with the goal of 247-250 by the time the season comes around. Senior Reggie Hicks, Decker said, has had a "solid" summer and looks ready for the season while providing some leadership. The "project," of sorts, has been redshirt freshman Z. Mason.

"Z. has made tremendous strides in his flexibility this summer, really tremendous. We have been really excited with some things we have come up with to improve his flexibility and with the way he's applied those techniques. They've had unbelievable effects," Decker said. "You can see it in the way he runs, moves, bends, gets in his stance and so on."

The backs, as Decker stated earlier, are somewhat of a given.

"Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Rodney Scott don't have as much to overcome. They have worked hard to improve and fine-tune, and that's what we needed them to do," said Don, "but a guy like Korvic Neat, who had never lifted much before he got here, is one who stands out with improvement.

"Korvic is excited about lifting weights and getting stronger. He's not very big at 165, but his body has changed – his arms, his chest, his legs. The way he gets under a bar now with more snap and rhythm tells me what I need to know – he's getting much stronger. That improvement has helped his confidence and demeanor as well."

At fullback, E.J. Epperson has gained some needed strength this spring.

"E.J. was still trying to overcome that wrist injury completely last year. Now that is behind him, he's been able to gain some upper body strength. He's at 250 pounds now and looks the part. He's a tremendous squatter," Decker stated. "H.R. Greer works all the time. He's in great shape."

Out wide, Lionel Breaux has taken on the role of one of the leaders and has had a good summer. Markeith Summers falls in the category of Bolden, et al, just fine-tune and work hard on conditioning, which he has. Ja-Mes Logan has gained some needed strength.

Lionel Breaux

"Melvin Harris is now around 205. That's 23 pounds more than when he got here. Our goal is 215. We may make that when he gets on the training table," said Don. "What jumps out at me about Melvin, though, is his explosiveness and speed has improved. He's in our top five in 10-20-yard bursts. The game of football is about acceleration and deceleration and Melvin moves well in those areas. He's developing a burst that a lot of 6-6 players don't have.

"We were shooting for 170 pounds with Jesse Grandy, but I don't think we are going to reach that. It's a battle to put weight on him, just like it was with Dexter McCluster. He's between 160-165 now, but his strength levels have gone way up and his confidence level is up due to that. He will just have to keep maturing to get that extra weight, but in the meantime, he's getting stronger and stronger, which will help him more than anything."

At quarterback, Decker and his staff went back in time, so to speak. Don once worked with baseball pitchers when he was an assistant strength coach. He drew on that experience with the Rebel signal-callers in light of Raymond Cotton's shoulder issues in spring.

"We worked really hard on Ray and Nathan Stanley's shoulders, especially the back side of the shoulder which takes the brunt of the deceleration of the throwing motion," Don explained. "I really ramped up their shoulder work – Ray's because of the injury and rehab and Nathan as a preventative measure. We threw the book at them on their shoulders, but we were careful not to do too much.

"I talked to both of them recently about that and they said their shoulders feel great and their arms feel as good or better than ever."

With all the newcomers, including QB Randall Mackey, it's been more of an indoctrination than anything.

"We spend a whole month teaching them the right way, the right techniques, on how to do things and we need that time to evaluate them and see what their bodies can handle," Decker assessed. "We do a lot with their core, hamstrings and the back side of their bodies. We also do prehab to get them as healthy as they can be before fall camp starts.

Nathan Stanley

"Anything they gain during summer is a bonus. Mackey has actually gained some weight and is now 185 and he reported at 175. He's an athlete and he enjoys lifting. He's got good technique and is gaining strength rapidly. I am really proud of all those freshmen because they have been one of the easiest groups I have had to teach the techniques of lifting. That says a lot about our coaches' recruiting and the high school programs they come from."

In conclusion, Decker said goals were set and, in his opinion, reached.

"We wanted to help in the process of developing togetherness and a bond. We also wanted to see an identity develop in terms of leadership. All of that starts in spring, but continues on behind closed doors when nobody is watching in the weight room," Decker said. "The second thing is, obviously, getting the team stronger and faster.

"But the biggest thing is the conditioning. Are they in shape? Are they ready for fall camp? Can they endure the rigors of the season? Where do I think our team is in terms of that? As I have watched them the last couple of weeks, I have really seen them turn that corner where they are on track. We will do a conditioning drill next week that will be my gauge. We did part of it this week and they did well. It's 10 100s, 8 80s, 6 60s and 4 40s with little recovery time. It's all about recovery time. Conditioning is not evaluated on whether or not you get tired – athletes who push themselves will get tired. What it's evaluated on is the recovery time. This drill evaluates that and they have handled those kinds of drills well."

Decker wants them ready for fall camp, but not peaked, as he stated.

"About eight years ago, we decided we'd give them the last week of summer off to let them get fresh, to get their minds right and get excited about the season. We want them to come back with some gas in their tank and keep building right into the season," he closed. "That has worked really well for us in the past.

"As of today, I feel very good where we are from a conditioning standpoint and with most individual goals. There are a couple of guys we are going to have to help and nurture along as fall camp begins, but overall, we're where we need to be at this point in time. I was a little disappointed with where some guys started this summer, but I'm happy with where we have finished. I take my hat off to the entire team for their work ethic and the results."

When June 1 hits every year, Coach Houston Nutt puts the team in the hands of Don Decker and his staff for the next 8-9 weeks.

The Rebs are in good hands.

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