OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) – The Ole Miss football team reported for fall camp Thursday, marking the official start to the 2019 season.
The Rebels met with the media to preview this year. Additionally, head coach Matt Luke addressed the media in advance of fall camp.
The transcript for Luke's press conference can be found below.
“I appreciate everybody being here today and hope everyone had a good summer. All of our players reported back today. There’s a lot of excitement in this building and excitement to get started. We spoke a lot about it at SEC Media Days, but the ability to go back to 85 scholarships; the opportunity to compete to go to a bowl game in the postseason. What we’ve done with our staff in the offseason and how hard the guys have worked all summer … You can feel the energy in the building and the looks on the kid’s faces. There’s a lot of youth in here and there’s going to be a lot of competition. We’re really excited for this month of August to really build and mold this team. We’re ready to get started.”
On building confidence during fall camp:
“It will be big just from the experience standpoint, but I think it starts with us building an unselfish team; trying to be mentally and physically tough and being in great shape. That’s huge and is very important. Being in great shape and being a disciplined football team. We’re young and somewhat inexperienced, especially on offense, so I think that will be very important.
“Alex (Givens) had a lower back injury in late June. We looked at a bunch of different options and we went ahead and had the surgery. That was the quickest way to get him back. We are still hopeful he can play against Memphis. He’ll be limited some through camp but then we’ll be able to start running and getting him back the week of the game. As far as Darius (Thomas) goes, he has a heart condition. We’re going to reevaluate him in September, but he’ll be here among the 110 and we’re hopeful he’ll be able to play towards the end of the season. Alex Faniel has had a stomach issue over the last week and will be limited to start. Luke Knox has a hamstring problem, so he’ll be a little limited early on and then (Montrell) Custis just coming back from his knee injury, he’s not one hundred percent yet, but he’ll be out there, just mentally he’s got to turn the corner. I think by week two he’ll be full go. Jaylon Jones is fine.”
On who might step up to fill the offensive tackle position:
“It’s going to start with Bryce Matthews and Michael Howard. I’m very pleased with Michael’s summer. He put on twenty pounds, looks great, and he’s right in that 285 range, so we’re excited about that. You always have Royce (Newman). If a guard steps up, he’ll have the ability to move out. We have two young freshmen (Nick Broeker and Jeremy James) who I’m really excited about. You reserve judgment until out there in practice, but with how the numbers are and us signing so many young players, some of those guys will have to step in and provide depth. Nick has kind of separated himself with the conditioning stuff and his mentality, but Jeremy is a very talented kid who can play out there. Royce is the wild card. If we have another guard step up, he can always move out to tackle. Bryce (Matthews) and Michael (Howard) have been around, even though they haven’t played a ton they’ve been around a bunch, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
On how you get the young freshmen lineman physically ready to play SEC football:
“It’s tough. It’s probably the hardest position because of the guys we’re playing against, but also how much stuff happens in front of you very quickly. I think both of those young men (Broeker and James) are very smart and they can handle it. It’s just going out there, doing it, and building that confidence.”
On the opener just being 30 days away:
“I’m excited. I’m thrilled. We have all these young guys, but we have bodies. It’ll be the first time being back at that 85 scholarship number. There’s going to be competition at every single position and that’s why those young guys came here; for that opportunity to play. We’ve had some success with guys playing as freshman, Laremy (Tunsil), Greg (Little) and Javon (Patterson) all played as freshman before. I think we can get those guys ready, it is a challenge especially in this league though.”
On gaining confidence in camp defensively:
“It’s important. They experienced some of that success in the spring and you started to see that confidence build, not only in themselves, but with Coach MacIntyre and what he brings to the table. I think it all works together and that’s what this month is for, to build that cohesive unit as a team. I did see that confidence start to build in the spring and into the summer, and I think it will continue to build.”
On having a quarterback room with all freshmen:
“Rich (Rodriguez) will tell you that they don’t have any bad habits. I think Matt (Corral) playing in those four games will be a big help. It’s a challenge, but they’ll all be competing against each other and Rich has done a good job in the past of getting those guys ready to play. I’m excited to see it when we put on the pads.”
On the leaders for this year’s team:
“When we made Austrian (Robinson) the Chucky Mullins Award winner, that made a statement. He is that blue collar, hard-nosed guy. When he stands up and talks, people listen. Matt Corral got thrown into that role because of his position, him stepping in there. You’ve seen him take that role over the summer. Alex Givens has been there. He’s been in the wars and he’s a leader for us.”
On position where it’ll be the tightest this fall in camp:
“The young spots; particularly the offensive line and wide receivers ... Guys are hungry and they want to come in and prove themselves. I’m excited to see the competition with those two battles.”
On the running back depth this year:
“This time last year, I used the word cautiously optimistic for Scottie (Phillips). You saw what he could do in the spring and you saw it during the season. Isaiah (Woullard) has really stepped up and you’ve got young kids in there, Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy, who can do so many things with their speed. We’ll have to find a way to get those guys on the field. There’s going to be a lot of different ways we can use those guys that will present issues to defenses.”
On Tylan Knight’s position:
“He can do a lot of different things. He can play running back, but he can also go out there and play receiver. We were able to utilize him some in the spring game especially. He’s a football player and was the 6A Player of the Year in Mississippi. He was the MVP of the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game. He’ll continue to have a role and he’s got that competitive spirit that you’d like to see.”
On similarities between Ken Webster’s recovery to Jaylon Jones this year:
“It’s hard because every individual is different, like with (Montrell) Custis and Jaylon (Jones) you see that right now. You see Jaylon has worked really hard, great kid and is really intelligent. We’re excited to see him. Physically, he’s healthy. Just mentally, he’s got to get over that hump, making his first cut, defending his first deep ball, changes his direction at full speed for the first time. He’ll progress through fall camp.”
On the safety spots:
“There’s going to be a lot of competition there. I was very pleased with what I saw out of Jon Haynes coming in new from junior college. He’s physical and has what it takes. I really like the edition of moving Jalen Julius back there. A lot of teams are playing 11 personnel and running the slots on fades. That’s a tough matchup with a big safety and he can cover there. C.J. Miller, Vernon Dasher and Custis; they’ll all be battling it out.”
On matchup with Memphis’ high-powered offense:
“It’s a big game for us, especially with all the young players we have going into it. Memphis is a great football team. It’ll be a challenge. They give you a lot of different formations, a lot of different looks to try and get you out of gaps. We’ll have to be sound.”
On the play of freshmen on the defensive side with all the JUCO players:
“You always want to reserve your opinions with the freshman until we put on the pads. I think Sam Williams and Jon Haynes both showed flashes in the spring, and I’m interested to see what Lakia (Henry) can do once he gets out there. When you sign a JUCO player, you’re expecting him to come in there and contribute.”