The theme was mainly about building on the momentum from the recently completed 7-6 season that included a bowl win against the Pittsburgh Panthers. And also developing talent and depth throughout the roster.
“I’m real excited about the work ethic that’s been put in leading up to spring football," said Freeze, who just more than two months ago on Jan. 5 was coaching the Rebels in the bowl game in Birmingham. “It’s obvious to you guys what I feel about Paul Jackson and his staff and the job they do with our kids. We're anxious to be getting on the field for year two. We'll enjoy some time off next week for spring break with our families, and we’ll kick off our spring practices March 17.”
Freeze said the goals are pretty basic for the spring.
“Offensively to be able to run our tempo at a higher percentage of the time,” he said. “With us not losing many kids from that side of the ball, you expect us to retain a good bit from when we finished the year. We can’t come together as a team (prior to spring practice), but in their individual techniques, we’ve been able to rehash some of that. So I expect from day one for us to be comfortable with our tempo there.
“Continue to improve the offensive line. We lost A.J. (Hawkins), who was our leader up there. We’ve got to do some shuffling there and find the right combinations, and I know Coach (Matt) Luke will do that. All our receivers are back. At running back we’ve added some depth.”
There are some challenges on offense this spring, Freeze said.
“The place on offense we have to slow down with all new bodies are H-Back and tight ends. It’s all new bodies there. Coach (Maurice) Harris will have a great challenge there in the spring. That's the hardest position in our stuff anyway, because they have to know more things and more alignments than anybody else.”
The other side of the ball provides some similar challenges.
“Defensively we have to get better at the corner position and develop more depth,” Freeze said. “I think our team defense improved as the year went on, and I thought we played our best at the end of the year in the Egg Bowl and the bowl game. This is an important spring for people like Channing Ward to get in position and be ready for Vanderbilt to open the season that Thursday night.
“And we feel good about special teams and that we redshirted two veterans. We should be in good shape with those two guys (PK Andrew Ritter and P Tyler Campbell).”
Freeze said there are some things being implemented to prevent overconfidence from a group of players that experienced some success last year for the first time.
“I’ll be the first to warn that the little success we’ve had can also be an enemy. You could start to think you might not have to go as hard on certain plays or do this as well. So we have to be on our guard against that. We have to have the same type hunger we had to quit being known as the team that was an automatic win on your schedule for a couple of years. So we’ll guard against that.”
Other comments from Freeze:
On quarterback Bo Wallace’s recovery from surgery: “He got a great report yesterday from the doctor. Feel like everything is progressing nicely. He'll lift and run after spring break. But he won't go through spring drills as far as throwing, and I hate that for him. He sure could have used it. But it gives us a chance with Barry (Brunetti) and Maikhail (Miller). They’re both talented kids. It will be very valuable to them to get a lot of reps this spring.”
On leadership development: “D.T. Shackelford has always been a leader. Denzel Nkemdiche leads in a lot of good ways. Mike Marry is a leader, and people follow him. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but no doubt he’s a leader. Emmanuel McCray has done well, along with Donte (Moncrief) offensively. Couldn’t be more pleased with Jeff Scott and the way he’s gone about his business. These young kids continue to do things right, and I have yet to be disappointed in that first class we signed. They just do it the right way all the time. Real proud of that class and what they’re doing.”
On Nick Brassell: “I have to be limited on what I talk about in that regard. But he’s certainly trying to do it a different way than he’s used to. But I’ve said from the get-go, he has a long way to go. I hope everybody understands that. Our academic support system is working hard with him, and he’s putting forth more effort than ever before. But he still has a long way to go to gain eligibility.”
On other candidates for a breakout spring, in addition to Channing Ward: “I’d say Cody Core, Philander Moore, Korvic Neat, Carlos Thompson. We played a lot of young ones last year. D.T. (Shackelford), Temario (Strong). Those are some that jumped in my head.”