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August 4, 2012

Ellis Johnson comments from Media Day

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The Southern Miss football team went through its second practice of the fall Saturday with an early morning workout at the Joe P. Park Practice Facility.

The Golden Eagles, which worked out in helmets and shorts, participated in a two-hour plus practice and then held the school's annual media day late in the day, before appearing at the 17th annual Eagle Fanfare at the Lake Terrace Convention.

First-year Golden Eagle coach Ellis Johnson addressed the media Saturday and here is some of his thoughts for the upcoming season:

On today's practice…

"(The defense) made some really good plays. (Cole Weeks and Kyle Sloter) threw most of the interceptions, so there wasn't anything to be concerned about. Defensively, our players are a long way ahead right now, knowing our schemes and knowing what we're doing. Offensively, we put a few wrinkles into the running game and we've put the young quarterbacks into the mix. We're trying to rep five quarterbacks. Frankly, I think that's a little bit of the drag in trying to get to where we want to be. The effort has been good. But I don't think anyone can really tell anything right now with no pads on."

On the quarterbacks…

"Chris (Campbell) has really been exactly what he was in the spring. He seems to be the most consistent in making the right reads. Some of the wrinkles that we put into the running game he has handled very well. He doesn't have the speed that some of the other guys have to turn a good running play into a big running play. But, he has done a good job of reading the option.

"Ricky (Lloyd) has picked up where he left off. The big thing about him is that he does have that athleticism. He can do some of the wrinkles that we put into the running game. His throwing has been better. But he still has some location issues; throwing behind a receiver, getting the ball too high or a late decision in throwing into a crowd. But I've been fairly pleased with him.

"Arsenio (Favor) has obviously not gotten any work since he's been hurt. Cole (Weeks) has gotten a lot less repetitions because of the new guys. He's had to split some of it up with them.

"Anthony (Alford) is by far the best athlete in the bunch. Some of the things that we're doing in the running game are almost second nature to him. It fits him to a tee. He's had some misreads in the throwing game. I think he's probably seen more coverages; seen some zone reads that he has not seen in high school. So he's had some bad mistakes in that area. He's made the most impressive throws. Mechanically he is sound and has a lot of zip on the ball. But he's had a lot of wild pitches also. He's missed some open receivers. He just doesn't have the consistency yet that he's going to have to develop."

"I've been very pleased with Kyle Sloter, especially in the pocket. He's very tall. He's got good throwing mechanics. He's made some late, poor decisions on where to go with the ball. He's definitely a little bit behind the other guys right now. But as we move through the next through days, we're going to have to change the number of repetitions that everyone is getting."


On the defense…

"I think we're athletic. We're very pleased right now on where we are in the ability to make big plays and some of the things that athleticism brings to the table. The physicality in the box that I talk about, it'll be a couple weeks before we have a feel for it. We're probably going to have to play a few ballgames before we know how tough we are. Nebraska is going to give us a severe test. They have a mix of option with a power running game in it. So we're going to have to find out how tough we are in that area. That would be the only thing because we lost some many players on the front seven. But I really like our team speed. I think we'll make some big plays and get some turnovers and do some things that will give us an opportunity to be a good football team. But our offense has not challenged our defense, and has not come close to challenging them right now in the physicality that we're going to be tested by some opponents."


On the conditioning of the team…

"There is some evidence that some players have worked extremely hard. Just some things that you can check that are in black and white. Body weight, some of them had allowed it to get out of hand during the coaching transition and the intermediary where we didn't have a strength coach. You can't lose 100 pounds in one season, but we've had some guys lose 25-35 pounds and really make a good effort to get their body weight down. Some of the things that we're doing differently that the line has done in the past is there's a lot more zone blocking in the running game and pass blocking. And those two things, physically, are closely related in ability. We're pulling lineman more than we were last year. And that has been the biggest thing for these guys to get used to. Not only is there a mental aspect in learning the blocking schemes, but the physical aspect of being able to pull and get across the line of scrimmage fast enough, they just couldn't play at the same body weight because they didn't have the speed to move. But I've been really pleased in what they have done in the offseason to get to that point."


On Joel Ross…

"He would have to be the guy (to be the fourth defensive lineman). Right now, he is the fourth best. He's had some days where he has had really good practices and looked as good as the others. But on a consistency basis, Khyri (Thornton), (Rakeem Nunez-Roches) and Khalid (Wilson) have all been a little bit better than he has. But he had a good offseason. He's one of the guys who took some weight off and did something about his body to make him a better football play. We're hopeful that he can be that fourth guy. We've got some young guys mixing in now. Adam Williams has been moved inside and he has had some good practices before he left spring. But you can't have too many front players. You can't have four; you need to have eight that can play."


On the linebackers…

"Alan's (Howze) strength is coverage. So, right now, he has had two pretty good practices. The concern is his size. He worked hard to get up to 230. Hopefully he can hold that weight during the season. For a kid who had never been a starter before, and you put the quarterbacking of your defense on him, he's been very consistent and I'm very pleased with what he did in the spring. He's got to be one that we can build around. He's got to be a cornerstone.

"Terrick Wright and (Dylan) Reda are still having a good battle on the other side and it's making each other better. Neither one can have a bad day and not lose that position.

"Ta'Dren Kennedy is now the fourth guy. We're anxious to see what (Lelland) Ducksworth can do once we get into pads. We've got a couple other guys who may jump into the mix. But we are not deep at linebacker and we're certainly not experienced. We lost two senior starters. So it's going to be a position that we're going to have to work through in preseason."


On DB Deron Wilson…

"He's a guy who loves the game. He loves to do the things he has to do to make himself better physically and mentally. They can't all be the same. I wish some of the others had the desire to learn and his enthusiasm about the game, the way he prepares himself physically and the pride he takes in every area of getting better, and it shows up on the field. He's not the most talented we have back there. If you put the watch on him and worked him through some drills, if you didn't know who he was he wouldn't jump out at you. But he studies the game and he knows what's going on. He looks quicker than some of the other guys because he sees things that they don't see."


On the outlook for this season…

"I'm not a big goals guy. I don't believe in putting a list of goals that our football team has to reach. Like Coach (Steve) Spurrier always said, 'If you're going to play in a conference, the first thing you're supposed to do is win the conference.' And that's what we need to be worried about. We need to win Conference USA and we need to go to bowl games. If we can do that on a consistent basis then we're successful. We can be successful without achieving those, but that's what we need to shoot for."


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