Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze Spring Press Conference Transcript

Coach Hugh Freeze - Photo by Greg Pevey, Rebel Nation Magazine™

Coach Hugh Freeze – Photo by Greg Pevey, Rebel Nation Magazine™

Freeze Met with Media at the Start of 2016 Spring Drills

Opening Statement…

“We are extremely excited about getting year five going here at Ole Miss. I can’t believe it is actually the fifth year already. I was talking to (strength) coach (Paul) Jackson on the practice field the other day, and it has gone by so fast. We are excited about spring ball. With our signing class this year, we are excited to have early enrollees here that come in that we need. We need that depth in certain spots, and we get to look at them. That is a huge advantage to have those early enrollees here, to get to work. We have added to the class two young men at a position of need at linebacker for us. We’ve got Rommel Mageo from Oregon State who is going to be a graduate transfer. Today, we signed Detric Bing-Dukes, an Iowa transfer from there. We signed both linebackers, so we are very excited about both of those additions to our team. Recruiting never ends for us, and we are constantly looking. There are a couple other guys we are looking at bringing in on official visits very soon to see if they fit with us and to see if we can convince them to be Ole Miss Rebels. Our theme this year for spring ball, as you know we always have one, is called the uncommon man. It’s from Tony Dungy’s writings. From this week’s meetings, we have been talking about choosing carefully the words that you speak. They are painting a picture for you. Is that picture what you want it to be as a man? One of the things we have to do as coaches for them is share life stories of when we didn’t get that exactly right. It has been quite entertaining to hear some of those stories. We have also talked about being committed to compelled. Obviously, playing in two New Year’s Six games creates expectations. In order for us to maintain that here, there is an extra step that we need to go. There are things that we as coaches need to improve on as well as our players. I continue to believe very strongly that the league we play in and the schedule we face will challenge us greatly. I also believe that there is quality enough players on our team and on our opponents’ teams that any team could win. One of the deciding factors, when you take out all the turnovers and those types of factors, is team chemistry. That is one of the great things about spring ball is that it begins to build the foundation on where the leadership will come from in the locker room. We are going to make sure our team chemistry will be as good as it can be. So I am hopeful to see a lot of options in the mix of our team as spring goes on. We’ll break from spring after our six practices, and then we will break for Haiti with another 28-member mission team to finish up the water project in Camp Marie. We are really excited about that. The Freeze Foundation that Jill and I have created will partner with the Ole Miss family to give to the Knight fund to send them fresh water there. We are also partnering with Pine Lake Church to send a group to Desoto in June. We are excited about all of the things that are going on and hopefully continue to build our program to remain at a national status that our fans and great university deserve.”

On Chad Kelly’s growth off the field…

“I believe in the nature of kids and giving kids second chances, and obviously I did with Chad. Was it a concern that he could do something that would bring him embarrassment? Of course. But I have that concern with every kid because they are kids. You and I grew up and made mistakes. My dad kicked me in my rear and put me in line, and no one else ever really knew about it. But in today’s time when a kid makes a mistake, it’s all over the social media world. The transformation continues. I couldn’t be more pleased with what Chad has done on the field and off the field. He continues to seek how to be the type of man that he wants to be known for. We refer to it as rewriting your story or writing the end of your story. It isn’t about how you start, it’s about how you finish. And he is on track to finish well. It has taken a lot of people and a lot of time to invest in to see things in a different light and from a different perspective. We met yesterday for probably an hour to decide what we want to see come out of him as a player. You as a leader, you as a player, what things we want to learn, and how is your leadership? What do people want to follow? People will want to follow you because he is a baller. He is an effort guy, a rah-rah guy. But we need to continue to look at things off the field. He’s going back to Haiti, his choice this year. I didn’t push anyone to go. He wants to, and he was a champ over there last year. An absolute champ working with those youngsters and that village. When you have a spirit of thankfulness and what you have, it is kind of hard to go down the paths of greed and sense of entitlement. I’m proud of his progress.”

Chad Kelly will get his first taste of Davis Wade Stadium and the Cowbells on Saturday. - Photo by Rebel Nation Magazine™

Chad Kelly will get his first taste of Davis Wade Stadium and the Cowbells on Saturday. – Photo by Rebel Nation Magazine™

On what positions need the most work…

“We’ll start with the offensive line as always. It seems like that is always going to be a question mark from year to year. If you look nationally, that is probably the hardest position to fill. If you are good there, you have a chance as a team to be good, after the quarterback position. We obviously did this year more than other. We lost six guys. That is a lot, for an offensive line group to lose. But we really like some of the ones that we have or haven’t seen.Michael Howard has gained 30 pounds but was injured all last year. Yesterday was his first time to take a snap. We have a lot of kids that we sure like, but we sure hope that after 15 days of practice, we have improved at that position offensively. Defensively, I love our defensive line. Depth wise, I think we could use one or two there. The biggest question mark would be the middle of our defense would be our linebackers and safeties, we lost some good players. I think we will be fine at corner. I am excited about some of these young safeties too that I think we will feel good about after the fifteen days.”

On Tony Conner…

“I have to trust the reports I get. He is in the pool running. He says he is pain free. I believe they are expecting him to start running straight ahead next week, and we will see how the knee responds to that. When it does, we are hopeful that he will be full strength in the fall. We really need him and Issac Gross. They are no question two of our leaders on the defense.”

On whom his offensive tackles on the first day of practice were…

“Yesterday, in the blue group, we had Jeremy Liggins at right tackle and Alex Givens at left. In the second group, it was Michael Howard at left and Talbot Buys at right.”

On Michigan having spring ball in Florida…

“I am all for being creative. I give them credit for that. I don’t let what other people do bother me too much. I like to focus on us. I’m not sure how a college coach can be on a high school campus during a quiet period. I don’t quite understand that. They’re having an open practice tomorrow, and I have requested to go. I don’t think I’m going to get permission to do that. That is the thing I don’t understand. I give them credit for being creative, but how can you be off campus on a high school campus during a quiet period. That isn’t for me to understand. It doesn’t affect us, so I don’t let it bother me.”

On position changes in the spring…

“We are rotating the defensive back guys some. Some are playing safety, some rover or free safety. But the defensive backs will remain defensive backs. Willie Hibbler, we’ll look at linebacker some. He actually broke his hand during offseason workouts and won’t be released until next week. We’ll probably look at him for linebacker some next year. There aren’t any others I can think of right now. Robert Conyers is a tackle, I didn’t mention him, but he isn’t going to participate. We want to get him healthy in the spring. Rod Taylor is out. Fadol Brown is still out. Gross was out there yesterday, we are just going to limit what he does out there today. (Eric) Swinney looked good yesterday. We won’t have him do any contact until after spring ball, probably. (Damore’ea) Stringfellow had the ankle injury in the Sugar Bowl and comes back and tweaks it again. He’s probably out until after spring break also.”

On position changes…

“After day one, it is impossible to tell. We will rotate all of them. C.J. Hampton is someone we believe will be a very good player. A. J. and C.J. Moore will be back there also. I really think that Red (Zedrick Woods) can play in a lot of places. He can play safety to the Huskie position. We are excited about (Myles) Hartsfield. I don’t want to get too excited until we have some practices, but man he is long and explosive, and we think he can play a lot of things. Armani Linton looked really good yesterday. We have some good, young kids. We’ll just have to see how they do when we get out there and tempo starts occurring, and see if they can perform.”

On Chad Kelly being the veteran instead of the new guy now…

“I think he has handled it well. One thing we won’t have to worry about with him is him having a feeling that he can coast. That isn’t his makeup. Yesterday, he wanted to get more reps than he got. And I wanted to get Jason (Pellerin) and Shea (Patterson) out there, and he is wondering why. That is one of the things that you won’t have to worry about with him. He will continue to set the tone and work ethic for the guys.”

On tackling in spring practice…

“During the season, we are probably very limited. Our tackling, we do it with the new technology. I don’t know if you have seen the dummies on the tires, but we are using all of that daily in our tackling drills. We are not tackling each other during the season. I guess I am still a bit old school in the spring, but when we put pads on, there will be a period where we tackle each other every day. I just think it is one of the fundamentals that if you are going to play at a high level, you cannot simulate it better than by doing it live in practice. Now, there are techniques that don’t involve the head, which I like. That is what we teach and we work hard on that. We show clips on that to show that this is the proper way to tackle, and they continue to work at it. We are trying to teach it the proper way, but I don’t know if I can be convinced to get away from tackling during spring ball. During fall camp, we will do some. But once that season starts, we don’t do it.”

On whether or not he will redshirt Shea Patterson…

“That is so early. I have no idea. I know that he is really good. I love his demeanor. I love his leadership qualities. He gets the game. It isn’t too fast for him. You guys will see it in practice some, and you’ll see what I am talking about. He doesn’t even know our terminology yet, but he still has an understanding of how the game goes. It is way too early to tell. We are going to play the ones that help us win. All three of those guys looked good yesterday.”

On Jason Pellerin…

“He’s been working on his footwork. He has a tremendously strong arm. I love him as a runner. But his footwork, when pressure is around, gets a little sloppy. That is normal for a kid who didn’t get any reps last year and all of a sudden has Breeland Speaks running at him. You can get a little sloppy with your mechanics. That happened yesterday that cost him some bad throws, but again, that is just day one. One of the things I consider our coaches to do is consider our words carefully also. That means we need to celebrate a little better on the improving side. Sometimes our coaching, our kids do it right and we think that is what he should do instead of celebrating with them. We need to be great teachers on the things we need to improve on. I know Dan Werner will take great pride in teaching them as we move on.”

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Benito Jones

On Benito Jones…

“Benito Jones is special. He’s got great get-off that is really special. All those guys that competed yesterday in Myles and Gross and Charles Wiley showed some flashes. (Wiley) doesn’t even know what he is doing out there. We ran zone read one time, and the guy played the zone and redirect it and ran him down because he can run a 4.5 40. You can’t give (defensive line coach Chris) Kiffin a whole lot of credit on that one because the kid can run. There are also times he goes the completely wrong way on a blitz yesterday. All that is expected from a young kid like that.”

On new transfers Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes…

“I expect Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes to come in and compete right away for the mike linebacker spot. Rommel, in getting a guy that is a veteran and has played there for three year of major college football in a power-5 conference. My evaluation, once we got word that he was released to move on after graduation, I pulled out film on two of their rivals and saw that he played hard. He plays physical. He has the stats. We feel like he may be the guy. We don’t know that for sure. He has to come down and earn it like everyone else, but you guys know that that is the place that we need help the most. We convinced him that this is the right place to come.”

On Evan Engram…

“You have seen glimpses of his best. We need to find ways to get him the football a little more next year. Hopefully that will help him have a nice senior campaign. He did come in a little under the radar, and I think we have developed him. I think most of the credit should go to him because he has really worked hard to develop. He wants to gain some weight, so he and Paul are working on that. Hopefully you see some of his best more consistently because we are finding ways to get him the football.”

On the young guys playing linebacker…

“Gates, (Stinger linebacker) is probably where he needs to be. We know that Gates can play either (linebacker spot). We are really happy with how he’s progressed and the way he is working. He has really matured. Shawn Curtis is going to be a good mike for us, but he is just too young right now. He is a deer in front of headlights right now. But when he hits you, it is heavy. It’ll be good for him to learn for a year. There will be guys that play ahead of him for a year. Donta Evans, I forgot to mention him earlier, is another mid-year linebacker. Eli Johnson at center is another mid-year. Donta is one of those guys that can play probably either (linebacker spot).”

On being back on the field…

“It is always great to be back on the field. As a coach, that is what you want to do. But you learn that in this profession, you better control what you can control and stay focused on that. If not, your life is kind of like a roller coaster. When you believe in who you are, and how you do things and stay true to that and be consistent in your approach to things, you can’t let that other stuff bother you. I talk to our players about that kind of stuff. They know who we are, and know we have been through good times and disappointing times. We reassure them that a lot of people are working for any problems they may have off the field.”

On who he sees returning kicks…

“Yesterday, we actually did some of our special teams. I think Jalen Julius has a good shot at doing some of that.Tony Bridges, Carlos Davis, Markell Pack are four of them that were back there. Of course, we signed Tre Nixon, who I think is really phenomenal with that. I look forward to seeing him.”

Issac Gross pressures Bama QB Blake Simms - Photo by Rebel Nation Magazine

Issac Gross pressures Bama QB Blake Simms – Photo by Rebel Nation Magazine

On the running back position…

“I think Jordan Wilkins and Akeem Judd are two really good ones to start with. Eugene Brazley and Eric Swinneyare really talented too. I’m anxious to see Swinney turn loose. D.K. Buford did some good things yesterday too.”

On the chemistry of the offensive line…

“Like I said earlier, I am always nervous about that position. The defensive lines that we face in this league are just so difficult to block. They are so big and so athletic and strong, that it is just very difficult to block. That is the hardest position for a group of guys to function. And it isn’t just at Ole Miss. Just look at our league. It is very difficult to block guys like that consistently. We have a good offensive line coach in Matt Luke, and he is going to get the most out of his kids. We really like the kids we signed and we really like the kids we have here now. We will be excited to see that unit come along.”

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