Pre-Spring Practice Press Conference
Feb. 27, 2018


 MATT LUKE - OLE MISS HEAD COACH

Opening Statement:

“I am really excited to get started. We have a good mixture with a lot of experience coming back, but also this spring, we want to focus on some of these new guys coming in to build quality depth through reps. I felt like our culture really improved from the beginning of the season to the end, so we just want to keep building on that and the positive momentum of the Egg Bowl, just keep building on that culture. In the spring, you want to think about players not plays. We want to think about these young guys getting better. You can break it into parts, but we have six days here before spring break. We really want to focus on these young guys getting reps, and then we will have nine days after spring break.

“To touch on some of the injury situations, we had some surgeries, so some guys will be out. On offense, Dawson Knox, D.K. Buford, D’Vaughn Pennamon and Eli Johnson will be out. Then you will have a couple guys limited early on: Alex Givens, DeMarcus Gregory (knee), Scottie Phillips and Sean Rawlings (lower back). Defensively, Austrian Robinson, Benito Jones and Qaadir Sheppard are all out for the spring, and Ken Webster (groin) and C.J. Miller (rib) are going to be limited. They should be out there, just non-contact.

“Position changes, I thought you guys would want to know about that. We are going to work in Armani Linton at running back, so we are going to move him from safety to running back to really try to get him some reps before spring practice. If that looks good, we will keep him there, if not we will move him back to safety, but we wanted to get him in there to learn some of the terminology and the system. Vernon Dasher, I know he is listed as a linebacker, but he is going to be playing Star, which is the outside linebacker hybrid position. We have moved Brenden Williams from linebacker to defensive end.”

On balance on both sides of the ball:

“We are already so much further ahead now than we were going into fall camp, because we kept the same system on offense and defense. We are going to be way further ahead from a schematic standpoint. We are going to be looking at getting some of these young guys who redshirted or were on the scout team last year and really building our depth. Guys like Royce Newman, Chandler Tuitt, Zikerrion Baker, Mohamed Sanogo, guys that you really want to play. We want to focus on getting those guys reps. You only get 15 shots, and you have to make every one of them count and that’s what we are focused on.”

On what he wants to know about this team at the end of the spring that he doesn’t know now:

“I just want to see the culture continue to change. I want us be a team. I don’t want to see offense or defense; I want to see a team. I want to see who the leaders are going to be. I know who some leaders are, but I want to see some more leaders emerge. I want to see some guys take control and hold others accountable.”

On him putting his own stamp on the program:

“When I talk about culture, that’s what I am talking about. From the way we are dressed to showing up on time to the way the locker room looks, it’s the little things. I think that are very important; the disciple of a team. I just want to build on the culture. We want to take where we are and continue to build on that.”

On Scottie Phillips being limited:

“It is not a major injury, so I foresee some reps. Anytime you take a junior college player, you expect him to come in and compete for playing time. That is what we want to see. He is the No. 1 junior college player in the country and our No. 1 tailback, Jordan Wilkins, is gone. There is going to be really good competition at running back.”

On Armani Linton in secondary:

“He is just a big, really good athlete. When you have guys like that on the bus, you just want to find the right seat for them. We are really looking hard because he is a very big athlete who is very intelligent. I think he can help us somewhere as he really came on last year on special teams. I think he can play for us, we just have to find the right spot for him.”

On culture:

“You always want to get better. I just think the culture and the environment that these guys are in is big on winning and losing a football game. There is such a fine line between winning and losing in the SEC, and the culture of your team, the discipline you create and the mentality of your team, when you’re playing close football games, that is the secret sauce. The little things it takes to win games, I think that is important.”

On recruiting bigger athletes:

“To be able to run the football and stop the run in this league, you have to be able to do that. Everyone knows you have to be able to throw the ball, but you also have to be able to run the football to win games and you have to stop the run to win games. We needed to improve the size of our guys to win football games.”

On the linebacker position:

"Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler will start there, but really Mohamed Sanogo, Josh Clarke and Zikerrion Baker, we are really wanting to see what they can do. It is a huge spring for them. Obviously we have young guys coming from high school, but they are not here right now, so you really want to see what these young guys can do. I am cautiously optimistic about those guys, because they have redshirted and waited their turn. They’ve gotten bigger and stronger and learned the system. I am excited to see those guys out there today making calls and flying around. I am excited to see what they are going to do. Donta Evans will be in there, but we are really going to work some of the young guys. When I talk about players not plays, that’s it.”

On his biggest on-field concern:

“We have some guys out on the offensive line, so depth on the O-line is a concern just with the injuries. When everyone comes back, I think we’ll be fine, but getting through spring practice with some guys out makes it tough. Then you have Qaadir Sheppard, Benito Jones and Austrian Robinson out on the D-line. Those are just some key injuries of guys that are going to potentially be starting. I think that’s my main concern. Then obviously fixing linebacker is a huge concern. Then you want to see Matt Corral. We haven’t talked about him. Everybody’s excited about Jordan Ta’amu coming back, but really excited to see what Matt’s going to do out there.”

On if he is nervous about injuries for the fall:

“No, I think they’ll all be fine for the fall. It’s just the situation right now that they’re not going to be out there, and they are some leaders. That’s why we need some young guys to step up so that we learn what they can do. So it’s a blessing some of these young guys get to play, and maybe some new leaders can emerge and create more and more depth. We feel pretty good about Benito Jones playing, but can Ross Donelly emerge as a leader? Can other people step up? Guys like Ryder Anderson and Charles Wiley, can those guys step up and get 15 days better? That’s a huge, huge thing for us.”

On if this team will look similar to last year’s team:

“We want to start where we finished and keep building on that. I think that’s the key, you don’t want to have to go back to where you were. You want to start where you finish to continue to build on that, and we’ve talked about culture and things like that. I just think that’s what we want to do continue to build, what we’ve already started.”

On the postseason ban possibility changing how they approach the game:

“No, I just think playing for each other. It’s been well-documented what you have to play for. These guys put in a lot. They work year-round. They’ll be out there fighting for each other. It won’t be any different. You prepare for the worst, and if something else happens, it’s a bonus.”

On new hires Charles Clark and Jon Sumrall:

“They are fitting in really well. Anytime you can bring back a guy like Charles Clark with his experience, already working at Colorado, winning a Pac-12 South Championship, being at Oregon and he’s a former player, that’s huge. I’ve been very impressed with Jon and his energy. You could tell very quickly he’s a linebacker coach. I really like his toughness and energy and his presence. I really like that. I think so far, so good.”


 

 

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