Coach Costantini is no stranger to coaching in Conference USA. The UTEP
alum has also coached there, with UCF
, and most recently at UAB
. He began his career as strength and conditioning coordinator before moving on to defensive line coach. He has some great experience, including time under new USM defensive coordinator Tommy West.
One thing is for sure, he is happy to be in Hattiesburg.
"The transition has been great, and this is just a great place," he said in an interview with GoldenEaglePride.com after Monday's practice.
"The people here in town have been so good to us and it has just been a very smooth transition. I am so excited to come into a program that has a good winning tradition and we look forward to keeping that going."
This staff has hit the ground running, and one of the main goals at this point is to learn the players and begin to implement the style of play they want to see run. Fortunately, with the experience they have, their goals are clear for spring practice.
"Mainly discipline on how we play is what we are focusing on," he said. "We have to be disciplined in our technique, and our eyes, and our keys. We have a lot of athletic defensive linemen and I think we have a real good group. The biggest thing is to get these guys disciplined and focused on what they have to do to continue to get better.
"We need to be able to react quicker. Right now that is where we are lacking; we are making mistakes because we are not reading our keys. Our system is set up to play fast and we have to get to where we can read our keys and not think about it so much because we want to come out and hit you in the mouth. So that is my challenge, getting them to where they are reading with their eyes and hitting their keys."
"I have a really talented group and I think these guys can really be special."
Coach "Zo" inherits a defensive line that has lost some key contributors to graduation. Cordarro Law was a team leader and dominant lineman. He, along with Terrance Pope and Deddrick Jones are moving on. One candidate to fill those holes is Khyri Thornton.
"Khyri has been doing fine though he is a little bit off some at times as far as technique, but he is going to be a good football player," Coach added. "Two that have really looked good for us is Khalid Wilson and Rakeem Nunez who is looking really, really good. I'll be honest with you; I think we'll have a two deep group that is going to be talented.
"Khyri should be able to lead the group but right now he is a little bit behind fundamentally, but there should be no problem getting him up to speed."
Newcomers Nic Bekkers and Michael Brinson are two who hope to add some depth to the line. Are they guys who can contribute right away?
"That is going to be all on them," he said. "In this last scrimmage they didn't have as much as I thought I would. But, the good news is that I am seeing improvement every day. Today at practice I saw improvement from these guys. I can't tell you if they are going to be in the rotation yet, but I can tell you if they keep improving they will contribute for us.,p>
"You know Brinson is young and he had shoulder surgery so he is a little behind right now. Bekkers understands the defense real well and he just needs more reps which he is getting here. I'm really glad he is able to get his opportunity because he is showing us what he can do."
One area where there are no question marks is along the defensive line. In senior Jamie Collins, junior Octavious Thomas, sophomore Dasman McCallum, and redshirt freshman Michael Smith, the sky is the limit for this group.
"I will tell you this right now that at the defensive end position we are absolutely loaded," he said. "With Collins and Thomas, and Michael Smith who is a freshman who is playing great. The thing is that these guys have to step up because they can be game changers, all of them have a chance to be great, great players in a long line of great defensive ends here at Southern Miss."
The question is how does the coaching staff plan to use these guys in the scheme of things?
"Well you know we are a multiple front defense so we'll be able to put them in space out there, drop them into coverage and blitz them here and there," he said. "We are based out of a 4 man front but we are very multiple. We might during a game just show a three man front so we can do a lot of things.
"They are so athletic that we can use them. We can use them to cover backs or tight ends. It is great having guys that are so versatile because we can do creative things with them. We have unique players at this position and we are going to use them to our advantage."
With Law gone, the unquestioned leader last season along the defensive line, leadership is going to be a key with the new group. Coach said that two guys are emerging who are going to be the leaders.
"If I said one guy that has shown leadership, it is Jamie Collins," he said. "He has shown a lot of poise with his game. He is not just wild, he leads well and really gets the other guys riled up and ready to play. He has some great leadership skills.
"The other guy is Khalid (Wilson). He is a guy who leads by example. He works so hard that the rest of them want to follow along. Our biggest thing is that we want to bring back the true Nasty Bunch. We want these guys flying around and knocking heads. We want them being the physical team that we can be."
Coach Zo has been able to hit the ground running because of he knows the system inside and out having worked under Tommy West at UAB.
"I have worked with Coach West so I know the system that we are running and I am a true believer in it," he said. "We are working with two guys who are defensive masterminds. So, the biggest thing that we are trying to do is get the kids believing in it because it is sound. Our system is sound, and it is easy to teach. If you have this you can start reading keys and getting to the ball. At Southern Miss we are going to play faster than everyone else on defense. We have that capability because we have tremendously fast defensive players here."
"The thing I am looking for is improvement every day. You can't cap that off, but I'd like to see us where we can just get to the point where we are reacting. We want them playing fast, fast, fast. I want to see them by the spring game being to the point where we put in a call and they run it full speed. It has to be a reaction, and that is what we are trying to build. We like to see 11 on the ball, that is one thing we are preaching and we want to see that with every snap."
There were some big losses to graduation along the defensive line last season. The good news for Southern Miss is that there are a lot of talented lineman ready to fill in the gaps. After practice today we talked with Coach Costantini who gave us insight into the defensive line. Who is stepping up? Who is surprising? He also talks about scheme and the goals of the new defensive system.