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At one point, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, all three quarterbacks had completed around 66 percent of their passes, a testament to how close the competition has been this spring. Going into the Grove Bowl, Freeze said one had a slight lead, but even that might have changed after the game itself Saturday.

"After one drill I'd like that one, after the next drill I'd like that one," Freeze said. "So, I go back and forth. In the totality of spring, going back before today, I would say that Ryan Buchanan had a lead in my mind. That certainly doesn't mean that he is going to be the starter. After today I will go back and watch the film and put it with our cumulative stats and everything else that we are judging on them. We will see where it is after today. 

"Again, even if we say that he has the lead, it is so minute and so small and so far from being over. That is everything being transparent and that is how I felt today. I might feel differently come Monday. I will watch the film this weekend and we will see." 

Junior quarterback Chad Kelly had the best statistical day of the group, completing 9-of-19 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Sophomore quarterback DeVante Kincade was 9-of-18 for 93 yards and also rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries, while fellow sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan was 5-of-16 for 49 yards with an interception.

"I feel like I really improved since the start of camp," Buchanan said. "Like I have said from the beginning, being behind Bo, you don't get as many of the first-team reps and don't go against the first-team defense. This spring, we had a chance to do that, and gradually I feel like I improved with my decision-making.

"I feel like I have made improvements, but I know for a fact that I can do way better," Kincade said.

Earlier this spring, Freeze said he expected the competition to continue into the middle of fall camp, but if it stays as close as it appears to be right now, it might continue into the season itself.

"If they are as close as they are now, I could see us going a couple games making sure we have done due diligence in naming a starter," Freeze said. "But, I do not want to do it beyond that or even if that. It wouldn't shock me to go into week one planning to give them all reps to look at how they do when the lights come on. We won't go too long like that. I don't mind playing a couple, but you need to have a guy that is your guy when the time comes." 

Revamped Running Game

Ole Miss returns its two leading rushers from last season in senior running back Jaylen Walton (106 carries, 586 yards, five touchdowns) and sophomore running back Jordan Wilkins (52 carries, 361 yards, one touchdown), but the Rebels appear to have made some changes in the ground game.

"We tweaked a few things," Werner said. "We got some ideas from some other teams that run similar offenses and it's been really good for us."

Despite just 10 healthy offensive linemen by the end of the spring, one of the areas where Freeze was most pleased this spring was the running game, and it showed in the Grove Bowl. 

Wilkins led the way with six carries for 62 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard run, but sophomore Eugene Brazley and redshirt freshman Akeem Judd had their moments as well. Walton even threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow on a halfback pass.

"We have a bunch of good backs," Werner said. "They're in a situation where they have so many guys who are really good players that they have to compete. When you get a chance to run the ball, you better make a good run."

Jones, Hampton Among Spring Surprises

Freeze has said they are searching for more consistency at the wide receiver position, but when asked earlier this week who has been the biggest surprise of spring practice, the first name that came to his mind was junior wide receiver Derrick Jones.

Jones credited another year in the program and the confidence of playing on just one of the ball for his breakout spring. In the Grove Bowl, he led the Red team with three catches for 35 yards.

"It gives me a lot of confidence, knowing that I'm going to be in this spot and keep working at one position, and not wondering if I'm going to be a cornerback or a receiver," Jones said.

Sophomore defensive back C.J. Hampton was another name that Freeze mentioned as players who have impressed this spring. After a year learning behind All-American safety Cody Prewitt, Hampton is now competing for playing time at free safety, and he was named the most improved defensive player of the spring.

"Cody was on hard me last year," Hampton said. "He wanted me to learn. He always said I was good enough and that I had to learn it fast. I learned it, and I'm rolling with it now. I still talk to Cody a lot now."

Three and Out: Grove Bowl Edition

Three areas to watch as Ole Miss splits into two teams for the annual Regions Bank Grove Bowl on Saturday.

Can Someone Emerge in the Quarterback Battle?

By all indications, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly have split reps evenly this spring. 

The coaches have charted every throw and every drill, but there does not appear to be any true separation, and head coach Hugh Freeze has said he expects the competition to continue into the middle of fall camp.

Freeze and co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner were both generally pleased with the play of all three quarterbacks in their last scrimmage, but Freeze did say that Buchanan graded out the best of the three.

What does their last opportunity to impress the coaches before summer workouts and fall camp hold? 

As with previous observations of the quarterbacks, there's a caveat: The offense is not yet at full strength, particularly along the offensive line, where the Rebels have just 10 healthy players.

Physical Play on the Outside

More than any other matchup on the field, I found myself watching the wide receivers and tight ends working against the defensive backs. The play is physical, and the players appear to take each play personally.

Perhaps the most physical on the offensive side of the ball, Laquon Treadwell, will not be participating in the Grove Bowl, but Quincy Adeboyejo, Cody Core and Markell Pack have all returned from their respective injuries. Derrick Jones has also been one of the biggest surprises of spring practice and he's another player to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard are long, athletic and physical, and they pride themselves on being able to play on an island by themselves. Kendarius Webster is another long, athletic and physical corner. Like Derrick Jones, C.J. Hampton has been another surprise of spring practice.

It should be fun to watch on Saturday.

Battle in the Trenches

The Ole Miss defensive line was one of the most talented units in the nation last year. This year, the group may be even better with a year of maturity and experience for returnees and the addition of a trio of redshirt freshmen in Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks and junior college transfer D.J Jones.

That being said, one of the areas where Freeze has been most pleased this spring has been in the running game, a credit to an offensive line that continues to deal with injuries and a group of running backs that may have found their stride this spring. Akeem Judd is one name that has popped up a lot this spring.

Junior Jeremy Liggins, who has transitioned to offensive tackle, and redshirt freshman Jordan Sims and freshman Javon Patterson, who have both come a long way this spring, are three players to watch along the offensive line.

By splitting into two teams, with five healthy offensive linemen each, it may be hard to tell if there's any improvement in the running game on Saturday, but it's something to watch nevertheless. And it will certainly be something to watch when the Rebels will likely have a full complement of healthy players come fall camp.

Coordinators Talk Depth, Newcomers

Both coordinators have been pleased with the first couple days of practice as the Ole Miss football team looks to continue to develop more depth on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the discussion starts and ends with senior quarterback Bo Wallace, now more than a year removed from clavicle surgery and the rehabilitation that followed in 2013.

"It's like two different players," co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner said. "He's so far ahead. The key is obviously making it all the way through the season, but last year at this time, he was barely coming off rehab. Now, he's not only done with all of that, but he's worked to get his normal strength and maybe then some. He's gained some weight, gotten bigger. He's excited and can't wait for the season."

Running back remains a crowded position, where juniors I'Tavius Mathers (95 carries, 563 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Jaylen Walton (113 carries, 523 yards, 6 touchdowns) are the leading returners, but they are being pushed by sophomore Mark Dodson, redshirt freshmen Eugene Brazley and Jordan Wilkins, and junior college transfer Akeem Judd.

"Two years ago, we basically had one tailback, and he knew pretty much he was going to be the guy," Werner said. "There was nobody else. Now, there's six of them in there, and every one of them is a good player. They're all going to have to battle. If one guy has a bad day, he knows he's probably going to be dropping down."

One of the areas Ole Miss looks to improve is third-down conversion (46 percent, 5th SEC) and red-zone conversion (74 percent, 13th SEC), and part of that is conversion in short-yardage situations. Enter Judd, the biggest of the backs at 6-foot-0 and 220 pounds.

"Today, in the pads, we didn't get a really good look because we're still not going live, but I was pleased," Werner said. "I didn't think we would be impressed with him when we're just in t-shirts, but he made some really nice moves. I'm excited to see when we got live and he makes a nice move, but then gets north and south and runs over someone. That's why we brought him in."

One of the key positions, as far as depth, is offensive line, particularly on the edges. Werner has been pleased with the competition there, but depth remains a concern.

"I like the athleticism of the guys," Werner said. "They are battling. The whole key to that is staying healthy. The depth is the issue. We feel like we have six, seven, eight guys who can really play and help us. If we get a couple banged up, then we have problems."

Junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins, Werner said, can be a really good player at tight end, as he competes for playing time there alongside sophomore Evan Engram and freshman Sammie Epps.

"He's definitely a natural," Werner said. "You can tell him to block somebody, and normally it takes weeks to figure how and where you place your hands and all that, and he just gets into them. He's so strong. He's so physical. And he's so athletic to be able to catch the ball too. It's just learning it. When he will get to that point, nobody knows. We will find out."

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said the depth is better than it's ever been and the talent level is up also. Two areas for improvement were defensive end and length at corner, and he's been pleased with the progress on both fronts.

"Defensive end, from last year, is a huge thing because we lost them all and we were thin," Wommack said. "We took care of a lot of that in recruiting and we add Fadol (Brown), and C.J. (Johnson) is back healthy and 100 percent. We added Marquis (Haynes) and some of those other guys. I see some good things out of the young guys. That's one thing. 

"And I wanted to see us get longer at corner and recruit longer at corner, and we have been able to do that. We need them to rise up and get some playing time. I love our corners. Some of them are short, and we wanted to get length at corner."

Among those younger players on the defensive line have been freshmen Breeland Speaks and Garrald McDowell.

"He got a little bit overweight, but he's kind of worked himself down," said Wommack of Speaks. "He's tough and he's a competitor. He's figuring out what college football is all about right now. There's no question he's going to be a factor here down the road. When, I don't know."

"He finds a way," said Wommack of McDowell. "He's a steady guy in there. He's tough. He's a competitor. He's really football smart on the field."

With length at corner, you look at sophomore Derrick Jones (6-foot-2, 182 pounds), as well as the additions of junior college transfer Tee Shepard (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and Kendarius Webster (5-foot-11, 170). 

"He's improved a lot," said Wommack of Jones. "The biggest thing was, physically, he went against one of the best receivers in the nation all spring, and it made him better and made him see he that he had to get stronger. He got strong over the summer and he keeps on coming. I love his length."

"I don't think he's in shape all the way yet," said Wommack of Shepard. "I don't think he's had the conditioning he's needed, so he can't last very long, but the good, quality reps that I see from him are very positive. He has tremendous short-area quickness and has that knack that you want in your corner that's, 'Hey, send me the ball to me. I want the ball thrown to me.' We'll see the whole package here."

Overall, Wommack has been pleased with the freshman class, and no one has stood out more than DeMarquis Gates, a 6-foot-2, 211-pound linebacker from Hampton, Georgia.

"He can run, he's physical, he's tough, and he's smart," Wommack said. "He didn't play last year, so I really wasn't expecting what we have been getting from him. Each and every day, including today, he has shown up, so that's a good thing for us."

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    Bulmer I love you and ole Miss

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    Coach Freeze is a genuine coach and our players and fans adore him!!

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    It's great to be a Rebel fan. Coach Freeze
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    I am not and never have been an Ole Miss fan. I am however a Coach Freeze fan. I like what he represents in today's world of big time sports and what he stands for in leading young men of today into a more responsible role. He is everything that Ole Miss has never had. I am on his band wagon winning or losing.

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