1. Overall, how would you say spring practices went for Ole Miss this year?
Bland is most likely the best word to use for spring practice and the annual spring game. The Rebels are breaking in an offensive and defensive coordinator and overhauling both systems in the process. Former OC Phil Longo had an offensive philosophy that reminded me of Al Pacino’s speech to Jamie Foxx in “Any Given Sunday” when he talked about running toward the Buick in street football. “Running toward open space” and only having “less than 30 offensive plays” is not going to cut it against SEC defenses in multiple seasons. Y’all have probably seen this in previous changes on your coaching staff - buy in either happens quickly and everything clicks right away when the season starts, or there’s a wait and see attitude from players until a big win occurs and that may never happen leading to more firings. Needless to say, we weren’t given a lot to marinate on just yet.
2. The big news this offseason was Ole Miss’ shiny new coordinators, Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre. Any impressions of what they’ll bring to the offense and defense, respectively?
There was a shot of Rich Rod in the upper boxes of Vaught Hemingway during the spring game, and he looked utterly frustrated and kind of pissed off. Again, we’re having to update from a less complex offensive scheme to what I feel is going to be an offense built around run-pass option and deception. There seemed to be a lot of short passes out of an RPO base offense that I think will potentially put the ball in the hands of our best playmakers. How that will translate to points is not clear to me just yet. MacIntyre is revamping the defense to a 3-4, which I think could make the Rebels more formidable on defense this season (it would be difficult to be less formidable tbh). Previous staffs recruited several ‘tweeners for a defense that was a hybrid 4-2-5, so I think we may be a little undersized for a 3-4 currently but plenty fast to make it work against some opponents.
3. Speaking of offense, the Rebels face a rebuild on that side of the ball. What did that look like this spring?
The Rebels have a decent, young quarterback in Matt Corral. He is fiery and wants the ball in his hands, so I think a Rich Rod style of offense like you saw with Khalil Tate at Arizona could benefit him greatly. We haven’t seen him in extended action, but he did play in a few games last season either in mop up duty or when starter Jordan Ta’amu was injured. In my opinion, he has plus speed to stretch defenses a little bit. Obviously, the big news is the departure of a three headed monster at wide receiver in AJ Brown, DK Metcalf and DeMarkus Lodge, and it’s damn near impossible to replace three guys like that. Ole Miss has Elijah Moore who is a speedster and can be utilized in several ways along with junior Braylon Sanders and JC transfer Dontario Drummond to fill those holes. Sanders had 16 catches for 271 yards and a TD last year while Moore nabbed 36 receptions for 398 yards and two TD. Senior RB Scottie Phillips will shoulder the load in the run game as he nearly had a 1,000 yard season last year with 928 yards on 153 carries and 12 TDs.
4. Defense has been a big struggle in recent years. Any optimism on that side of the ball this spring?
Yes, our defensive coordinator from last season is gone. Coach McGriff just wasn’t ready to lead an SEC defense and got in over his head. Ole Miss went out and got a former head coach in MacIntyre who has also been a defensive coordinator in the past to get this defense back to respectability. But this is the SEC where you’re sometimes only given one offseason to make miracles happen. There’s going to be a lot of pressure to go from one of the worst defenses in the country to at least mediocre this year. There’s a potential to have several seniors starting on this defense, and while their past performance is not great, experience can’t be taught. Defensive linemen seniors Josiah Coatney, Benito Jones, and Austrian Robinson should anchor the front and be the bright spot for what could be a transformational year on defense.
5. In general, this feels like a bit of a bottoming out year for the Rebels, with losing a lot of talent plus the NCAA issues starting to really take effect. Does it feel that way for Rebel fans? Or is there more optimism?
Oh, I mean, I help run an Ole Miss blog, so I’m going to be looking for whatever bright spots I can find to justify season tickets, Grove supplies, etc. For the diehards, there’s always a hope and an optimism that the handsome and strong Ole Miss son Matt Luke is secretly waiting to roll out some master plan the next two years to get us out of NCAA prison/hell. But for the more casual fan, I don’t think there’s a lot of buy in with this current coaching staff and team. I think from the outside looking in or a more cynical look would be that Ole Miss hired Matt Luke because they needed an alum to circle the wagons and get Ole Miss through the probation years then also have an easy scapegoat by the 2020 season. Luke may end up having to fall on the sword by next year if things really fall apart like back to back three or four win seasons. To me, the biggest indicator that something is wrong and confidence is very low is that our season ticket prices were reduced for the first time since I started buying tickets in 2004 - from $400 per seat last year to $299 per seat this year. I think that’s a signal that this team needs fans by any means necessary.