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Replacing Morris, D. Nkemdiche

As Ole Miss enters game week against Southeast Missouri State, the Rebels will be tasked with replacing two starters in junior offensive guard Aaron Morris and sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche.


"We didn't experience injuries last year very much, but now right off the bat we're faced with adversity with Aaron Morris being done for the year," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "The worst part of our game is to see how much effort they put in during the offseason and then they get to go play in front of everyone and to get that news is not easy."

Morris, Freeze said, does have a redshirt available, so hopefully they can get him a medical redshirt and still have two years to play.

In his absence, four players -- seniors Patrick Junen and Jared Duke, sophomore Justin Bell and freshman Austin Golson -- will rotate at guard. Senior Emmanuel McCray, who got the start at left tackle, will also work inside, with freshman Laremy Tunsil's impressive college debut at tackle.


"Laremy graded extremely high after the Vanderbilt game, and Austin was about average," Freeze said of the freshman offensive linemen. "Austin's effort was phenomenal, he pulled the wrong way a couple of times but those are things a normal freshman will do, especially while playing inside.  Inside a lot of things can go on and he's only been taking reps there for about a week and a half, but I was real pleased with his effort and focus."

Nkemdiche's injury, Freeze said, not season-ending, so they feel like he will be back, best case four weeks, worst case six weeks. Juniors Keith Lewis and Serderius Bryant will fill his spot at Stinger linebacker.


Lewis, the Rebels' starting Wolf linebacker, played mostly in 4-3, nickel and dime defensive sets, while Bryant sat behind Nkemdiche on last week's depth chart at Stinger linebacker


"It's the loss of the leadership and the loss of a very bright individual, but we have that in me and (Bryant) as well," Lewis said. "Me and (Bryant) combined can make up for the loss."


Senior D.T. Shackelford, who returned from a two-year absence due to knee injuries, played both linebacker and defensive end and will now focus solely on linebacker while Nkemdiche recovers from injury.


"I was pleased, we've shuffled him around a lot," Freeze said. " By the end of the opening week I would like to be settled on exactly where guys will play, and now with the injuries we have to move guys around again. He made a few mistakes on his fits but he played with phenomenal effort and now that he's beginning to settle in I think he'll be fine."

Cornerback Shuffle


Sophomore Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins got the start at field and boundary corners, respectively, against Vanderbilt. Going forward, Freeze said they will keep moving guys around and hopefully getting some guys, like senior Charles Sawyer and junior Senquez Golson, healthy.


"I think everybody that watched the game saw that when Senquez Golson can go we are much better," Freeze said. "We were trying kids that had never played snaps, and I think they're going to be good.  We have to get Charles Sawyer healthy, and we'll try moving guys from the husky over to the boundary corner."

Freeze said Golson (hamstring) looked good in practice Monday and that Sawyer (shoulder) is closer to getting healthy as well.

"Right now, I feel like I don't any limitations," Golson said of his hamstring injury. "I mean I'm not feeling 100 percent, but I feel like I'm good enough to go... It was sore. I think I just had to loosen it up a little bit. The first deep ball that I had against Matthews was the first time I had opened up and ran in two or three weeks. After that play, I had more confidence and was good to go."

In addition to getting healthy, there will also be movement at the position this week.


Collins, whose eyes, Freeze said, "were pretty bad at times" at cornerback against Vanderbilt will move back to Huskie, where he played last season. 


Sophomore Mike Hilton, who got the start at Huskie, will move to cornerback, where he played some last season and also got some reps at during fall practice. Freeze also noted sophomore Anthony Standifer and freshman Bobby Hill as other options at cornerback.


"We got some changes to make and figure out who we have where," Golson said of the cornerback position. "We had Mike Hilton and Tony Conner at the same spot. We need both of those guys on the field at the same time."


Freshmen Impress


Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was named SEC Freshman of the Week after leading Ole Miss in receiving with nine catches for 82 yards in his first college game. His nine catches were an Ole Miss freshman record and most by a Rebel since Mike Espy had nine against Auburn in 2005.


Treadwell hauled in a pass on three straight players and four to of five in one stretch in the third quarter, including a one-handed grab.


"That's him," Wallace said of Treadwell. "That's why he was the number one receiver recruit in the nation. That's what he does. He's not just terribly fast, but he has great ball skills, and you just have to give him a chance."


The play immediately after that stretch, which ended in the Rebels' second touchdown, Wallace completed a nine-yard pass to freshman tight end Evan Engram, who finished with five catches for 61 yards, which were both second-most on the team. 


"He's a stud," Wallace said of Engram. "He had a great game, and he just has to keep building on that. He's a huge playmaker in our offense. He creates mismatches for us. 


Engram, along with junior Donte Moncrief, also made the key block to spring junior running back Jeff Scott on his 75-yard, game-winning touchdown run with 1:07 left.


"As soon as he was here in 7-on-7, we saw how good of a receiver he was going to be. As small as he was, I was kind of worried about his blocking, but as you saw against Vanderbilt, he did a great job."


Holder Makes His Mark


A former walk-on, senior wide receiver Jordan Holder ran with the first-team during most of camp, worked his way on to the two-deep, and then quickly made an impact this season, catching a 4-yard pass from Wallace on the first offensive play of the game against Vanderbilt.


"I looked up and had to pinch myself for a second because Bo just slung it right at me," Holder said of the catch. "I'm happy that I caught it and got that out of the way, so we could play."


That 4-yard pass was also the first in his career, and he finished the game with three catches for 20 yards, having previously played in just two games. He played significant snaps in the slot, along with Treadwell and Engram.


"Whenever I was sticking with 1's during most of camp," Holder said of when he realized he was going to play this year. "That's when I kind of knew. I never wanted to get my hopes up because I had been there before the past couple of years, but I just stuck to it, and it finally worked out for me."


At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Holder was asked about what he brings to the wide receiver position, and Holder noted his physical abilities, but also his awareness and knowledge of coverages.


"I may not look as fast as I am, but I definitely think I am deceptive with my speed, and my quickness and hands," Holder said. "You got to catch everything that comes your way.


"When you do it as long as I have been here, you pick things up that most people may not know, as far as if a blitzer is coming, or a safety is dropping down on top of you. Things like that, seeing what coverages are, so you know how to run your routes."


Holder was also a unanimous selection for one of five available scholarships for walk-on players, Freeze said last week. But when his name was called, he gave the scholarship to fellow senior and walk-on tight end Justin Bigham.


"It was a definitely an honor," Holder said. "It was something I always wanted to earn and work for. I was just happy to get it. What I did for Bigham, I was happy I was able to be in that position to help him out because he's a great guy and he's earned it just as much as I have, or anybody else has, so he deserved it.


"He was sitting right beside me when they announced mine, and they never called his name. I felt sick to my stomach because we started off together, and I definitely wanted him to have one." 

Replacing Sanders At Receiver

Junior wide receiver Vince Sanders suffered a broken collarbone during one-on-one drills Saturday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Sanders started 12 games last season and finished with 39 catches (3rd on team), 504 receiving yards (2nd on team) and four touchdowns (2nd on team).


"It's certainly a blow," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Sanders' injury. "The guy knew everything we did, and he could do at a fast pace. And he had a great offseason. Hopefully, he only misses three games. We got that opening week early, so maybe he can be back for our fourth game.


"We have some good young kids, and they will get ready to play. Hopefully, we stay healthy and not lose anyone else from that spot."


Freeze said senior Ja-Mes Logan is prepared to play both outside and inside receiver. He also said they have to have four guys ready to play at outside receiver and mentioned Logan, junior Donte Moncrief, sophomore Cody Core and freshman Quincy Adeboyejo as players for that role.


"He is a smart kid out there on the football field," wide receivers coach Grant Heard said of Logan. "He can handle a lot. I can put him in any spot, and he'll know what to do. And he's' the ultimate team player, because it doesn't matter to him. He just wants to get out there and compete."


With Sanders's injury, senior Korvic Neat's role will increase in the slot, and two other receivers who will look to step up are sophomore Cody Core, who played mostly on special teams last season, and junior Collins Moore, who missed most of last season with injuries to both shoulders.


"I need Cody to be more consistent, but he knows what to do, but be more consistent making plays," Heard said. "He can be a guy that can be a big-play threat for us."


"Collins, I'm still trying to figure out and make sure he's good. He's trying to get back into the swing of things from missing spring, but he's out there and looking good. He knows how the offense runs, so he can do some things to help us, too."


The two freshmen, Adeboyejo and freshman Laquon Treadwell, Freeze said have got to get ready to play at outside and inside receiver, respectively.


"They pick things up quick," Freeze said of the freshmen. "They're quick learners. And of course, they have the skill level, which helps. I expect them to be very good players."


"They're freshmen," Heard said. "When things start going fast and get hectic, they make mistakes, but they are picking the offense really quick. And they're making plays out there, which is good to see. I think they're having fun. This offense is easy, but it's different for them. When things get hectic, they have to learn to slow it down in their minds."


NOTABLE:


Sunday was the first practice with shoulder pads.


Senior Pierce Burton was limited, so redshirt freshman Robert Conyers got some first-team reps at right tackle. Conyers is also getting reps at center behind senior Evan Swindall.


With senior Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette got first-team reps at cornerback for the second straight day.


On the defensive line, senior Cameron Whigham and sophomore Channing Ward got first-team reps at defensive end, and junior Bryon Bennett and sophomore Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 


Behind them, freshman Robert Nkemdiche, junior Carlos Thompson and sophomore John Youngblood got second-team reps at defensive end, and juniors Lavon Hooks and Carlton Martin at defensive tackle.


Five newcomers were among those who got reps in the back seven on the second-team defense, with freshman Tony Connor at Huskie, junior Quadarias Mireles and freshman Bobby Hill at cornerback, and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman Derrick Jones at safety.


In a kickoff return drill, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running backs Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore and sophomore safety Trae Elston got reps as the deep men.


QUOTABLE: 


Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace: "We really saved him until the end of practice today, and he seemed to be fine. He wasn't complaining, or anything. We just have to take things slow."


Heard, on flexibility at wide receiver: "The good thing about this offense is once they know it, they can be put in anywhere. Ja-Mes, Donte, Cody, I can move around, and they can go in and fill that spot."

Building Depth At Corner

In his Media Day press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze said senior Charles Sawyer, along with sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross, were the furthest off, injury-wise. And junior Senquez Golson was held out of Saturday's practice after suffering a pulled hamstring yesterday. 


Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said they're trying to find two guys who are going to step up and be more consistent behind Sawyer and Golson on the two-deep, and with their two injuries, it's offered an opportunity to build depth at the position.


"He's out moving around, just trying to get him ready for the game," Jones said of Sawyer. "We know what we can do. He's been playing for a long time and has a lot of experience, so we're not going to rush him. With the [Vanderbilt] game a few weeks away, we can take time and develop these younger guys and develop some depth." 


With Sawyer and Golson sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette got the bulk of first-team reps at cornerback. Both players are relatively new to the position, as Collins moved from Huskie during the spring, and Burdette moved from safety during the summer.


"We moved Dehendret, right at the end of spring, and he's done a great job for us," Jones said. "Him and Charles Sawyer, they are going to provide depth in the boundary. He's had two really good days.


"Q Burdette has been a great surprise for us. He worked hard all summer. You can tell. He came out to practice yesterday and today, and he's flying around, making plays for us. We're pleased with those two guys."


Two freshmen also got a lot of reps at cornerback, along with sophomore Anthony Standifer. Freeze said yesterday that Bobby Hill, one of the freshmen, will be a big plus, and Jones also had praise for Hill and the other freshman, David Kamara.


"Bobby Hill has done a great job for us," Jones said. "Right now, we have him working in the boundary. He's had two really good practices and I'm looking forward to him continuing to progress. I'm looking forward to him to contribute this year, so he will be guy that we will depend on.


"David is doing a great job for us also. He's in the field. We're still trying to see and make a decision about him. He's working hard, still learning coverages and things like that. We'll know more once we get pads and continue to practice."


Notable:


With senior Pierce Burton dealing with a lower back strain, senior Emmanuel McCray moved from left tackle to right tackle, and freshman Laremy Tunsil got reps at left tackle on the first-team offense. 


In some of the other offensive line drills, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle, opposite McCray. Another freshman, Austin Golson, got second-team reps at left tackle.


The first-team defensive line consisted of junior Carlos Thompson and sophomore Channing Ward at defensive end, and junior Bryon Bennett and sophomore Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle.


Along with Bobby Hill at corner, freshmen Robert Nkemdiche (defensive end) and Tony Connor (Huskie) got reps on the second-team defense.


Quotable:


Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace: "His arm is hurting today, not where his shoulder was repaired, but his arm. To come out yesterday and throw a lot of balls, and come out today, it was sore, so we held him out about halfway through to try to get it well."


Freeze, on freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche: "He's physically gifted enough to play. It's all about, can he understand what we're trying to accomplish and what his assignments are. If he can get that, there's no question he can physically. They better be trying to get him ready."


Freeze, on freshman offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil: "He's as physically gifted as any freshman that I have seen, athleticism-wise. He's swimming right now with everything being installed. He's going to make mistakes, like any freshman, but he is a gifted player."


Freeze, on freshman tight end Evan Engram: "Evan is going to be a good one. Again, he's a freshman that is undersized at this point in his career, but he has got to play, and he's going to play. We just have got to be sure we ask him to do things that he can do."

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