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Like defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been pleased with his players throughout fall camp, particularly the depth bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the addition of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"I don't think it's any secret that we have some depth there," Kiffin said. "We finally have the numbers we want at all four positions. I have been really pleased with the guys. For the most part, it's been guys I thought we could count on. Marquis Haynes is a guy who has surprised as a freshman, but he was here in the spring, so it's no surprise. Him and Fadol (Brown) have both been coming along really well."

One area he looks for marked improvement is the pass rush after a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013. Wommack said earlier this week that they would like to get back to bringing pressure (five or more players) 35-40 percent of the time after bringing pressure around 27-28 percent this past season.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us. I think we're there right now. We obviously haven't done it in a game. There are a lot of variables that go into it. You still have to win first down and be able to get them in passing situations, get a lead, and a lot of those things come late in the game when teams are playing from behind."

In addition to depth, Kiffin also noted the position flexibility along the defensive line, as he looks to play at least eight players in the season opener. 

"This year, I challenged the guys to be able to play multiple positions," Kiffin said. "C.J. being able to do that gives us flexibility with Marquis. Bryon (Bennett) being able to do that gives us flexibility inside. John Youngblood, I can't say enough about him. He's a limited-rep guy. He knows the whole defense. He's going to get the job for us, so I can play him at multiple positions. It allows us to do a lot of things."

With the depth and experience at the position, Kiffin and the coaching staff might be afforded the luxury of redshirting the freshman trio of Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks, who have all been practicing with the scout team this week.

"Early on, we had the split practices, and those guys got a ton of reps," Kiffin said. "All three of those guys I'm really happy with. I'm glad we signed all three of them. Victor is a really long guy, Gerrald is more of just a football player, and Breeland is a really big athlete right now. He needs to get his weight down a little but he gives us a lot of things in there. I'm very excited about those three guys' futures. With our depth, we probably won't need to use them right off the bat. That's a good problem to have."



NOTABLE

On Wednesday, head coach Hugh Freeze challenged a group of his backup wide receivers to step up alongside the top four players at the position, and from that group, freshman Markell Pack and redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe have emerged.

Pack joins sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo and junior Cody Core in the rotation at slot receiver, while Bledsoe joins sophomore Laquon Treadwell, senior Vince Sanders and Core in the rotation at outside receiver.

Sophomore Anthony Alford has continued to get reps at wildcat quarterback, in addition to backing up junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, while junior Jeremy Liggins is focusing on three packages where he will line up at tight end.

Freeze had a lot of praise for redshirt freshman Will Gleeson for sky punt stuff and his coming-out punts in Thursday's mock game, while senior Andrew Fletcher remains in the lead for field goal duties from inside 40 yards.

In the return game, junior running back Jaylen Walton, Elston and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore are in the mix on kickoffs, while Pack and Alford are in the mix on punts.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Jeremy Liggins: "We centered in on three packages for him in week one where he doesn't have to feel like he has to learn everything. He's concentrating on those three. He's getting better and better. He still makes some missed assignments. When he does it right, he's pretty good."

Freeze on C.J. Hampton: "He will back up Cody (Prewitt). We really like the way he's working with his attitude and the way he's coming on. He made some checks to some different looks that the scout team gave, so his reps will pick up even more. We have to make sure he's ready."

Freeze on injuries: "Issac is coming on. He put a helmet on today and did some running around. Monday will be a big test for Issac to see where he is. Mentally, he understands what we're doing. That's the good thing. Collins Moore has a shot. We'll know Monday. They're going to turn him loose tomorrow. Even though it's an off-day, he's coming in and let him run around some and see how he is. He can't practice until school starts because he's not in the 105. He's getting treatment, but Pat feels like he's way ahead of schedule. We'll check him out Monday and see what he does."

Chris Kiffin on Marquis Haynes: "He's a guy right now who can do it all. He's 230 pounds and we move a lot. C.J. (Johnson) has gotten away with playing 230 here for a number of years... Marquis is going to play all downs for us, not just the third down, starting off."

Kiffin on Robert Nkemdiche: "I expect really big things from him. The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

Nkemdiche Headlines Retooled D-Line

The return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes have changed the face of the defensive line, but freshman All-American Robert Nkemdiche remains front and center. 

With a season of experience under his belt, it's been a different experience for the former consensus No. 1 recruit this fall.

"I know the playbook so much better," Nkemdiche said. "I'm so much more chilled out. I'm not freaking out right now. I'm not nervous. My head's on straight, and I'm ready to have a huge game.

"I had a really good camp. I was focused. I'm bringing it every day, 100 percent, no matter what. I'm ready for the season and to have a really dominant season."

Beside Nkemdiche at defensive tackle has been a rotation of senior Bryon Bennett and junior Woodrow Hamilton with junior Issac Gross out due to injury.

"You lose quickness in there," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of missing Gross. "But kudos to Bryon Bennett because I have never seen him play as well as he's playing right now, across the board. He has some size, quickness and been super in there for us. I have been really pleased with him, but it affects your depth.

"Woody's issue has been staying out there on the field. When he stays out on the field, he's a really good football player. He's extremely tough to block. He's not just an anchor. He has some quickness and he can move around. He fits our scheme really well."

With the depth and experience on the defensive side of the ball, Wommack looks to rotate more players and be more aggressive this season. 

On the defensive line, Wommack said, they would like to play 8-10 players and get back to bringing pressure (five or more players) 35-40 percent of the time after bringing pressure around 27-28 percent this past season.

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Dave Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

"We weren't able to do that last year because of the pass rush we didn't have and we lacked the corner play that we needed," Wommack said. "Boise is going to see some things they haven't seen in the last two years."


Haynes, Freshmen Show Out on Defense

Nkemdiche described Haynes as a physical freak. 

A former high jumper and 100-meter sprinter in high school, Haynes enrolled in January and broke into the two-deep early in the fall camp and has remained there.

"He has a knack for the football," said Nkemdiche of Haynes. "He's a freak. He gets to the football no matter what. If he has a missed assignment, he's still going to get to the ball either way. I like him. He plays 100 percent every down. That's what I like about Marquis. He's going to be really good in the future."

Wommack noted his raw talent, speed and quickness, adding that he's done a good job learning what they have asked him to do. He might not start in the season opener, Wommack said, but in certain packages, he will certainly be at one defensive end spot.

In addition to Haynes, Wommack raved about a trio of freshmen in defensive back A.J. Moore, linebacker DeMarquis Gates and cornerback Kendarius Webster. With the injuries in the secondary, Moore has stepped up as the team's third Huskie and Webster is in the mix as the team's fourth cornerback.

"Both of those freshmen hit a ceiling and then they came back down," said Wommack of Moore and Gates. "Kendarius Webster, too. They pushed forward and have gotten smarter each and every day, and they're going to play for us this year.

"This freshman class was a hit across the board. From top to bottom, it was better than last year's class, if you want to say that. I know there were some stars in that class the year before, but top to bottom, I don't think we missed on anybody. We have some really good football players. Some of them, if we're not going to use them this year, we absolutely don't want to burn them, and we will make that choice later on."


NOTABLE

In individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line featured sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT). Sophomore Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle when Cooper moved from right tackle to left tackle.

When the offense showed sets with two tight ends in team drills, it featured sophomore Evan Engram lined up at a traditional tight end spot and in the slot, with senior Nick Parker also at tight end on the first team. 

Sophomore Matt Brown played a role similar to Engram, with sophomore Jeremy Liggins also at tight end on the second team.

Freeze said he's looking for at least one wide receiver to emerge from a group that includes junior Quintavius Burdette, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshmen Dayall Harris and Markell Pack.

Johnson, Brown and Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with Nkemdiche and Hamilton at defensive tackle.

Brown, along with sophomore John Youngblood, got second-team reps at defensive end, with Bennett and senior Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

Senior Andrew Fletcher, Freeze said, remains in the lead for extra point and field goal duties from 43 yards and in, with redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and freshman Gary Wunderlich in competition to handle longer field goals.

In other special teams work, the first-team kickoff returners were junior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Mark Dodson. 

The second-team kickoff returners were sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore and junior safety Trae Elston. Redshirt freshman running back Eugene Brazley and junior running back I'Tavius Mathers also worked with the kickoff returners.

The kickoff return units also included freshman defensive back A.J. Moore on the first team and Gates on the second team. 

Other notables on the kickoff return units included junior defensive end Channing Ward, redshirt freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, senior linebacker Keith Lewis and sophomore safety Anthony Alford on the first team.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Robert Conyers: "Robert is very, very valuable to us and will play three positions. He may be one of the most valuable pieces of us offensively because he can grasp all three of them and do them well."

Freeze on the center position battle having named Ben Still the starter: "They're pretty even and knowing that we're going to rotate Robert at all three on various possessions, it gives us a little more flexibility, but they're about equal. Robert probably needs to concentrate on both tackle positions between now and then and it gives the ones more reps with Ben."

Freeze on Fahn Cooper's action at left tackle: "He's athletic. It depends on who you're playing and what the matchups are. It's always about matchups. No matter who we put there, there are guys in this league, sometimes you're going to cringe when you get in too many one-on-one's, if you're not able to run the ball some. If they know you're throwing it, I don't care who we put out there. It's difficult, so you have to be balanced. That's been our whole goal since we have been here."

Freeze on Issac Gross, who missed practice with a neck injury: "Issac had the procedure yesterday to get some kind of shot that we think will help speed up the recovery and hopefully cure. We should know Monday if he will be ready to go for Boise."

Robert Nkemdiche on improvement: "Something that can make me stronger as a player is knowing the playbook a lot better. Last year, I feel like I had all the tangibles to be great, but I didn't know the scheme as well. I was out there about 50 percent. I didn't know what else to do. I was trying to go out there and make plays. This year, knowing the playbook a lot better and being more mature as a player and having an SEC season under my belt helps me because I know what to expect now."

Nkemdiche on returning to Atlanta for the season opener against Boise State: "It's a great feeling going back to the Georgia Dome. I started all four years in high school there, so let's go back and start one. We want to try to finish there too."

Dave Wommack on Mike Hilton practicing at both Huskie and cornerback: "Any time you have to double-train somebody, you lose a little something. You can't get totally focused on one thing, but he's a veteran and been here for two years and knows it better. You couldn't do it with a young guy for sure."

Wommack on the secondary: "I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years. I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

Rebels Battle Injuries on Defense

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze confirmed that junior cornerback Carlos Davis suffered a torn ACL and will likely have surgery Monday. 

Davis joins sophomore cornerback Tee Shepard and junior safety Chief Brown on the list of players expected to miss the 2014 season. Freeze also noted Davis has not used his redshirt year, so they will use it for him this year.

"We have lost arguably our top cover corner (in Tee Shepard), and Carlos, I believe without a shadow of doubt was our best special teams guy, both coverage units and return guy," Freeze said. "It hurts."

"Any time you lose somebody like Tee, that's a big hit," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "Carlos, too. He was really going to help us a lot on our dime team. Those are two guys who really could have helped our football team a lot. For us to lose them, not that we don't have guys, and that's great, but it would have been better if we had those two."

With Davis out, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack, junior safety Trae Elston and sophomore safety Anthony Alford are all in the mix to return punts. It might also mean larger roles on special teams for younger players such as freshman Huskie A.J. Moore and freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster.

Ole Miss was also without junior Issac Gross on Friday, who briefly returned to practice earlier this week after being held out with a neck strain.

"He's still dealing with the neck," Freeze said. "He came back out, and it kind of flared up again. We're taking our time to make sure he gets it well. (Head athletic trainer) Pat (Jernigan) and them have a protocol that they're going to take him through, and they think they can improve it doing this if we can hold him out for a few more days. That's the plan there."

"We're missing him a lot," said Johnson of Gross. "Issac is a guy in the middle - especially when we go against an offense that runs a lot of spread and inside-zone stuff - who can get up and disrupt the timing of the blocking scheme. He can rush a little bit. He's a really big hit for us. We need him to hurry up and get back."

Senior Bryon Bennett ran with the first-team defense in place of Gross, beside sophomore Robert Nkemdiche, along with Johnson and freshman Marquis Haynes at defensive end. The second-team defensive tackles were junior Woodrow Hamilton and senior Lavon Hooks.


Updating the Backup Quarterback Battle 

Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, Freeze said, split the majority of snaps in Thursday's scrimmage, so it was a good look into the backup quarterback battle.

"Ryan had a good scrimmage," Freeze said. "Bo (Wallace) did not take many snaps. DeVante had some really, really exciting, good plays. He had some on the other end of the spectrum also, so we have to keep bringing him along. He definitely brings a different element to us. But they have both improved."

Freeze noted Buchanan is ahead of Kincade in the passing game, adding that Kincade needs to improve his decision-making.

"I'm trying to work on pocket presence and stay in the pocket more because I know I have the ability to run, so I'm trying to make sure I stay in the pocket more and deliver better throws," Kincade said.

Freeze said he does not plan on naming a true backup quarterback in advance of the season opener against Boise State on Aug. 28.

"It would depend on what we're needing at that moment," Freeze said. "Each has different strengths. We'll do everything with both of them, but it would depend on the scenario to which they go in."

For both players, with their respective redshirt years behind them, their preparation has been different this season.

"My mental aspect is I prepare as if I'm the starter," Buchanan said. "I know I'm not the starter, but any second Bo can roll an ankle, get a concussion or something, so I have to be ready for whenever they call that play and always keep the drive going and never take a step back."

"It's a big difference from last year," Kincade said. "I remembered I would come out and put my helmet down and cheer on the guys. Now, I have to have my helmet ready any time the offense goes in, so it's a big difference."


 

NOTABLE:

In the individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line consisted of sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT).

The second-team offensive line consisted of redshirt freshman Davion Johnson (LT), junior Craig Frigo (LG), sophomore Robert Conyers (C), freshman Rod Taylor (RG) and redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin (RT). 

Different combinations along the offensive line also included Cooper at left tackle, Taylor at left guard, Frigo at right guard and Conyers at right tackle.

With the injuries in the secondary, freshman A.J. Moore ran with the second-team defense at Huskie, sophomore Kailo Moore got some second-team reps at cornerback and senior Cliff Coleman got some second-team reps at free safety.

In special teams work, Coleman, freshman safety C.J. Hampton and sophomore Derrick Jones were on the first-team punt return blocking the gunners. A.J. Moore, junior defensive back Mike Hilton and freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster were on the second-team punt return in the same role.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Collins Moore, who has been held out with knee injury: "He's moving around well. He's starting to do things in the pool. We will be glad to get him back for sure. We need a little extra depth there at receiver."

Freeze on other players who stood out from Wednesday's closed scrimmage: "Victor Evans had a great scrimmage. Breeland Speaks, too. He's batting balls. He's a space-eater and he's tough. Those young kids stood out. Rod Taylor is coming on. Robert Conyers continues to do some good things and come on, as does Ben Still. Akeem Judd stood out. He made some really explosive, powerful runs. We had several kids stand out. DeMarquis Gates keeps showing up, as did the Moore twins. They're probably all going to have to play now."

Freeze on Cody Core: "Cody is so important to us because he's learning both inside and outside. He has to play for us to give us some depth, and he's doing it well. He makes very few missed assignments. He's physical and can catch it. He's very important to us."

Freeze on Quincy Adeboyejo: "He's still inconsistent in ball-catching, particularly in traffic. We have to continue to improve that. We love his skill-set and we love him as a kid. We have to continue to improve his consistency in ball-catching."

Ryan Buchanan on what he looks to improve: "We go tempo, we get into the red zone, and then sometimes you have to slow it down and be smart with it. Make smart decisions. Making completions are the biggest thing in the red zone."

Buchanan on understanding of the playbook: "I feel pretty good on paper. It's different trying to go full-speed, when you have blitzes to pick up and be able to know in that split second."

Buchanan on the offensive line: "They have improved since week one. With our defense, they like to send a lot of different blitzes, so they're really getting a tough look. They're picking up on it, and they're trying to improve each practice."

C.J. Johnson on the defense: "The defense has progressed well. We have really gotten after the quarterback a lot. I hate that we lost Tee and Carlos. Those are big hits for the defense, especially with the secondary, where we thought we had a lot of depth, but some young guys are going to have to step up and play now."

Johnson on Marquis Haynes: "He's done a really good job learning our defense and learning what to do and being coachable. He's come a long way and he's going to help us a lot."

Johnson on Robert Nkemdiche: "He's definitely found his way in college football. His get-off is probably second to none. He's going to acquire a lot of attention, and everybody knows that. It makes us raise our level of play because we know what they're going to give him. We're going to have to step and pick up the slack a little bit."

Looking at CB, OL, WR and RB Depth

Sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore returned from their respective injuries, while sophomore Tee Shepard remains out with a toe injury. The results from Shepard's MRI performed on Saturday are being sent to Birmingham, head coach Hugh Freeze said, and there could be another update on his status as early as tomorrow.

"I'm always optimistic, but this is something that I'm not really familiar with," Freeze said. "It's a tendon on the bottom of his big toe. If it's completely torn, it definitely needs surgery. If it's not, there have been some who played through the year and then gotten it fixed. I just want to wait for the guys who do that all the time to tell us what they think."

Freeze remains confident in the depth at cornerback, a position bolstered by the return of Moore and the addition of freshman Kendarius Webster, who had previously been practicing in a green, non-contact jersey prior to Saturday's open practice. 

It might also mean a larger role for junior Mike Hilton who has practiced at both corner and Huskie and senior Cliff Coleman who has practiced at both corner and safety.

"The guys who we have are definitely better, and Ken Webster is added to it, now that he can go," Freeze said. "He's going to be a good player. Kailo is back. ... That's one place where we have some capable guys."

One position where depth remains a concern, Freeze said, is offensive line, where there was some shuffling Monday. Freshmen Rod Taylor and Sean Rawlings were practicing at tackle, with senior Carlton Martin moving inside to guard. 

In the center position battle, which has gone back and forth throughout fall camp, junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers split first-team reps, with Still receiving the majority of them.

Junior Fahn Cooper appears to be the backup at left tackle, if they were to be without sophomore Laremy Tunsil, as he took some reps at left tackle with the first-team offensive line, similar to Pierce Burton last season. In the same look, Taylor took reps at right tackle with the first team. 

Freeze also mentioned tight end and wide receiver as areas of concern with depth. The wildcard in the wide receiver group is sophomore Damore'ea Stringfellow, a transfer from Washington, who has run half the time with the second-team offense, as Freeze and the Rebels await word on an appeal to be immediately eligible.

"There are some depth issues there," Freeze said. "We have to stay healthy. Some of those young kids, Sammie (Epps), Markell (Pack) and Dayall (Harris) are going to be good players. Will they be ready Aug. 28? I don't know. That's a good question, and we'll see. If String's appeal would come through, that would certainly help, but I really have no time frame to know when it would be coming and what the response would be."

Running back, similar to corner, is a position where Freeze feels they have quality depth, led by juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, the team's two leading returners. Because of their experience, Freeze said you have to give a nod to them, but the other backs have also received their share of reps in practice.

"I'm pleased with all our running backs," Freeze said. "That's another place where we have quality depth. I'm not afraid to play any of them at this point. (Mark) Dodson is just like the rest of them. They're tit-for-tat in a lot of things. There are some that do some things better, but I wouldn't be afraid to play any of them."


NOTABLE

Seven different offensive linemen received first-team reps during individual drills: Cooper (left tackle and right tackle), junior Aaron Morris (left guard), Still (center), Conyers (center), junior Justin Bell (right guard) and Taylor (right tackle).

In special teams work, Pack, junior safety Trae Elston, sophomore safety Anthony Alford, junior cornerback Carlos Davis, Mathers and Walton returned kickoffs. Davis, Elston and Pack also returned punts.

Redshirt freshman Will Gleeson and freshman Gary Wunderlich split reps at punter, with Gleeson on the first team and Wunderlich on the second team. Gleeson practiced both the traditional punting and rugby-style punting but significantly more of the latter.

With junior Issac Gross out due to injury, senior Bryon Bennett has worked with the first-team defense at defensive tackle, so he would be appear to be the team's third defensive tackle in the rotation with Gross and sophomore Robert Nkemdiche. 

Similarly, freshman Marquis Haynes continues to receive reps with the first-team defense at defensive end, even with the return of Fadol Brown, so it appears to be Haynes, Brown and junior C.J. Johnson in the rotation there.

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on Kendarius Webster: "As long as he's full-go on the contact, he's physically gifted enough. Where he is understanding our stuff, he's still a little behind in that. If there's no one place that is the easiest to pick up on stuff, it is corner."

Freeze, on Mark Dodson: "He's physical. He runs with great balance and finishes with good pad level. He takes care of the football when he runs it. In pass protection, he's pretty decent. He measures up quite nicely with the rest of them."

Freeze, on Rod Taylor's conditioning: "As you go through camp, you're leg weary, but he's pushing himself to get through it. He loves to play. He's a gym rat and loves to play the game. I don't worry about his conditioning. It will get there."

Dodson, on the running back competition: "We know that when we're in there, we have to make something happen because we have another man who has the same talent as us, so we're out there doing what we can and taking advantage of every opportunity."

Dodson, on separation among the running backs: "What I think will make the difference is when we get into game situations and who can do what. Picking up the blitz will be number one thing. Can you stand your ground and know your blitz packages?"

Brown, on his foot, having missed some practice due to injury: "It felt pretty good. I felt pretty good going forward, but when I get to planting on it, it kind of bothered me a little bit, but I'm going to fight through it."

Brown, on the defense: "We're definitely executing a lot better, flying around. That's what Coach (Dave) Wommack and Coach (Chris) Kiffin stay on us about: effort. That's what we're focusing on right now: executing and giving maximum effort."

Rebels Continue Arkansas Preparations

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

Robert Nkemdiche will return against Arkansas, having missed the LSU and Idaho games after suffering a hamstring injury against Texas A&M. The freshman defensive lineman has played in and started six games, recording 15 total tackles (11 solo) and four tackles for loss.

"He looks really good," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "He looks quick and light on his feet. We just got make sure he's 100 percent. He's still feeling it a little bit out here. He's down 15 pounds. I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing, but he looks really quick out here. It's just him picking up the mental side again."

Nkemdiche will move inside to defensive tackle, where he started against Alabama, while junior Bryon Bennett will remain outside at defensive end, where he started the last three games.

"That's the plan with who we got right now with C.J. (Johnson) being out for the year and Bryon doing a good job out there," Kiffin said. "Maybe that's Rob's future, so that's where we're at right now.

"He's physical enough. He gives those guys problems inside because of how quick he is, and he's not afraid to get physical. It's just natural for him."

Nkemidche and the Ole Miss defense will be tasked with an Arkansas offense that has rushed for at least 200 yards in six of nine games and average 211.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the SEC. The Razorbacks also lead the league and rank fifth nationally allowing just 0.78 sacks per game.

On the offensive line, Arkansas has opened each of the last four games with the same five starters, including a pair of freshman guards in Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, who have started each of the last five games.

"They look like freshmen that are getting better every game," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, of Kirkland and Skipper. "They didn't play them as much early in the season. Both of them are going to be really good football players. You see them make mistakes at times, but they're getting better every time."

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

'We're not afraid to use any of the four'

With senior running back Jeff Scott out each of the last two games with a thigh bruise, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have carried the load on the ground for the Rebels.

Mathers carried the ball 12 times for 51 yards against LSU, then notched his first career 100-yard rushing game with 138 yards on 14 carries, including a career-long 64-yard run for a touchdown, against Idaho.

Walton rushed for two touchdowns in both games, as he set career highs with 19 carries for 106 yards against the Tigers, then rushed 11 times for 86 yards against Vandals. With those four scores, he now leads the team with five rushing touchdowns this year.

"They took the bull by the horns, so to speak," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "It's never been about their ability. They had just been waiting for the opportunity to get on the field and show what they could do. 

"I'm glad a year ago they got the little experience that they did, so right now, they don't any type of stage fright, and the big lights don't bother them at all. They just go out and perform to their capabilities and do the things they could always do."

The Idaho game was also an opportunity for freshmen Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore, as Dodson set career highs with seven carries for 57 rushing yards and recorded a 30-yard touchdown catch, the first score of his career.

"He earned the right to get some looks," said head coach Hugh Freeze, of Dodson. "I'm not afraid at all to play him. He'll probably get a carry or two."

"He's had more excitement and enthusiasm about practice," Nix added. "Not that he didn't have it all year but you could see more of a bounce in his step. I feel like he has a real shot of helping us out on Saturday."

The status of Scott for Saturday remains uncertain, but Freeze is confident about his other four running backs.

"I like the way they're going about their business," he said. "They're taking the chances they have been given and made the most of it. All four of them have looked good in some things this week. We're not afraid to use any of the four. Jeff, I'm not sure. We'll have to make that call tomorrow."

Running backs coach Derrick Nix meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Tunsil, Golson Continue To Progress

Freshman offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson have played in every game this season, with Tunsil starting five games at left tackle and Golson playing extensively at guard.

"Laremy has played solid the entire time," Freeze said. "He's really special. It's a little easier to play on the edge. We threw Austin in the middle in that first game, and there is a lot of different things happening in there. It's been more of a process, but he's improving and not making as many mistakes."

Offensive line coach Matt Luke has also been pleased with Tunsil and Golson.

"He does a lot of things well," said Luke, of Tunsil. "He can get bigger and stronger, but technically, that's what makes him special. He does a lot of things naturally. He's good with his hands and has a really good base with his lower body. He's a natural pass protector. We're very fortunate to have him. He's playing really well overall."

"He's probably not the prototypical guard," said Luke, of Golson. "He's more of tackle, but because of the seniors we have at tackle, he has stepped in there for us and played it well for 40-50 snaps a game at least.

Tunsil's emergence at left tackle, where he has started each of the last four games, has allowed senior offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray to move around and contribute at both tackle position, left guard and tight end, when the Rebels are in their six offensive lineman set.

A strong Arkansas defensive line is led by senior defensive end Chris Smith, who is tied for second in the SEC and tied for 13th nationally with 7.0 sacks. As a team, the Razorbacks rank third in the SEC and tied for 27th nationally with 22.0 sacks.

"They're very good," Luke said. "Their front four collectively is as good as we have seen. 86 (Trey Flowers), 42 (Smith), 91 (Darius Philon), 54 (Byran Jones), all those guys are good players. I have been very impressed."

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

Rebels Enter Second Bye Week



Ole Miss is 5-3 for the second straight year, as it enters its second bye week of the year before a final four-game stretch starting with Arkansas on Nov. 9 from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The previous stretch of games included three straight losses, then back-to-back wins over then-No. 6 LSU and Idaho.

"We could easily have a couple more wins, and we could easily have a couple more losses," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "You're mind usually concentrates on the ones you let get away, but you have to move on from those.  Winning the last two games has helped tremendously with that.  I believe we have gotten better at mostly every spot."

"(5-3 this year) feels a lot different because we have been through the meat of our schedule," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said "But at the same time, every SEC team is great, and we know we can't take a week off, or somebody will come up and beat you."

Entering the bye week, Freeze said he does think they can get quite a few of players back who didn't suffer season-ending injuries.

"I'm confident that Mike Hilton will be back, as well as Isaac Gross being healthy," Freeze said. "Charles Sawyer, we'll hold out this week and Denzel Nkemdiche, we held out the other night, and I see no reason for him to not be ready.  Robert Nkemdiche and Jeff Scott, I'll need to wait until next Monday to better answer that, but we're hopeful on them. Carlos Thompson, I am doubtful on, we're getting concerned on his nerve not firing in his arm, so hopefully we can catch on soon and he'll be back in a couple of weeks."

Preparation for Arkansas will start on Thursday, Freeze said, and they will get in an extra practice on Sunday night.

"This week will certainly help that because we'll need those guys for this stretch run that we have coming up with the three SEC games and the one out of conference game," Freeze said. "It gives us coaches a lot of time to start self-scouting us, and give us a jump start against Arkansas and scouting other opponents, as well as plan what we would like to add, take out or just plan a little differently.  We'll also get a chance to look at some young guys in practice too, and get us some depth."

A win over Arkansas would make the Rebels bowl eligible for the second straight year under Freeze. In this week's bowl projections, Greg Ostendorf from ESPN has Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl, while Jerry Palm from CBS Sports has them in the Gator Bowl.

"We all want to win these games, and let all that care of itself," Wallace said. "We know if we win these games, we'll be in a big-time bowl. And that's our goal. Our goal is not just getting to a bowl game this year; it's going to a big bowl game. It's taking that next step for our program."


"A few guys talk about it but not too often," junior defensive tackle Bryon Bennett said. "We try to keep a narrow focus and not look at the big picture. We know a lot of our remaining games are home, which is always an advantage for us with the energy and excitement."


Wallace, Brunetti Improve Decision-Making



Last year, Wallace threw 22 touchdown passes compared to 17 interceptions. Through eight games year, he has thrown 11 touchdowns to three interceptions. His interception ratio (interceptions per pass attempt) improvement from last year to this year ranks second in the SEC and sixth nationally.


Wallace also ranks fifth in the SEC and 31st nationally in total offense (266.2 ypg) and 5th in the SEC and 36th nationally in passing (247.0). His backup, senior Barry Brunetti, has completed 12-of-15 passes for 129 yards and five touchdowns in his last five games.


"It's been an on-going endeavor since last spring," Freeze said. "I think Dan Werner has done a really nice job of decreasing the package so there is no question of what to do and a clear understanding of what your read should be.  As the year has gone on we continue to cut back to make sure we put ourselves in position to take care of the ball and there should be no reason for us to not have great understanding of exactly what you're supposed to do and when.  


"I have to give a lot of credit to Dan Werner, as well as those two kids (Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti).  We must always take care of the football, and we've done a good job putting an emphasis on that also.  We've also been able to run the ball, which is a huge thing for anyone that understands what our offense is like.  When you're able to run the ball it gives you a little more time to throw, and the decisions become better."


Wallace's improved decision-making has even been apparent to him mid-play during games this year.


"It's just better decisions," Wallace said. "There have been a couple times rolling out, especially against LSU, I was thinking middle of the play, 'Last year, I probably try to fit the ball in there,' but then continuing to run and try to do as much as I can without trying to do too much. That has really helped me out."


Bennett Settling In At Defensive End



After playing the first five games, including two starts at defensive tackle, junior Bryon Bennett has started each of the past three game at defensive end, due in part to a season-ending injury to junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, as well as injuries to freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and junior defensive end Carlos Thompson.


"He likes defensive end," Freeze said. "He's played two really solid games there. He's a physical guy. His motor turns up out there, it seems like. Moving forward, it will be interesting for us to look at what the best combination is and how to go about getting our best players on the field. I have been as pleased as I have been in my year and a half with him."


In the last two games, Bennett has three tackles including a solo tackle and a tackle for loss. With Bennett at defensive end, the defense has recorded five sacks in those games, including a season-high three sacks against LSU.


"It's exciting," said Bennett, of defensive end. "There's more room to roam around. I have to back further off the ball to make sure I'm not offside. Other than that, it's a lot of fun."


Bennett said took about two or three practice to adjust to playing defensive end. He gave credit to senior offensive tackles Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton, as well as freshman offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, whom he faced in practice. The two biggest adjustments, he said, were his positioning and how he rushed the passer.


"I have to make sure I maintain my outside presence," Bennett said. "To pass rush, I have to run a lot more. Inside, it's a few steps and then you make a move. On the end, you have to run the edge and make sure the quarterback can't bounce outside the pocket."

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.

VIDEO: Freeze, Werner, Heard

Head coach Hugh Freeze recaps Wednesday's practice, discusses the possibility of inclement weather for Saturday's game at Auburn and updates the health status of quarterback Barry Brunetti, defensive end C.J. Johnson and defensive tackle Bryon Bennett.

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner previews Auburn's defense, looks back on quarterback Bo Wallace's game against Alabama and discusses the role of running back I'Tavius Mathers in the offense. 

Wide receivers coach Grant Heard discusses Vince Sanders and his return from injury, Laquon Treadwell's progression and assesses the blocking of the wide receivers.

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