Ole Miss Strength & Conditioning Coach Paul Jackson said he and his staff accomplished “most goals” for the summer offseason program.
“In evaluating the summer program, I felt like we did some really high-quality work and the guys pushed through what we asked of them,” Jackson said. “One, I like the guys’ confidence. We set some high goals and lofty standards that I didn’t think they could reach and if they didn’t accomplish them, they just kept going until they did. Even when we didn’t have great success, they never got defeated by it – they took it as a challenge. “
Jackson was able to set the bar high in his “demands” during the summer because the team came back from their break in May in what he termed “great condition.”
An example was in the sprint tests, as he explains.
“Last summer, we ran 20 45-yard sprints in six seconds with 30 seconds rest (skill players) in between each sprint. This year, we did 20 45s in five seconds with 25 seconds rest,” he said. “There’s no way we could do that if we weren’t in top shape. With less rest and faster times, you’re making progress.”
The tempo in the weight room workouts was also increased, to Jackson’s liking.
“We had 45-minute workouts with great tempo and great intensity, very little down time,” he stated. “By the time they left here, they were spent, but they like it that way instead of spending an hour and a half and having a lot of down time. It all fits with the tempo Coach (Hugh) Freeze wants to play with.
“Last summer, we had some resistance to the tempo workouts, especially from the big guys, which is natural. This year, they’ve taken it all in stride and even worked tempo on their own in 7-on-7 drills. Now, they’re not only buying in, they’re enjoying the tempo way of doing things, and that’s an important part of the mindset. It’s an attitude, an attacking attitude. It’s fun to watch and be a part of.”
The only aspect of the summer that discouraged Jackson a little – and it was of no fault to anyone – was the time some of the stalwarts missed with him due to rehabbing from offseason surgery.
“(Trainer) Pat (Jernigan) did a tremendous job with them, but it was just frustrating not to have guys like Issac Gross, Charles Sawyer, Bo Wallace, Aaron Morris, Patrick Junen and a couple of more,” said Jackson. “It was frustrating to Pat too, but all he could do is what he did – get them ready for the season the best he could.”
Jackson was able to tweak things this summer and do more “fun stuff.”
“As I said, we were in shape, so I could fine-tune what we were doing because I didn’t have to bust their tails to get them in shape. For instance, we worked really hard on our plyometrics (jump training) for explosiveness. If they weren’t in shape, we couldn’t concentrate on that as much because you have to spend that time running to get in shape,” he assessed. “Our vertical jumps improved tremendously. We had a lot of high-end verts.
“We were also able to spend more time on upper body strength, which we needed, and other areas that were lacking from an overall team standpoint. Being in shape set the table for us to be able to do those things and help make us better football players. I told them back during the season that they could do more of the cool stuff they like to do if they got in shape. They did it and we were able to do more stuff they enjoy doing because of that. ”
From a team standpoint, Jackson was pleased, but what about some individuals who stood out this summer?
“Four guys really turned my head, other than the ones you know are going to excel like Donte (Moncrief) and Denzel (Nkemdiche) and a long list of guys who give us everything they have every day. Bryon Bennett, Woodrow Hamilton, Pierce Burton and Jeff Scott had absolutely monster summers. A bunch of others did too, but those stood out to me,” he said. “Woodrow struggled with conditioning last year. He dominated it this year and he’s a 300-pound guy. Bryon stepped his focus and motivation up to a completely different level – he’s always been physically gifted. Pierce has really worked hard in the areas he needed (lower body strength and mobility issues) and it’ll make him a better player this year. Jeff really exploded this summer – he improved everything.”
Obviously, everyone wants to know about the newcomers on the team and Jackson obliged with his take on the signing class of 2013.
“That whole group is legit. They’re an impressive group and I’m not just talking about the five-star kids. Kids like Derrick Jones and Evan Engram and others who weren’t as highly rated came in here ready to compete,” Jackson noted. “I’m very, very happy with the whole group. They walked in and were big and pretty and ready to go and they attacked the summer in a business-like fashion. They were able to adapt to the demands quickly.
“Their attitudes have been great. Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Tony Conner – the five-star guys – were all humble and ready to work. They didn’t come in here expecting anything to be given to them and that’s the kind of attitude that’s infectious and produces results. Tony came in here late and he’s raw, but with every single rep, he gets better and better. He’s quiet and focused. It’s fun watching him grow. They’re an exciting bunch and have had great attitudes. Physically, Robert, Austin Golson, Derrick Jones and Evan Engram came in here ready to compete and the rest are not far behind. Laquon is definitely a team guy and a leader. Every week, he’d run extra with the guys who weren’t making their times in the test, and he made his. He just wanted his teammates to know he was there thick and thin. That’s leadership. Devante Kincade is another leader – a kid who can’t get enough of football. He and Ryan Buchanan are gym rats. This class would go through 7-on-7 with the veterans not getting many reps, so they’d do it all over again with the rest of the young guys when the vets got finished. These kids have to be kicked out of here. They love football.”
From a team strength perspective, Jackson has seen improvements.
“We’re getting there. We still have work to do, but if we can continue to recruit like our coaches did last year, it’ll get there in a hurry. For instance, Daronte Bouldin is already strong enough. If he never gets any stronger, he’ll be fine. He’ll get stronger, but if he doesn’t, it’s not a big deal. Now, he just needs to work on things that will make him a better football player,” explained Jackson. “Our standard for a squat is 500 pounds. We have a solid group of guys who can reach that, but we need to, in time, get it to that across the board. Training can help that a lot, and we’re getting more and more people to that level, but continued great recruiting is the biggest key.”
From a speed/explosiveness standpoint, which gets the most attention in the summer, things are also improving.
“We have quite a few more than we did a year ago at what I call an elite level in the vertical jump and 10-yard sprint. If you have two or three guys who can vert 38 inches, you’re doing good. We have at least six or seven and several more who are close. Our best big guys are in the 33 range. That’s very, very good. Again, not all of them are there, but we’re definitely improving. The same with the 10-yard dash. Last year Donte was the only one under 1.55 seconds. This year we have six and that doesn’t include Kailo Moore, probably the fastest player on the team in the 30 or 40, but his first step technique needs work to hit the 1.55 in the 10,” Jackson closed. “Again, we aren’t where we want to be yet, but we made big strides this summer, as a team and with a lot of individuals.”
Footnote: The weight room, as part of the IPF renovation/expansion, will be expanded by 15 feet, or nearly 2,000 square feet. That construction is currently going on. There will also be new lift racks and a new floor put down throughout. The good news? White Construction Company, that is doing the renovation, has worked things out so Jackson and company will be able to use the existing weight room until the end of the season without having to manufacture a makeshift weight room somewhere else.
— Chuck Rounsaville, Publisher OMSpirit.com