Ole Miss Football Holds First Spring Practice
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss football officially kicked off spring camp with a two-and-a-half hour practice Tuesday morning inside the Manning Center.
Spring practice will culminate with the annual Grove Bowl, presented by Mississippi HomeCare on Saturday, April 24. Kickoff of the intrasquad scrimmage is set for 4 p.m. CT and will be televised by SEC Network+. Attendance for the Grove Bowl will be announced in the weeks ahead.
Although they played a full season in 2020, Ole Miss did it with no spring practices. As the nation shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19, Kiffin and the Rebels were forced to train on their own. Now eager to get an extra five weeks of practice in the books, there is plenty of excitement around the program and in the locker room as they suited up for their first spring practice in over two years.
“[We’re] excited to get on the field,” Kiffin said. “As you know, we’ve never had a spring before, so it’s a really good opportunity for these guys and all the returners. There’s also a lot of new faces in there too, which is great to have for spring, It’s good to have some energy around the program, and with that comes expectations as a team and as individuals.”
Heading into day one, the message has slightly shifted, but the goals remain the same.
“We’re getting to do a lot of basic fundamental work that they missed [last season],” Kiffin said. “Depth charts are in pencil. We are a lot further away that you in are in August from having to play, so the spring is an opportunity where we end up playing guys in a number of different spots sometimes, especially defensively with different personnel. It just gives us a time to get guys better with the fundamentals of football.”
In what was already an unusual season a year ago, 2021 may prove to be just as interesting. The NCAA granted all athletes an extra year of eligibility, and many of the Rebels are taking advantage of that extra playing time. This, plus a top-20 recruiting class, give Kiffin and Ole Miss a unique opportunity with depth and talent.
“I know we have more bodies at certain positions because almost 90 percent of our roster returned and then we added these mid-years. That should help with, specifically on defense. Not only does it give us depth, but it also should create some competition and make everyone better.”
The defense a year ago struggled at times, but down the stretch, they came together and played with a chip on their shoulder. Ole Miss closed out the season with a big defensive stand in the Outback Bowl.
“It can only get better from here,” said senior linebacker Jacquez Jones. “I feel like we came together in that Indiana game, and now, we know what the defense can actually do. Now it’s time to build on it during the spring, so when the season gets here, we are clicking on all cylinders.”
The Rebels return all but one starter on defense. The foundation is intact, and with the addition of some big junior college defensive line prospects, the Ole Miss defense looks to be a force once again.
“We’ve got a good front that’s taking up gaps and blocks,” Jones said. “It gives [the linebackers] room to free flow. I feel like it’s a linebacker’s dream to have a big front that takes up blocks and lets us shoot the gap, and I feel like that’s what we have now with everyone coming back and the two coming in.”
The standard on defense has been established and leaders on that side of the ball like Jones are stepping up this spring.
THE NEXT STEP
With Heisman hype heading into the 2021 season, quarterback Matt Corral isn’t focused on what people are saying. He knows the parts of his game where he can improve, and he is working to take his play to the next level.
“We know what we have on the offensive side of the ball and we’re just trying to build on that,” Corral said. “We know my mistakes and what to work on. They’re harping on me every day on what to get better at. I’m just trying to take the same leap I made last year into this year.”
With a chance to continue playing under the leadership of Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, it’ll mark the first time there has been continuity in the young quarterback’s college career. This spring, Corral has the chance to continue to develop as a quarterback in Kiffin and Lebby’s system and come out and exceed expectations in 2021.
“Well, it’s not just his first time returning with a system, but it’s also his first time returning with a spring to prepare,” Kiffin said. “I like to think that if we had that last year, he would have been played even better. Now we do know some issues that have popped up having a season of playing with him. So we’re able to work on those, and hopefully he can take the next step. Instead of being an elite college quarterback in seven or eight games, he can do it all the time.”
One area where the Ventura, California, product is looking to take the next step is his leadership ability.
“I felt like I did a good job being a vocal leader last season, but I want to grow on that be that dude,” Corral said. “The person who has the ‘it’ factor when he walks in the room. I want to bring that type of energy to the film room, a team, or the huddle, so my guys know that I got them when I make that play call.”
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