Here’s what you need to know from Friday’s press conferences.
Freeze hired Phil Longo to patch up his offense, not rebuild it.
If we’re being real, I initially disliked this hire. But the more I read about Longo’s offensive approach, the more I like the fit. His spread hurry-up meshes well with Freeze’s existing system, and the strengths of his Sam Houston State teams overlap with Ole Miss’ most glaring weaknesses.
“There were three critical areas that I really felt like we needed to improve on to take it to the next level: third-down efficiency, red zone scoring touchdowns and rushing the football in the structure of how we play in our tempo offense. As I searched through the candidates, it was very clear to me the one that had the best understanding that fit with us, was Phil Longo... If you look at what he’s done, really over his whole career, but over the last three years, it has been pretty phenomenal, when you look at 80 percent scoring in the red zone, close to 70 percent third-down efficiency and being balanced in rushing the football.”
I’ll be writing more next week about how Longo’s system fits at Ole Miss, but for now, check out this post for more info on some of his key offensive philosophies.
Longo is going to call plays for the offense.
Freeze has long been hesitant to relinquish play-calling duties—even after giving Dan Werner and co-coordinator Matt Luke more control after the 2015 Memphis debacle, Freeze continued making about 20 percent of the calls.
That’s apparently going to change. Freeze claimed on Friday that “it’ll be [Longo’s] offense to call,” though Freeze noted he’ll continue to “work closely on the plan.” Freeze is one of the best offensive architects in the country, but his play calling in critical situations has long been suspect. Handing off those duties to Longo while retaining a major role in the construction of game plans sounds like a good arrangement... provided Freeze can keep himself from meddling once the games start.
Wesley McGriff will install a 4-3 base defense.
“We’re going to run the defense that stops every offense that’s playing football in America,” McGriff said on Friday. “We’ll run a 4-3 attacking defense.”
That differs from the 4-2-5 deployed by Dave Wommack over the past five seasons. The 4-2-5 is an athletic, flexible scheme well-suited for stopping spread attacks, but it often seemed flimsy against the likes of power offenses like Bama, Auburn, LSU and Arkansas. Given the fact that five of the seven teams in the SEC West have downhill running capability, McGriff’s sturdier 4-3 might be a better fit.
Still, McGriff said his defense will also be determined by “the guys in the building,” suggesting he’ll remain flexible with his scheme. I’d expect him to be pretty multiple in terms of configurations, so don’t be surprised to see a decent dose of 4-2-5 against teams like A&M.
The most immediate problem with the shift to a 4-3 is that McGriff will have to scrounge up some linebackers to man it. Ole Miss couldn’t couldn’t put two competent backers on the field together in 2016, so adding a third could be problematic.
McGriff is going to coach Auburn through its bowl game.
The fact that McGriff won’t be in Oxford until after the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl is concerning on first blush considering that he was hired in large part for his recruiting acumen. But keep in mind that we’re in a recruiting dead period that runs through Jan. 11. Freeze said McGriff will be on campus the day after the Sugar Bowl, giving him time to prep before hitting the road with the rest of the coaches on Jan. 12.
Yes, Grant Heard is leaving.
It’s been rumored for the last few days that the Rebels’ stud wide receiver coach would be taking a passing game coordinator position at Indiana under former Ole Miss colleague Tom Allen. Freeze stopped short of providing any specifics on Heard’s destination, but did confirm that he won’t be staying in Oxford.
Corey Batoon is being reassigned to “an off-the-field position.”
Here’s the move Ole Miss fans have been clamoring for. If we’re being frank, Batoon never had any business coaching safeties and special teams. His inability to develop a young safety corps was a major reason the Rebels’ ranked 108th in explosive plays allowed this season.
McGriff has spent the majority of his career as a secondary coach, so he’ll pair with existing cornerbacks coach Jason Jones to handle the DBs. With someone like McGriff—whose coaching experience includes three years with the Saints—tutoring them, Ole Miss’ talented young secondary could take a huge leap in 2017.
Former Rebel and current Steelers corner Senquez Golson called McGriff and Jones “a crazy combination.”
“I don’t know if I would have had success without McGriff,” Golson told RebelGrove.com. “So many things I learned from him I carried over. Then I had two years with coach Jones, and we meshed so well by year two. Jones is a quieter version and smooth. Man, they are going to be so good working together and communicating with players.”