Hugh Freeze Pre-Spring Press Conference 03.22

March 22, 2012

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media on Thursday and discussed the Rebel football team heading into his first spring practice in Oxford. The Rebels hold the first of their 15 spring practices Friday which will ultimately culminant with the BancorpSouth Grove Bowl April 21.

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Opening Comments:

"I am very excited about tomorrow. I'm sure you have a lot of questions and we do too. We have had eight great days of fourth quarter drills that we are allowed to do in the mornings with our kids.  Even in doing those you don't get to evaluate where you are positionally or offensively and defensively, but it is good to spend time with our kids. We have enjoyed those.  I thought we improved from day one to day eight.  I thought the wide receiver group improved their work ethic the most and it needed to improve. Those days were great but it is not like getting on the grass tomorrow and being able to spend time putting in our stuff offensively and defensively. We are trying to create an attitude of competition for fifteen days. The one thing we ask for those fifteen days is to bring great effort and energy.  No where do we ask for perfect execution or perfection in their assignments, but we do expect to get great effort and attitude.  Those are things we can control.  We  make a decision to control those things.  Our motto getting ready for spring has been that everything we do or say we choose to do or say.  It is a choice in attitude and a choice of what kind of effort you bring to the practice field.  We expect this of them and demand that we get great effort and attitude.  We are very excited to get out tomorrow and get going.  Our coaches have worked very hard to put a good round of installations that will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday.   Sunday we get to put  on pads which is exciting."

On the team buying in fully:

"I think in an honest assessment, which mostly comes from Paul Jackson and our academic staff because of the lack of time we have had since getting here, but I think we are well on the way. We are close to eighty percent buying into most of the things we ask. That is probably the easiest part. The tough part about buying in is when we actually start and things may not be going their way.  It is a little early to tell. Up unto this point it is up around eighty percent or so."

On quarterbacks:

"I say what I mean and honestly I really don't know where things are right now.  I know that I have said from day one we have to create a great competition in that room and I expect to do that this spring with Bo Wallace, Barry Brunnetti, Zach Stoudt and Randall Mackey.  Where it goes from there will depend on some of the decisions they have made off the field and academically.  As far as going out tomorrow and having a specific plan, it has nothing to do with who takes the first snap.  That does not mean they are the lead candidate for the job.  I think this is the position that we have to do a better job preparing and coaching them. I have great trust in Dan Werner.  I think he is one of the best fundamental quarterback coaches I have been around.  I am a big picture guy, so I tell the staff what I want things to look like. Dan is very good at making things look how I want them to be.  We have a lot  of work to at that position."

On utilizing quarterbacks at other positions:

"We always think in terms of using guys to the best of their abilities.  If a guy is on scholarship for the University of Mississippi we want to make sure that if there is a place he can help us compete and be more competitive in games and give us a better chance for success, then we will absolutely look at any kid.  If there is a receiver that is better safety or a better running back, the spring is for figuring that out. You will probably see kids playing in different spots so we can evaluate them.  Quarterbacks are no exception to that."

On getting the most out of spring practice:

"We have to guard against pushing them too hard.  Fortunately, our compliance people are so on top of things and they do a great job keeping us at the right amount of physicality that is allowed.  We can have full tackling in a certain number of practices.  We have to be careful there of how much we are hitting he same tailback. I am hoping we get some surprises there. Nick Parker has lost 20 pounds and is working hard to get a look. Devin Thomas is hungry to prove that he can do it also. We are thin at that spot though.  We will have to evaluate daily where we are with how much contact can we afford to do at that spot. Spring practice is to develop  a toughness and a mindset and we have to accomplish this and hopefully we will get through it healthy.  I don't know another way to become a tougher football team than put them through some physical, high tempo practices.

On academic causalities for the spring:

"We are going to take each case differently, but there will be some kids that you won't see this weekend because we are trying to set the standard for academic success.  The most important thing they are here for is to get a degree.  We want to send that message loud and clear, especially my first year here.  We want to work closely with academic staff.  If they say there are significant reasons that would benefit the young men to spend more time preparing himself for upcoming test, then we will support that.  We have to communicate through it.  Some cases are more easy to assess than others.  We have been great in communicating to get the kids academically eligible and back on track."

On the offensive line:

"I think Aaron Morris and Pierce Burton are the two most naturally gifted tackles that we have .  That is who we will start at spring ball.  We will work in Emmanuel McCray and Jimel Judon who is a joy to work with since coming out from the baseball team.  His high school never had football, so I have no idea how he is going to respond that first time that a defensive end comes after him pretty hard.  I know he moves around athletically for a big man, as well as anybody we have.  Those four guy are the ones you are going to see.  Terrell Brown we have moved back over from defense.  He has worked extremely hard to get a quicker twitch to him.  If he has a little of that he is a big man to get around.  We are going to try to rep those guys at the tackle position.  We need people to step up and create depth there."

On the defensive line:

"Dave Wommack has watched every game and he feels confident that our young interior defensive guys are going to be fine.  They are going to be good players.  Bryon Bennett, Woodrow Hamilton, Uriah Grant, Carlton Martin and Gilbert Pena are guys that will be successful. Defensive end wise we have to have Jason Jones, Gerald Rivers, C.J. Johnson, Cameron Wigham and Carlos Thompson step up. Some of those guys have to increase our pass rush capability from the defensive end.  I didn't see that last year.  I hope it is there and that I missed it and that for some reason it didn't get done. We have to find out.  We have to get better rush on the passer and not have to depend upon extra guys to get pressure.  Dave is confident and I am confident that Chris Kiffin is a good football coach and has a great defensive line technique.  He has been around some of the greats.  I saw the job he did last year taking our guys [at Arkansas State] to top ten in the nation in sacks with players that probably weren't considered to be the most talented guys. Obviously, the kids here showed some talent at some point to be able to play in the SEC, but we have to get the best out of them by increasing our pass rush capability."

On team leaders:

"Charles Sawyer, Mike Marry, Donte MoncriefH.R. Greer and Tyler Campbell have developed into some wonderful leaders. Those are guys you can depend on every single day to bring it and care to represent the University of Mississippi. It is a little early to tell about others.  D.T. Shackleford , even though he is not there right now is a good influence to be around our team.  There are some good leaders, but we have to put them in a role where people want to follow them and hopefully find them a way to have success. We aren't going to kid each other, it is easy to have great leaders if they are contributing. We are going to try our best to find somewhere that kids can have success, which increases leadership ability.  Jason Jones is another I have been impressed with."

On strength coach Paul Jackson:

"I hit a home run hiring Paul Jackson.  I couldn't be more pleased. The work ethic he has encouraged in the kids, and more importantly his innate ability to be demanding, get the most out of a kid, have no gray area, and yet the kids respond to it without becomming confrontational is amazing. There is no head butting between the kids and the strength coach.  At most places that is a once a week occurrence. I have not had a single one of those."

On transfers:

"We expect Pierce Burton to earn playing time at the tackle position.  Cameron Wood who came in and we hope he can become a threat as a pass rusher off the end and Dehendret Collins at cornerback will help us.  He had a wonderful eight days of morning workouts and he will be pushing to play in the secondary very early.  Unfortunately,  D.J.  Bailey is not cleared to go through spring practice. It will be difficult for Mikhail Miller  to break into the rotation in the spring because it is hard to get four quarterbacks reps, but you never know.  Sometimes they really surprise us out there."

On installation of new playbook:

"I pulled everything out from my first year Arkansas State where we went from a two-back system to our system now.  I look at how much I was able to get in the first spring and really it was only about fifty percent of the plays.  You have to get the pace right, so you are looking at about fifty percent of our stuff that we will get in.  More important to be is that they handle the pace.  We can't see that early on because of the amount of practices we have to teach it.  We have to teach them the blocking schemes, the plays and motions, so there will be quite a bit of that going on early. You will see pace periods in the practice where we do that . We simulated some inside runs to show how fast we want to get back to the ball, we pause it and let them get their thoughts together before running another one. Probably about fifty percent of the offensive and about seventy five on defense.  For special teams something will be going on every day, whether it is a coverage circuit or kick circuit, we will have the best possible players out there.  It will be a lot of teaching."

On changing the mindset:

"The thing I know that has to be changed is the mindset, what we think about ourselves and what we believe about us.  I would rather wait until go out and practice and see where we are talent wise.  We aren't allowed to do a lot of stuff football wise in the eight days of workouts.  It was more running around making sure we are doing conditioning.  It is kind of hard to tell, but I know that when I was last here the team looks different. I would probably lean towards saying it is a little bit of changing the mindset and upping the talent level."

On goals for spring practice:

"I want to be able to say that the energy, effort and competitive sprit was there for fifteen days.  That is our ultimate goal.  Offensively, we have goals for taking care of the ball and staying on schedule and keeping high tempo. There are defensive goals they want to accomplish as well.  I want to be able to say that there was a toughness about us that affected the way our attitude was.  I want them to be coachable. The last thing I want to see from a team saying they want to compete and win next year is a lot of pouting, whining and display of not winning ways.  We have to make sure that if they know I am passionately on them it is because I care, not because personally attacking them.  I am want them to embrace that. When they embrace that they will be their best. That is the priority of these fifteen days."

On current injuries:

"DT Shackelford, Keith Lewis and DJ Bailey all won't practice this spring, but that is it for now."



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