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Quarterback Competition Begins in Earnest

Ole Miss began spring practice Tuesday, and for the first time under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels will have a starting quarterback not named Bo Wallace. With the graduation of Wallace, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, as well as junior college transfer Chad Kelly, will split equal reps this spring.

"We're going to be very thorough in our evaluations by charting every single drill that they do," Freeze said. "We'll look at stats from those. It's going to a very competition three-man deal. They will be in a constant rotation, and everyone will get equal reps with the 1's and the 2's. The main thing you want to see is who can handle hard coaching and who can understand what we're trying to get accomplished with what we have called and then being able to execute and take care of the ball, which is always a priority."

It's the first true quarterback competition in Oxford since the 2012 season, when Wallace beat out Barry Brunetti for the starting job. In that case, Freeze did not name Wallace his starting quarterback until two days before the Rebels' season opener against Central Arkansas, and it may a similar case this season between Buchanan, Kelly and Kincade.

"It would probably have to be so clear-cut for me to do that this spring, knowing the personalities of who I'm dealing with and the time between now and fall," said Freeze of naming a starting quarterback in the spring. "A lot of dynamics play into that. It's probably not going to be a clear-cut decision at the end of spring and will continue through summer workouts. It's time for that room to be the leaders of this team. With that, comes some responsibility, and we have them to understand that throughout summer workouts."

Changes on Defense

Freeze had already announced one position change during his National Signing Day press conference. That change was moving Jeremy Liggins to offensive tackle, although he will likely continue to play some tight end and "Wildcat" quarterback. But there are also changes on the other side of the ball.

The changes on the defensive side are familiar, but they are notable. Freeze announced that senior Mike Hilton, who has started a game at every defensive backfield position, will start the spring at one of the safety positions, as they try to find the best rotation in the defensive backfield.

"We think we he have a lot options (in the secondary)," Freeze said. "We're going to start Tony (Bridges) and Tee (Shepard) at cornerback and start Mike Hilton at one of the safety positions, knowing that he's played them all and can do that. If we think there's a better rotation, we won't hesitate to move them around"

Freeze also said that senior C.J. Johnson will get a look at Mike linebacker, a position that Freeze called their biggest question mark right now. Johnson was originally recruited as a linebacker and began his Ole Miss career at the position, and he will join senior Christian Russell and junior Temario Strong in looking to replace Deterrian Shackelford and Keith Lewis.

"We are going to see this spring," said Freeze of Johnson playing Mike linebacker. "I don't know (how he will perform), it is hard to say. I know he can run and tackle. I know he is smart and really understands the defense. It is a different role, playing there. But that's where we are going to put him and see how it goes this spring. We can always move him back down to the defensive line. We are going to see how he performs this spring."

D. Nkemdiche, Treadwell Return from Injury

The Rebels will be without a trio of offensive linemen in junior Laremy Tunsil and senior Aaron Morris, two returning starters, as well as sophomore Daronte Bouldin, but the Rebels will welcome back a talented trio of players in junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and junior cornerback Tee Shepard.

"I expect Denzel and Quon, both, to be back," Freeze said. "Denzel, right away. Quon, after spring break. He will do some things but not a lot this week. Robert Conyers will go after spring break also. The others, Daronte (Bouldin), Aaron (Morris), and Laremy, will not participate in spring practice. Tee will be full-go. Carlos Davis, we'll see where is after spring break."

With the injuries along the offensive line, it is a great opportunity for freshman offensive lineman Javon Patterson, an early enrollee, who was rated a five-star prospect and listed as the No. 1 offensive guard in the nation by 247Sports.com.

"I told him yesterday that we he will get all the reps he wants, and then some," Freeze said. "It's going be good for him. He's going to get plenty of reps. i'm really excited about him. He's exactly the type of student-athlete you want. He's a great kid, first, and he's going to be an outstanding player. Getting him enrolled early and getting an extra spring with him will be big for him. He will get plenty of reps to get looked at this spring."

Dealing With Injuries Ahead Of No. 6 LSU

Head coach Hugh Freeze meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

After going through a "laundry list" on injuries in Monday's weekly press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze had some good news on Wednesday with the possible return of defensive tackle Issac Gross and linebacker Temario Strong.

"It looks like we might get Issac (Gross) and Temario (Strong) back," said Freeze after practice on Wednesday. "Temario surprised us today and was moving around quite a bit better than what they expected. We might get him back. Those are the only two I expect at this point to get back."

Ole Miss was hit particularly hard on the defensive side of the ball, where it is expected to be without starting defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson, as well as starting cornerback Mike Hilton and backup defensive end Carlos Thompson.

"We ain't got but so many," said Freeze Tuesday of defensive line. "We're going to play four down linemen. I really don't know who is playing exactly where right now."

Bryon Bennett, listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle with Carlton Martin, also got some reps at defensive end in practice this week, opposite senior defensive end Cameron Whigham.

"It was fun," said Bennett of defensive end, where he also started against Texas A&M last week. "I played a little in high school, but there's still a lot to get used with adjustments and stuff... There's more reading. It's more fun going against the tackle.

"It's a next-man-up attitude. Everybody is excited for the game and wants this win. We're trying to stay fresh, stay healthy and be ready for the game." 

Defensive lineman Bryon Bennett meets with members of the media following Tuesday's practice.

Starting running back and leading rusher Jeff Scott was held out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and Freeze said Wednesday that he doesn't expect him to play on Saturday. The running back position would then fall on I'Tavius Mathers (22 carries, 137 yards for the season) and Jaylen Walton (34 carries, 129 yards).

"I feel good," said Freeze Wednesday of Mathers and Walton. "Both of them have proven they're ready to have that responsibility that comes their way. I have been pleased with their performance and think we'll be fine there."

"I feel like we can pick it up," said Mathers Wednesday. "We always have to be ready. I just have to play my role."

The injuries have also affected the special teams units, such as punt return, where Freeze said Wednesday that wide receiver Korvic Neat would return punts in Scott's absence, with Trae Elston as his backup. 

Cornerback Carlos Davis, who Freeze called "a great cover guy," will be back this week, and the possible return of Strong will also help the special teams units, but Freeze said Tuesday it did take a hit this week, and they're going to have to call on guys to play even more snaps because of injuries.

The injuries may also affect tempo, as Freeze said the Rebels will likely use a similar strategy to last week against Texas A&M.

"We managed the first half not going tempo to try to limit the opportunities that Texas A&M had and get to halftime in the game, and it worked," said Freeze Tuesday. "We were probably more patient than we would be, but it worked, and it gave us a chance at the end. We will probably manage the tempo similarly this week."

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack meets with members of the media following Tuesday's practice.

Offensive line coach Matt Luke meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Wallace On Decision-Making, Tempo

Last season, junior quarterback Bo Wallace led the nation by throwing an interception once every 22 passing attempts. Through three games and 87 attempts this season, Wallace has yet to throw an interception, which is tied for the third-most attempts without an interception in the nation.

"I want to keep that going as long as possible," Wallace said of his interception-free streak. "You have freak plays during the game. Those are going to come, but I can't make foolish interceptions like I did last game."

Wallace credits not only his health from undergoing clavicle surgery in January and regaining his arm strength the last week or so, but also his early struggles during fall camp.

"Coach Freeze and Coach Werner being in there with helping me with it," Wallace said. "During fall camp, I had that mindset change where I was struggling at the start, so I think that struggle kind of helped me with the way I'm playing right now."

Despite resting for much of the second game against Southeast Missouri, Wallace ranks 9th in the league in passing (216.0 ypg), 6th in total offense (256.0 ypg) and tied for 3rd in points responsible for (44), and the team also ranks 4th in total offense (490.0 ypg).

"I look at the differences in Bo's and LSU's guy (Zach Mettenberger)," Freeze said of SEC quarterbacks. "Those guys have elevated their game to join guys like (A.J.) McCarron, (Johnny) Manziel and the other ones that were already really good. 

"We're putting so much emphasis on quarterback play, functioning and taking care of the ball in the system in which we're asked to run. I know how hard we worked at it, and I'm sure others have done the same. It seems to be that it's been raised to another level."

"When we get up-tempo, as long as we're executing, it's hard to stop, especially if we get rolling on first down and stay on schedule," Wallace said. "People say defenses are going to catch up to it and things like that. Well, we're just going to get better at it. We know we're not where we need to be right now, and we're just going to keep getter better at it, so hopefully they don't catch up to it. 

In that same vein, as Freeze said Monday, the game has changed, whether we like it or not. 

You look at total offense, where Ole Miss averages 490.0 yards per game on offense, and it ranks 4th in the SEC, but just 33rd in the nation. And defensively, where the Rebels allow 332.7 yards per game, and it also ranks 4th in the SEC and 35th in the nation.

"These offenses are making you defend from sideline to sideline, all 53 yards, on every play, whether it's an inside run play or not, and then you add the tempo and rule changes, the defense can only do certain things," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It definitely has been advantageous for the offense, and the stats prove that. It's hard to totally stop the offenses you are seeing now. 

"The high schools are doing it more and more, and the kids are so athletic, and now they are coming up in these systems. It's hard to defend the 53-yard field that we have when you use it on every play. That's why I love what we do, and it gives us a lot of options."

Different Mentality For Scott

Senior running back Jeff Scott set career highs with 243 all-purpose yards, including 164 yards on 19 carries, to go along with a thrilling 73-yard punt return for a touchdown and was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

For the season, Scott ranks among the conference leaders in rushing (6th/110.0 ypg), yards from scrimmage (7th/122.0 ypg) and all-purpose yards (5th/151.7 ypg). 

"Coach Freeze, he's been on us, and I had to get my priorities right," Scott said. "My junior and senior year, I knew my talent was being limited here. I wanted to be a great player overall, and I wanted people to like me for what I did on the field and off the field. This is my senior year, and this is it for me. I wanted to go out on top.

Schematically, a large part of Scott's success has been the read-option with quarterback Bo Wallace, who has noticed a different mentality this year from Scott.

"Last year, the first thing he's going for is the sideline, and he's going to jump out of bounds," Wallace said. "This year, you're seeing his toughness and him wanting to make big plays. He's become a great blocker for us, and he's becoming a really smart football player."

Making Special Teams Special

Special teams helped turn the tide in Saturday's win over Texas, from senior Andrew Ritter's career-long 52-yard field as time expired in the first half to cut the lead to 23-17, to Scott's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, which extended the Rebels' lead to 37-23.

In Monday's press conference, Freeze also noted the blocking on that punt return from Scott, particularly redshirt freshman linebacker Temario Strong.

"There were several key blocks on (Jeff Scott's) punt return," Freeze said. Bobby Hill made a good one, which looked like it could be bad at the time, but watching it, it was definitely in the side and not in the back.

"Then, Temario Strong finished a guy off as good as you will ever see. Temario had a phenomenal game on special teams. He was physical and full speed and did a great job. I'm really glad to see him take that next step. We've been pushing him to do that" 

Led by Scott, Ole Miss leads the SEC and ranks third in the nation in punt return average (29.7 yards per return). The Rebels are also one of just two SEC teams, along with Alabama, and one of 14 teams in the nation with a punt return for a touchdown. Ole Miss also ranks second in the SEC and 25th in the nation in opponents' punt return average (3.75 yards per return).


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Recent Comments

    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

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