Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu talks about the upcoming 2018 season at SEC Media Days.
Hugh Kellenberger, Clarion Ledger
OXFORD — “I don’t know if ya’ll heard him speak at SEC Media Day,” Matt Luke said of defensive tackle Josiah Coatney Thursday, “… he’s a guy, when he says something, the guys in the locker room listen.”
Coatney was one of three players Luke chose to bring with him to the nationally televised Southeastern Conference event last month. There, Coatney also addressed the topic of leadership. He said he and Luke have talked about developing leadership as one Coatney’s main goals this season, and how strong leadership can be the difference between a tough loss and a win.
“Change the record, change the season, change the team,” Coatney said. “[Leadership is] something people really overlook nowadays. And they just think all the plays, all these other things, and all the other intangibles are going to get you the win. But leadership is the number one thing we’re working on this season, and it’s definitely something I want to work on myself.”
Ole Miss’ defensive line, specifically, lost two leaders when defensive ends Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks were snatched up in the 2018 NFL Draft. So far, it looks like the job of filling in for them on the field will fall to senior Victor Evans and either freshman Ryder Anderson or junior Qaadir Sheppard. As for their leadership roles, returning starting tackles Coatney and Benito Jones began shouldering more of that type of responsibility at the end of last season.
Defensive line coach Freddie Roach said he believes all of the returners “have the opportunity to lead this team.”
“Now they understand the standard,” he said, “that it’s not about what somebody puts on Twitter, it’s not about what someone says about you.”
It’s the opinions of their teammates that matter.
Of the returning defensive linemen, however, Coatney and Jones are the two that have the experience of taking the field every Saturday last year to draw on.
“Marquis and Breeland, they play hard on the field and also led by great example in the building,” Jones said. “And I think me and Josiah, we did a great job by leading by example, around the facilities and on the field. But we’ll really know by the end of camp who we have to replace those guys. They were a big part of our defense.”
Haynes and Speaks combined for 115 tackles and 14.5 sacks last season.
Ole Miss defensive line preview: Will Evans and Anderson maintain lead in DE battle?
Ole Miss’ defense struggled especially when it came to stopping the run, but Roach pointed to the final four games of last season as proof the Rebels were showing signs of improvement. In those games, opponents averaged 215 rushing yards per game, as opposed to the 260.5 rushing yards teams averaged against Ole Miss the rest of the season. Coatney and Jones were important contributors to that progress.
When asked about team leadership, Coatney’s was the first name Luke brought up, saying he, “at the end of the year really came into his own as a leader.”
When asked his thoughts on Jones, Roach said something similar: “He did some good things at the end of the year I thought to take steps forward, and I think he’s picked up his leadership.”
Four days into fall camp, they haven’t yet had the chance to directly impact the results of any games. But their efforts over the next four weeks can still change the record, change the season, change the team.