OXFORD, Miss. -- There were a lot of changes in and around Ole Miss' football program this spring.
New coach Hugh Freeze was brought in, and with him came a slew of new assistants and schemes. Some have been easier to deal with than others.
For rising junior linebacker Mike Marry, he welcomed all of that change with open arms. It wasn't always easy, but as Marry, who led Ole Miss with 81 tackles, embarks on the offseason he does so with a better outlook on his team, especially the defense.
The Rebels ranked last in the SEC in total defense last year, but Marry said he's excited about this group because of the multiple formations new defensive coordinator Dave Wommack is running. Marry said it'll make Ole Miss' defense tougher to figure out and it allows players to play with more freedom and have more fun on the field.
Marry took time away from hitting the weights to speak with ESPN.com about the spring and changing the culture at Ole Miss.
Edward Aschoff: With a new defensive coordinator and some new coaches in, how did the defense respond and where is it now compared to where it was at the beginning of the spring?
Mike Marry: I feel like at the beginning it was hard for some of us to pick up the schemes and we were playing kind of slow. As practice went on, we had more and more meetings and things started progressing. We started flying around as a D and started connecting and being able to help each other and that's what made things easier and practice more fun.
What was difficult about the new schemes at first?
We're doing a lot of different things and you're never in the same spot. Even if you're running the same play you never line up in the same spot and it was kind of difficult for some of us to move around and do our responsibilities. Once we started picking that up, things became a lot easier.
How much does that help you as a defender when you have to move around so much and play in a lot of different formations?
It helps you a lot because the offense can never predict what defense you're in by where you line up because we line up in all kinds of places and run the same defense. They'll just never know.
For you, what's different? Where are you now compared to where you were last year after stepping into a pretty big role before the season?
As I get older, I have more responsibility to help the younger guys. Last year, I had people over me that were already here and they were able to help me. Now, I'm kind of one of the oldest ones on the team, even though I'm about to be junior. I have to help these younger guys come along.
What have you done to make sure that you step up and lead those younger guys?
We do extra drills after practice or we watch film without the coaches. We just go in and watch film because some players find it easier to talk to older players rather than the coach. If they have a question they'll ask me and if I don't know it I'll ask the coaches and get back to them.
What did you try to improve in your individual game this spring?
Running to the ball. That's one of the main things coach [Freeze] said I needed to improve on from last year. On deep passes, I need to chase the ball even if I can't get there. You never know what's going to happen. If I run to the ball I might get a lucky play and get a fumble or something like that.
Is that something that has been missing on this defense?
I feel like we were missing that last year. There would be a couple games where teams would get a big play you could see the offense and the defense put their heads down and we weren't trying as hard anymore and that's what lost us a lot of games. Even the games that we started off winning, once they got a big play, we put our heads down and ended up letting them come back instead of fighting. Bad plays are going to happen every game. You can't just dwell on that. You have to keep moving for the next play.
Was something that you wanted to make clear to your teammates this spring that they have to keep going no matter the score this time?
Yes, sir. Like I said, we lost a lot of games because of that last year. One thing we have to do is we have to prove to the fans that we're not going to give up because when I first got here we went and won back-to-back Cotton Bowls and I feel like we've been letting down the fans because they put in a lot of time and effort into us, too. We have to play for ourselves and our families and the fans as well.
When you look at the team that you came in to and then you look at the 14 straight SEC losses, what do you think immediately about when it comes where this team was to where it is now in such a short amount of time?
We have a long way to go, but I feel like we have the weapons to get back to where we were, if not better. When I got here, there were a handful of players that dominated and were difference makers. I feel like we have a lot more difference makers now. Even though they're young, they play hard. That's going to get us back to where we were.