Any coach will tell you that football is won in the trenches. Even in the age of spread, wide open offenses, a defense without a solid line simply will not be successful. With the great defenses of the late ‘90s came some of the best defensive lineman in the history of the program.
It is no secret the Golden Eagles struggled on defense last season. Injuries and a lack of depth really took a toll, and Conference USA offenses were able to put up some gaudy numbers that USM fans are not used to.
With last season now history, there is renewed optimism in Hattiesburg. For the first time since Coach Fedora's arrival, there is talk of the defense this pre-season. Not surprisingly, it starts up front with an experienced group returning.
GEP.com talked with Defensive Line coach to get his take on his defensive line this season.
If you've seen Coach Adams on the sideline of a Southern Miss game, you know how passionate and energetic he is. He can often be seen bouncing around the sideline, barking out orders, encouraging his defense with a determined look and sometimes a backwards visor.
Even on an off day, he was just as passionate in our conversation.
"Yesterday, everyone loved that movie," he said referring to the surprise trip to the movies at the start of the afternoon practice yesterday. "It might have been the best movie they have ever seen under those circumstances and getting some time off of practice."
Even the coaches were able to enjoy it. "We all went over, the coaches and everyone," he said. "As soon as he said it we all ran to the buses and enjoyed it. It was a good movie and a great break for the kids."
Focusing on the defensive line, there is some good news. All four starters return from a year ago, and Southern Miss fans should be familiar with the starting four. It is likely to be senior Anthony Gray joining three juniors Cordarro Law, Deddrick Jones, and Terrance Pope.
How has this unit come together at the start of camp?
"Right now our biggest deal was to make sure that the guys don't get complacent or comfortable," he said. "We can't get comfortable with any success we had last year. I came in telling them ‘push yourself, push yourself,' and at this time they are a lot further along than last year."
"There is a lot of competition going on this year," he added. "It is really going to come down to the wire on the number of guys we are going to play this year. We have a lot of guys doing some real good things this year.
"I have seen a lot of growth," he said. "I feel like we have really continued to get better at rushing the passer. We have some young kids who didn't play a whole lot last year who have come in and stepped up from the start of camp."
"I feel good about our newcomers, and I tell a lot of people there is a lot of snaps with our guys this year," he continued. "There is just a lot of competition. The guys know that you have to come out to play every day, because there are no positions set in stone."
Though experts have tried to set a depth chart, Coach Adams feels the battle for playing time will be ongoing.
"There is no position safe," he said. "There is no position set in stone. If you are not the guy getting it done, I am going to go on to another guy. If someone is not working and pushing it, then I am going to go on to the next guy because I know we have the talent there this year."
Coach Adams also talked about the leadership on this defensive line that should play a major role in the success of this defense.
"Well I think they are all pushing each other right now," he said. "I really believe seeing Roshaad Byrd coming back and getting his mobility back after his injury is big because he was a big time leader for us last season."
"It is a little different when you are injured," he added, "But now that he is coming back he is a lot more vocal and the guys really respond to him. It has been a good deal of accountability in this group. They push each other, they challenge each other, and they hold each other accountable and that is really good to see."
Coach Adams commented on some of the contributors to the line this season:
Khyri Thornton: "He is a big, physical kid who runs great for a kid his size. Right now, what people don't understand when they look at him, is he looks like a physically mature kid that has been around for three or four years. He is still a baby, he is a redshirt freshman. He makes mistakes throughout camp but he is a physical guy, strong, who can move people and I am so excited about where he is this year. He is two times the player he was this time a year ago. He is definitely going to help us, he is going to help us, and I am excited about seeing him on the field for us."
Octavious Thomas: "He is a great kid who runs very well. The biggest thing I challenged him with when he left was that he just needed to gain weight. Between the spring to now he has picked up about 25-30 pounds, and is up to 225, close to 230 right now. This year I am looking to him to step in and do some really good things for us. There will be some situations where he will be a role player, and he'll come in for certain situations. He has learned the scheme, is getting better at it, and it means something to him. He'll do whatever it takes to get on the football field."
Cordarro Law: "He is really starting to master the position and learning about what he needs to do. The biggest thing is really focusing in on read the lineman for with him. He needs to understand their stance, understand what he can do in certain situations, and he is really getting that. He has worked hard and this is probably the hardest he has worked since I have been here. I am excited about where he is, and he sets high goals for himself and I have a strong feeling he will achieve them."
Anthony Gray: "He is very explosive and is a very strong kid. He squats over 800 pounds and benches over 500 pounds. Those are amazing numbers, but I've told him about Hercules, who has never played the game of football. It is great that he is that strong, but he has to be able to move and run and get to the football. We've really been working on busting it to the football more, and getting him to be able to play more plays. I want to keep him fresh, but at the same time to give me the maximum amount of effort on every play. That is done from a 315lb. kid. He definitely has some competition inside with Khyri Thornton and John Henderson inside. Also, Terrance Pope, he can't take a play off."
How does Coach Adams see his troops matching up with SEC foe South Carolina?
"We are ready to attack, I'll tell you that," he said. "They are big, physical guys, I just finished watching some tape on them. They are 6'6, 6'7, 300 type guys that move really well, are explosive, and come off the ball great."
"They are a bunch of guys that have played two or three years together, so they really understand each other. We are excited to show them about the quality product that Southern Miss puts on the field. We will be ready."
GEP.com continues our in depth fall football coverage today by looking into the defensive line. In this interview, D-Line coach Deke Adams gives insight into the improved play of the defensive line, details of the newcomers who will be providing much needing depth, and a sneak peek at the match up with South Carolina's offensive line.