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Winning Formula for Rebels is No Secret

The winning formula revealed itself as it has throughout the season: a dominant defense and a mistake-free offense. The Ole Miss defense forced four turnovers, while the Ole Miss offense did not commit a single turnover in a workmanlike 34-3 win over Tennessee on Saturday night.

In addition to four turnovers, the Rebels held the Volunteers to 191 yards of total offense, including zero rushing yards, due in large part to a season-high seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. 

"If you look at the stats, which everyone does, you have to figure, if we can score 17 to 20, to the mid 20's, we have a chance to win a lot of games with the way they're playing," head coach Hugh Freeze said.

Stat-wise, head coach Hugh Freeze called it the best performance from the defensive line in his two-plus years at Ole Miss.

"We got consistent pressure with just the front four," Freeze said. "We blitzed very few times. And we held a team to zero rushing yards. When you make somebody one-dimensional, you have a good chance to be successful."

More than any other stat, and there are a lot of good stats on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack points to Tennessee finishing with zero rushing yards on 28 attempts.

"That's the number one thing on your sheet when you talk to them on Sunday about what you have to do to beat the next team," Wommack said. "If you can do that, you're going to win pretty consistently. You're going to get off the field because we're good enough in pass rush and in coverage. If we get you in second- and third-and-long situations, it's difficult to score and move the ball on us."

Freshman Marquis Haynes, the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, led the way up front with 2.5 sacks, giving him 4.5 sacks over the last two games and 6.5 sacks for the season.

"I have been saying it since August, he's probably going to break the sack record here," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "He's that good. He's going to be a really good player for us the rest of the season. He's been what everybody on our defense expected."

On the back end of the defense, the Rebels' extended their streak to 30 games where they forced at least one turnover. In the process, senior cornerback Senquez Golson picked off two passes, giving him seven interceptions for the season. 

"He's been in the right place at the right time," Wommack said. "He's played technique so well. It's good for our team. It depends on how they want to attack us. He's done a great job for us."

Offensively, Ole Miss was balanced, rushing for 180 yards and passing for 203 yards, exploding for 14 points in the span of four minutes late in the first half and extending the lead in the second half. 

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace was efficient, completing 13-of-28 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. More importantly, he made it four SEC games without a turnover.

"That is music to my ears," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "We obviously didn't play great. I know our stats weren't very good, but we did not turn the ball over. That's the thing I have been harping on with those guys. 

"With the way our defense is playing, if we protect the football, we have a really good chance to win games."

The Rebels are 7-0 for just the second time in school history, and it's no secret what the winning formula has been.

"We try to set the tempo for the whole football team," Johnson said. "We know our offense is capable of scoring points and they have a lot of playmakers."


'The New Normal' on Defense

ATLANTA -- Boise State had been the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 40.2 points per game dating back to the 2000 season. 

Highlighted by four interceptions, eight tackles for loss and big hits by several different players, the Rebels held the Broncos to 13 points in a 35-13 win in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game from Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

"The Rebel defense really made a statement and are really getting an identity," sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "You better get used to it. It's the new normal for us."

Boise State made three trips to the red zone, and the Ole Miss defense held the Broncos to just 10 points, including two trips when the game was very much in doubt in the first half.

"We talk about winning the critical areas, and those are third down, fourth down and red zone, and had our defense not won those critical areas tonight, we were fighting an uphill battle for sure, but those were big stops," head coach Hugh Freeze said.

With the game scoreless in the first quarter, senior cornerback Senquez Golson stopped a six-play, 51-yard Boise State drive with an interception in the end zone.

Later in the half, after Ole Miss went ahead 7-0, Boise State looked to answer and had the ball first-and-goal from the Ole Miss 1-yard line. The Rebels defense stonewalled the Broncos on three straight plays, including two tackles for loss, to hold them to a field goal.

"For a defense to stop a team in the red zone, especially a team as Boise is at scoring, that means a lot," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "That goes to show that we're never going to blink, we're always going to play the next play and we're really confident in each other and the coaches' game plan."

Prewitt, sophomore Huskie Tony Conner and junior defensive C.J. Johnson also had interceptions in the game, as the Rebels intercepted four passes for the first time since the 2011 season against Southern Illinois. For Prewitt, it was his 10th career interception after he led the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions last season.

The defense finished with just three sacks, but they created consistent pressure for much of the game, which helped lead to turnovers.

"I'm so excited to see our pass rush develop throughout the season," Prewitt said. "They're a really good group of athletes down there. Whenever they're going at the quarterback like they are, that's whenever we're going to start getting picks, fumbles and everything."


Relentless is the Word on Defense

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy asked each of the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences to describe their team in one word

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze's word? Relentless.

The same can be said of the Ole Miss defense. 

And it starts up front with the defensive line, headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," defensive line coach Chris 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."

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

Much is expected from Nkemdiche in his sophomore campaign after recording 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in his freshman All-American season. He bounced between defensive end and defensive tackle but has found a home at defensive tackle this season.

"I expect really big things from him," Kiffin said. "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."

"He's definitely found his way in college football," Johnson said. "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."

The defensive line looks to improve the pass rush after experiencing a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, in addition to taking pressure off the secondary. 

The defensive backfield is arguably the deepest and most experienced unit of the defense with a combined 96 starts among the five starters on the depth chart, led by the Southeastern Conference's lone returning All-American in senior safety Cody Prewitt.

"I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years," Wommack said. "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."

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," junior defensive back Mike Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

With the depth, experience and promise of more aggressive play-calling, the sky is the limit for the Ole Miss defense in 2014.


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."

Wallace: 'It's My Offense'

The dean of Southeastern Conferences quarterbacks and the league's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns, senior Bo Wallace is as healthy and confident as ever, and he's also assumed a more vocal leadership role on the team.

"I feel like it's my team," Wallace said. "It's my offense. I have said in years past that I have to be more vocal. This year, I have done a lot better job of letting those guys know that I care about them and I want to be around them and I want those guys playing hard."

After playing through shoulder pain and fatigue for much of his first two years as the Rebels' quarterback, he has not noticed any flare-ups with his shoulder through fall camp.

"I have no pain at all," Wallace said. "Last year, I wouldn't really have pain, but I had days when I didn't feel great, but I feel really good now."

In front of Wallace, junior Fahn Cooper has earned the starting job at right tackle, while the battle for the starting job at center continues between junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers, with both players getting first-team reps in Monday's practice.

"Conyers and Still are still right there battling for the center job and I feel good with either of them about snaps and protections, so I feel like we have some guys who can play and be alright there," Wallace said.

"They are about tit-for-tat," Freeze said. "I'll let Matt (Luke) meet with those kids. They're both going to play. Both Ben and Robert have earned the right to play. Who gets the majority of the snaps will probably be sorted out after the first few games."

Do-It-All Hilton Adds Flexibility to Defense


When sophomore Tee Shepard and junior Carlos Davis went down with season-ending knee injuries, it meant a larger and perhaps less defined role for junior Mike Hilton. 

The one-time high school running back standout has started 16 games in his career, with 10 at cornerback, five at Huskie and one at free safety, including nine at cornerback this past season. 

He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie during fall camp but has now turned most of his attention to cornerback with the injuries to Shepard and Davis. 

"I had a full summer to really get my technique down and work with Coach (Jason) Jones on small things and get a better feel because I switched in the middle of the season," Hilton said. "Having this full summer has really helped me."

In Monday's practice he ran with the first-team defense at cornerback, opposite senior Senquez Golson, and second-team defense at Huskie, behind sophomore Tony Conner.

"(The coaches) make sure I'm on top of everything," Hilton said. "I watch film with the corners one day and go watch it with the Huskies to make sure I'm not making too many mistakes and make sure I can handle it."

Despite the injuries, it's one of the deepest and most experienced secondaries that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has had in his three years at Ole Miss. With that experience, Hilton said he expects a more aggressive defense and more blitzes.

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

Rebels Begin Boise Prep


White jerseys with numbers representing Boise State players dotted the scout-team offense and defense, as Ole Miss has turned the page in advance of the season opener against the Broncos.

One challenge of preparation is the unknown with a first-year head coach in Bryan Harsin and two-first year coordinators in Mike Sanford on the offensive side and Marcel Yates on the defensive side. Some of the preparation is based on Boise State film, while other preparation is based on film from the coaches' other previous experiences.

"It's definitely difficult on the offensive side because the (defensive) coordinator that has been hired has not been a coordinator before, so you're not sure," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'm sure he will take something from everywhere he has been, like all of us have done. We're not quite sure what his flavor is, so that's a bit difficult. 

"Offensively, with their head coach being an offensive guy, even though I know he's not going to coordinate it, you have an idea of what they will be like. We're going to study the places that the offensive coordinator came from also. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it happens."

Harsin was a graduate assistant (2001) and tight ends coach (2002-05) under Dan Hawkins before assuming the role of offensive coordinator and quarterback coach (2006-10) under Chris Peterson. He was most recently the co-offensive coordinator at Texas (2011-12) and head coach at Arkansas State (2013). Sanford most recently spent three seasons as a running backs coach at Stanford (2011-13). 

"You don't know what to expect," Hilton of preparation for Boise State. "We can watch film on Arkansas State, which is where he came from, but he can still throw something new in there. We watch Boise to see how their players are and see how physical receivers and running backs are. It's a challenge, but I feel like we can handle it."

On the defensive side, Yates was a cornerbacks coach (2003-05) under Hawkins before taking over the entire secondary (2006-11) under Peterson, and then serving as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M (2012-2013).

"We have an idea of what we think they're going to do," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of preparation for Boise State. "Study some years past and a little bit of A&M stuff and try to play fast. What we don't know, hopefully our tempo can help us in that area."

Steele Picks Ole Miss to Finish 9-3, Tied for Third in SEC West

ESPN Insider Phil Steele projects Ole Miss to finish 9-3 overall and tied for third in the SEC standings with LSU (9-3) and behind first-place Alabama (12-0) and second-place Auburn (10-2). He projects Georgia (11-1) to win the SEC East and meet Alabama in the SEC title game. Here's more from Steele on Ole Miss:

The Rebels welcome back QB Bo Wallace (3,346 passing yards in 2013) and their top two rushers, I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton (1,086 yards combined). I rank Wallace and backup Ryan Buchanan is the 11th-best QB unit in the country. Even better? What they don't have: South Carolina, Georgia or Florida on the docket. Since they avoid the East's big three, I have the Rebels as clear underdogs against only the West's big two, LSU and Bama (the A&M and Auburn games rate as toss-ups in my book). Ole Miss, talent-wise, is not far behind the Tigers or the Tide and could make a run to the SEC title game. In fact, I have the Rebels as my No. 6-rated surprise team in the country.

For ESPN Insider subscribers, here's the link to the full article, "Projecting the final SEC standings"

More from ESPN: The SEC has plenty of playoff possibilities, and Ole Miss is one of four teams that could make a magical run from outside the top 10, writes Edward Aschoff

NOTABLE:

Sophomore Laquon Treadwell and senior Vince Sanders got first-team reps at outside receiver, with junior Cody Core, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshman Dayall Harris also in the rotation.

Core also got first-team reps at slot receiver, with sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, junior Quintavius Burdette, freshmen Markell Pack and Sammie Epps also in the rotation.

Sophomore Evan Engram got a majority of first-team reps at tight end, with senior Nick Parker,  and sophomores Jeremy Liggins and Matt Brown also in the rotation.

Junior C.J. Johnson, sophomore Fadol Brown, and freshman Marquis Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and junior Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 

Sophomore John Youngblood and junior Channing Ward were second-team defensive ends, with seniors Bryon Bennett and Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

The five players who ran with the first-team defense in the secondary have combined to start 96 games in their career: Senior safety Cody Prewitt (28), junior safety Trae Elston (20), senior cornerback Senquez Golson (20), junior cornerback Mike Hilton (16) and sophomore Huskie Tony Conner (12).

Hilton also ran with second team at Huskie, where he was joined by sophomore Derrick Jones and freshman Kendarius Webster at cornerback and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman C.J. Hampton at safety.

In 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. 

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

QUOTABLE:

Hugh Freeze on field goal kicker: "We feel like we know who's ahead at this point, but it's a bit too early to tell who's going to be the guy. Right now, I would say (Andrew) Fletcher is the guy. Fletcher would kick short-to-medium field goals. All of them, on a given day, have done their share. He's probably been the more consistent on those. If it was a longer (field goal), it would be one of the other two (Gary Wunderlich or Andy Pappanastos)."

Freeze on rotating players on defense: "Any time you can rotate two-deep, you're better off. I'm all for rotating and keeping players fresh so they can play at a high level."

Freeze on Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo at slot receiver: "As soon as one runs a route, the other one is coming in. Cody has probably had a little more consistent camp with everything that is asked of him there, but we're excited about the year Quincy could have also."

Bo Wallace on Fahn Cooper: "He's good. He's physical. He plays hard and he's one of those kids, when you get into them, he will do anything in the world for you. The big thing for me has been to get into Fahn and let him know that I can care about so he wants to protect and wants to lay it on the line."

Wallace on Cody Core: "He has that confidence. This is his third year. He knows the speed of the game. He's confident. We have him learning both inside and outside. He knows he's going to play so he has to perform every single day."

Wallace on backup quarterbacks: "They're good. DeVante (Kincade) has to stay out of negative plays, but his physical abilities are crazy. Ryan (Buchanan) is really starting to learn the offense and know where to go with the football. You can tell in practice that Ryan has done really well."

Wallace on the defensive line: "They're phenomenal. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. Robert (Nkemdiche) draws so much attention that it frees up C.J. (Johnson), Fadol (Brown) and Marquis Haynes coming off the edge. They're going to be one of the best in the SEC, no doubt."

Mike Hilton on working on his press coverage: "I think I'm able to run with everybody. I can get underneath their pads and get my hands on them because I'm short and most receivers are tall."

Hilton on Kendarius Webster: "I'm really impressed. I played him in high school, so I knew how he would play. He's really going to help us in the long run. He's still young. He's going to be a really good one for us."

Hilton on Kailo Moore: "He's who has really impressed me the most. Coming from running back, you're not used to opening up your hips and stuff like that. The thing that helps him the most is his speed. Not too many people are going to beat him deep. He will help."

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."

The SiriusXM College Sports Nation Camp Tour visited Ole Miss on Monday, as Chris Childers and former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik talked Ole Miss football live from the Manning Center. 

The three-hour show featured live interviews with athletics director Ross Bjork, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, senior quarterback Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior linebacker Serderius Bryant and senior safety Cody Prewitt, as well as pre-recorded interviews with head football coach Hugh Freeze and head baseball coach Mike Bianco. 

The show will re-air on Tuesday from 3-6 p.m. CT on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 91 on satellite radios, on the SiriusXM Internet Radio App and online at SiriusXM.com. Here's a sample of the show with Wallace talking about being a senior leader and Freeze talking about the start of camp.

Here are some highlights from Chizik talking with Childers, as he previewed the upcoming season for Ole Miss:

On expectations: "The recruiting classes have been off the charts. Depth, you are finally going to see play a factor. That's probably one of the things why you see them in these SEC matchups, where they can't quite close on the deal on a Texas A&M or an Auburn. Now, all their young guys are gaining experience and gaining year. They have a lot of depth, and you are going to see it make a difference this year.

On Bo Wallace and cutting down on his turnovers: "If you look at some of the premier quarterbacks in the league who really had a chance to win their division -- the AJ McCarron's of the world, the Nick Marshall's and Connor Shaw's -- you're looking at guys who turned the ball over in air four or five times, and for Connor Show, one time. He has to be able to do that. He has to manage those games in the critical times. You're going to see a better Bo Wallace. I really do.

On veterans back on defense: "You have three years in Dave Wommack's system and you have nine starters coming back, and you have some other guys who have played a lot on top of that, not among the nine. You're going to see a very aggressive defense. I have always admired how hard they play. Dave keeps it simple enough, where they can just turn those guys loose and play. They're going to have to play well early and give the offensive line, which has a lot of new guys, time to gel and get better. The defense is going to be a critical element in the first four games of the year.

In between segments, I caught up with Chizik and he shared his thoughts on this year's Ole Miss team and the state of the program:

On season opener against Boise State: "It's cool for the players. I don't know if they train any harder or practice any harder, but certainly as the game gets closer, it has a whole new meaning to a player because it's opening in a pseudo bowl game. They will be excited about it. It's a national TV game and it's going to be one of the biggest games at the beginning of the season. It can be a great opening for Hugh and the football team to play a team like Boise, which has also had a lot of success in its openers, even going back a couple of years to its game against Georgia. The fan base, the players and everyone is going to be excited.

On continuity of staff: "It's night and day if you're trying to build a program, and every two years you're replacing coordinators or you're replacing recruiting coordinators. The kids feel good when they walk back into the building every day and they hear the same voice and the same message. Everyone is beating to the same drum.

On last year's freshmen now sophomores: "So many of the freshmen last year --and they were a very highly-touted class -- came in and had to play, probably more than they needed to play or should have played, when you're talking about freshmen. Hindsight obviously being 20/20, knowing that you had to do that, it certainly makes a better case for you the next year. There were so many guys last year that really had to do it when they were thrown in the fire early. It will pay huge dividends for all those guys this year.

On question marks along the offensive line: "It's going to be huge on the defense. The defense plays a part in that. It's a team game. It's the hardest to put 11 guys on one side and 11 on the other together, but ultimately 22 guys blend together, plus special teams. The defense's job is to buy time for your offensive line to get some experience and gain some confidence, to play together and to listen to the calls. The only thing that you can do with a young line is to give them that experience, game by game, and hopefully you're winning while you're doing it.

On going from the "hunter" to the "hunted": "I don't know if anything changes. There's an awareness there from the coaches and the players that when people play us they have to strap it on and play us for 60 minutes. They can't beat us in 58 minutes. They have to prepare and they have to play the whole game. In this league, they're learning that every week you're the hunted, no matter who you are. Now, they have experienced a great amount of confidence in some of the big games they have won, like the LSU game last year. It makes them very aware that everybody is going to be gunning for them."

On taking the next step as a program: "There's not a day that goes by here that Hugh is not telling his football team that there's one goal, and that's to win the SEC West and go to Atlanta. As you look back and watch the games they have played in the SEC West, there's probably not one guy in that meeting room who thinks that's not a reality, a possibility. They have played everybody tough and beat some of them. That's certainly the goal that they talk about on a daily basis.

On what to look for in first couple of games: "You always look for special teams play. You always look for coverage units and hidden yardage with field position. A lot of people overlook those things because they're looking for touchdowns, interceptions and long runs. That's huge in early games. The other thing is turnovers. You have to protect the ball and you have to try to get the ball back to your offense. Those are the things that every coach in America is going to look for in their openers."

Here are some more highlights from the live interviews on SiriusXM College Sports Nation:

Werner, on Bo Wallace: "The big thing with Bo is that he's sort of a gambler. He'll take his shots. You have to live with it and die with it. When he throws one in there, I'm up the press box and I just go, 'Oh, no,' but then it pops for a touchdown and everybody is happy.

"He makes the exact same throw four plays later and it gets intercepted, and now not so much. That's the thing that I've talked to him about. We have to cut down on those types of plays. We're not going to hit as many big plays, but we're going to keep the chains moving."

Wommack, on C.J. Johnson: "He's one of the leaders of the defense. They all rally around him."

Wommack, on Anthony Alford: "He's one of the top two or three athletes on the team."

Wommack, on Robert Nkemdiche: "We will move him around and use him in different packages, in different places."

Johnson, on being back healthy: "When I'm on the field, it's go-time. I'm ready to go."

Johnson, on season opener against Boise State: "We have a target on our back (as an SEC school). That's another part of the motivation."

Wallace, on last year's Mississippi State game: "It was really frustrating. I felt like we had a good plan for them. I felt like we were the better team. I still feel that way. To be out there, I felt helpless. I didn't know what to do, but I'm healthy now and excited for the year."

Wallace, on leadership: "For me, every guy on the team, when they ask, who wants to win more than anybody, a lot of them are going tell you it's me. That's a huge thing. Competing for those guys, they want to see you're going to put everything on the line every time you walk out there. That's huge for a leader. I'm a quiet, lead-by-example-type guy. I need to be more vocal as a senior and with it being my offense. I'm working on being more vocal."

Bryant, on being underrated: "I love proving people wrong. I got to have a chip on my shoulder because of my size."

Bryant, on the defense: "It's crazy how we all fly around on defense. Everyone's making plays."

Bjork, on his charge as athletics director: "Our job is to build and show progression."

Prewitt, on returning all four starters in the secondary: "It means a lot to be coming back with the same four people in the back end. You can sense what the other guys are going to do and the reads they're going to make. It makes it easier to execute the game plan well."

Prewitt, on Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche: "It's really fun to watch them interacting with each other and the way they push each other. It makes all of us better."

Ole Miss took its turn at the annual SEC Media Days on Thursday. Joining head coach Hugh Freeze was senior quarterback Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and senior safety Cody Prewitt. Here are a few related SEC Media Days links to videos and stories:

Freeze explains common factor in SEC turnarounds, writes Chris Vannini of Coaching Search

Great expectations: Improved depth could lead to big things for Rebels, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Ole Miss football wants to prove it's a big ticket for Atlanta and beyond, writes Steven Godfrey of SB Nation

AUDIO: Ole Miss HC Hugh Freeze talks about getting back into football mode on SiriusXM Nation

Slighted QB Wallace ready to lead Mississippi, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press

On his shoulders: Wallace 100 percent fit and ready to lead Rebels, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Bo Wallace just wants one healthy season, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Bo Wallace using snub for extra motivation, writes Ross Dellenger of The Advocate

Tough talk, big dreams for Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace in senior season, writes Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal

Last shot for Bo Wallace to spurn doubters, get Ole Miss to new heights, writes Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated

AUDIO: Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace talks about the QB battles in the SEC on SiriusXM College Sports Nation

VIDEO: Bo Wallace aims to be the SEC's top QB, reports Courtney Cronin of the Clarion-Ledger

C.J. Johnson is back, can make the Ole Miss D better, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Ole Miss All-American safety Cody Prewitt still toils in obscurity, writes Gary Laney of AL.com

Denzel Nkemdiche back with Ole Miss Rebels after spring ban, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com

Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell in same class as Alabama's Amari Cooper, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com

More from SEC Sports: 2014 SEC Media Days Wrap-Up






Three student-athletes and the head coach of each of the 14 Southeastern Conference football programs will participate in SEC Football Media Days, July 14-17, at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.

Ole Miss will take its turn at SEC Media Days on Thursday, July 17. In addition to head coach Hugh Freeze, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior safety Cody Prewitt and senior quarterback Bo Wallace will represent Ole Miss. 

Wallace is the seventh Rebel to attend multiple SEC Media Days, joining Jeff Herrod (1986-87), Eli Manning (2002-03), Patrick Willis (2005-06), Kentrell Lockett (2010-11), Bradley Sowell (2010-11) and Donte Moncrief (2012-13).

The cover art for Ole Miss football media guide was also released. The guide has two covers, one featuring Wallace and another featuring Prewitt. Fans can start ordering guides next week at OleMissSports.com

Thumbnail image for 6bb7M.jpgThe Ole Miss official website, OleMissSports.com, and the SEC official website, SECSports.com, will have continuous coverage of SEC Football Media Days, as will ESPNU, ESPN and Watch ESPN.

More From SEC Sports: Football Media Days Attendees Released

ESPN.com's SEC bloggers wrapped up their annual position rankings, where they rank the position units and rank the top players at the various positions. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and links to all of the unit rankings.

Quarterbacks: 3rd

Bo Wallace enters his senior season ranked second in school history in total offense (7,085 yards) and passing yards (6,340). It's always nice to have that kind of experience, and Wallace should also be healthier after playing through shoulder pain each of the last two seasons. It's a three-man race for the backup job. DeVante Kincade is an exceptional athlete, Ryan Buchanan is more of a pocket passer. Both are redshirt freshmen. Don't forget about 6-foot-3, 296-pound sophomore Jeremy Liggins, who originally signed with LSU before going to junior college. Liggins could be a beast in short-yardage situations. 

Bo Wallace: 3rd

The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span. 

Running backs: 10th

Wide receivers and tight ends: 5th

Offensive coordinators love it when they can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Laquon Treadwell, who as a true freshman trailed only Jordan Matthews for the most receptions in the SEC last season, is the type of home-run threat to keep safeties on their heels. Evan Engram, who made a positive impression as a rookie himself before succumbing to injury, gives Ole Miss a one-two punch by demanding coverage in the middle of the field because he's simply too athletic a tight end to be covered by most linebackers in the league. 

Laquon Treadwell: 2nd

Everyone had the feeling he'd be special in his first year at Ole Miss, but it came as a surprise just how ready he was to compete in the SEC. Playing slot, he was one of the best receivers in the league, finishing second only to Jordan Matthews in receptions (72). As a result, coaches voted him SEC Freshman of the Year. At 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, he has the frame to challenge smaller defensive backs. But it's his hands and ability to create space that make him special. With Donte Moncrief now gone, he'll transition to the outside and continue to be a favorite of quarterback Bo Wallace.

Evan Engram: 3rd

Injuries clouded an otherwise eye-opening rookie campaign. He started last season on a tear with 20 catches and four touchdowns through seven games and then missed the final five games of the regular season. If he has a clean bill of health, he's the type of hybrid receiver-tight end who can flourish in Hugh Freeze's offense and complement Laquon Treadwell on the outside. 

Offensive line: 9th

Laremy Tunsil: 3rd

The Rebels' 2013 recruiting class was full of five-star prospects, but none played better than Tunsil last season. He appeared in 12 games, making nine starts at left tackle. He allowed just one sack all year. He was a second team All-SEC selection, a member of the SEC All-Freshman team, and the coaches expect him to only get better as a sophomore. 

Defensive line: 4th

As Hugh Freeze moves into his third season on the job, the hope in Oxford is that the Rebels can make some noise in the West race. They have the depth, talent and experience in the defensive line to make a move. Sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche is the most talented of the bunch and primed for a huge season, but there's also depth inside. If C.J. Johnson stays healthy at end, defensive line should be the Rebels' strongest position in 2014. 

Robert Nkemdiche: 3rd

The consensus No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, Nkemdiche started the season at end and then moved inside to tackle. He finished third on the team with eight tackles for loss despite missing two games with a strained hamstring. At 6-4 and 277 pounds, Nkemdiche is big enough and explosive enough to be a dynamic playmaker no matter where he lines up. 

Issac Gross: 8th

Size isn't everything at tackle. The 250-pound Gross proved that last season. He consistently went up against bigger guards and centers on the offensive line and used his quickness to lead the Rebels with 3.5 sacks and was second on the team with nice tackles for loss. Gross started four games at nose tackle last season. 

C.J. Johnson: 8th

The 6-2, 237-pound Johnson was on his way to an All-SEC season a year ago until an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. He had four tackles for loss in his first four games and, as a sophomore in 2012, led the team with 6.5 sacks. The biggest hurdle for Johnson has been avoiding injuries. But if he stays healthy, he'll make a ton of big plays for the Rebels this season. 

Linebackers: 8th

Serderius Bryant: 6th

He might not have the prototypical size for an SEC linebacker, but the 5-9, 218-pound Bryant emerged last season as one of the league's top big-play performers on defense. He led Ole Miss with 12.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. His speed is what sets him apart. 

Secondary: 1st

Talent and experience. Both are worth their weight in gold, and Ole Miss has loads of each. We're probably not giving anything away when we say that both Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will make the list of the league's top 10 safeties later today. Prewitt led the league in interceptions last season, and Conner, a former four-star recruit, has barely scratched the surface on what he can do. Trae Elston and Senquez Golson, meanwhile, are potential impact players, along with Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones. If C.J. Hampton lives up to the hype, he could be a true freshman to keep an eye on. 

Cody Prewitt: 1st

On a defense loaded with former blue-chip recruits, it was Prewitt, a three-star safety from the tiny town of Bay Springs, Mississippi, who stood out the most last season. The 6-foot-2 junior showed the complete package as he led the SEC with six interceptions and became a near unanimous first team All-America selection. Now a senior, he's the clear face of a secondary that could be the best in the conference. 

Tony Conner: 3rd

Talk about fulfilling on promise. Conner, a four-star safety prospect coming out of high school, was an immediate impact player for Ole Miss, playing in all 12 games and earning Freshman All-America honors for his 66 tackles, one interception and seven passes defended. 

Special teams: 13th

Jaylen Walton: 8th

Another guy competing for a 2014 starting running back job, the diminutive Walton was impressive as a return man last season. In addition to his 523 rushing yards as a backfield mate for Jeff Scott and I'Tavius Mathers, he contributed 25 kickoff returns for 515 yards, good for a team-best average of 20.6 ypr. 

Rising junior running back I'Tavius Mathers turned in the highlight of the Grove Bowl Saturday with a 96-yard run before he was caught from behind by rising sophomore defensive back Kailo Moore to prevent him from scoring the touchdown.

"He's made some plays," offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "He made a move yesterday in practice, one of the best I have seen. He put a safety, sat right on his back to score a touchdown. 

"The other thing is, you saw on the long play today, the only guy who caught him today was Kailo, who's a sprint champion. He obviously has some speed. He's deceptive. People think because he's stockier that he's not as fast as he really is."

Rising sophomore Mark Dodson also had a solid game with two carries for 10 yards and two catches for 69 yards with a 24-yard touchdown catch from redshirt freshman DeVante Kincade. Rising sophomore Jaylen Walton, who did not play Saturday, as well as redshirt freshmen Eugene Brazley and Jordan Wilkins will also figure in the mix at running back.

"These guys are all making big runs," said Werner of the running backs. "That puts a lot of pressure on whoever that starter is. You better be healthy and you better produce. Otherwise, someone behind you is going to step in."

Backup Quarterback Battle To Continue Into Summer

Rising senior quarterback Bo Wallace was 10-of-21 for 152 yards with a 25-yard touchdown to rising sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell during the goal-line session. 

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner noted he took a big step this spring, while the battle for the second-string job continues between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade.

Buchanan was 6-of-10 for 100 yards, while Kincade was 5-of-8 for 57 yards with a 24-yard touchdown pass to rising sophomore running back Mark Dodson.

"It's neck and neck," said Wallace of the competition behind him. "One will have a good day, and then the other one will have a good day. They're both two different players, though, so situationally you can see both of them. It's a tight battle, and those guys are competing."

"I like the way those guys are playing right now," Werner said. "We still have long way to go to get them game-ready, but I'm really pleased with both of them. Jeremy Liggins comes in and you can see that he can get physical in the short-yardage-type stuff. He can keep on progressing, too. It will be interesting to see what happens throughout the summer and summer camp."

Transfers, Mid-Year Additions Change Look Of Defense

Two transfers, defensive back Anthony Alford and defensive lineman Fadol Brown, and three mid-year additions, defensive back C.J. Hampton, defensive end Marquis Haynes and linebacker Christian Russell, bolstered the Rebels on the defensive side of the ball in the spring. 

Haynes punctuated his first spring with seven tackles and two sacks in the Grove Bowl Saturday. He looks to help improve the pass rush, as does rising senior C.J. Johnson who returns after missing the last nine games last season due to an ankle injury.

"It starts with C.J.," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of the pass rush. "Just having him back defensively is huge. Not having him for eight or nine games last year really hurt our defense. His pass rush and ability makes a huge difference to what we want to do. Carlos Thompson has made vast strides in pass-rushing situations. 

"Marquis (Haynes) is another guy, who it hasn't clicked with, but his motor runs so hard. Sometimes when he's going the wrong place, he's still athletic enough to do the right things. Robert (Nkemdiche) and Bryon (Bennett) have important. I don't think there's any question our pass rush has improved."

Moore, Coleman Named Most Improved Of Spring Practice

When asked about who surprised during the spring, rising senior wide receiver Collins Moore was the first player Freeze mentioned. Moore, who stepped in for an injured Vince Sanders, was presented with the Eli Manning Award for the most improved offensive player during the Grove Bowl festivities.

"He has always made plays for us," Werner said. "We just weren't sure where he would fit in because we have so much talent at wide receiver. Because of an injury this spring, he got to step in there and play, and he made a bunch plays for us all spring. I was proud of him."

On the other side of the ball, rising senior Cliff Coleman, who has settled in at the Huskie position, was presented with the Jeff Hamm Memorial Award for the most improved defensive player.

"He's not the best athlete on the team, but he's smart and he's gotten stronger," Wommack said. "Those two things. He makes very few mistakes, and physically, you're not going to throw him around out there. When you play guys like Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, those guys will run you over, knock you around and catch the ball. Cliff's got himself strong enough that he can defense those type players."

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.

Another 'Measuring Stick' For Ole Miss


Last season, two weeks removed from a 66-31 loss to Texas, Ole Miss hung tough at then-No. 1 Alabama, briefly leading early in the second quarter, but the Rebels fell to the Crimson Tide 33-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 


A year later, as it prepares for No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, No. 21 Ole Miss is 3-0 for the first time since 1989 and rides a five-game winning streak, which includes come-from-behind road wins against Vanderbilt and Texas already this year.


"Last year, we didn't know what to expect," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "This year, we're confident and we feel like we can play with anybody. 


"I was frustrated last year just because we were so close, and people were saying we were so close. I was ready to start winning those games. Now, we're starting to do that and win those close games, down at halftime and being able to come back into games. We have a pretty mature team, and hopefully we can go out, not make mistakes and win a football game."


A win against Alabama, Wallace said, would take them to that next level and put them in a chance to play for something big this year. For head coach Hugh Freeze, the motivation is clear, and it's one similar to the one entering the Texas game two weeks ago.


"What should motivate us, and I think will, is an opportunity to go stand in front of the measuring stick right now and prove that you deserve to be there. That's what we'll focus on. If it does go our way, it would certainly be a huge boost to our program and move us a few steps forward quicker than anybody thought, including myself."


Stopping The Run


Looking back on last year, defensively, Freeze said they were one of the few teams that felt like they stopped the run against Alabama, holding the Crimson Tide to 125 yards on 34 attempts, well below their 227.5 yards per game, which ranked 16th in the nation.


"They're going to play two or three tight ends, Freeze said. "They force you in committing so many to the box, so they can stop the run. They want to take a shot over your head. They've got quality receivers that can do that. Of course A.J. (McCarron) has proven what he is to that offense. He's a winner and he's proven that through the course of time. They just put you in a position where you're going to have to win one-on-ones. 


"That what this game ends up being about most of the time: How many one-on-ones did you win? Our kids are going to have to win some of those. We're not going to stop them the whole night. Hopefully we can score enough points and stop them enough that we have a shot in the fourth quarter. Our kids will play the entire 60 minutes and see what happens."


Through three games, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said, running the football remains an emphasis for the Alabama offense, which ranks 85th in the nation in total offense, averaging 370.7 ypg, and 91st in rushing offense, averaging 132.0 ypg. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who has 273 rushing yards on 49 attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, leads the rushing attack for the Crimson Tide.


"I haven't seen much of a difference," Johnson said of Alabama's offense. They still want to try to run the football, so they can dictate the tempo. I think they're throwing the ball a lot, just because they have great back and some pretty good receivers that can make you pay. You have to pick your poison against them."

 

Talking Tempo, Matching Up With Alabama's Defense


Much like the fast-paced, up-tempo offenses, which, right now, are cutting edge, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has done the same thing defensively, Freeze said, adding new wrinkles every game, switching between a 3-4 and 4-2-5 formation and giving you every look you can imagine.


"It's very multiple," Freeze said of Alabama's defense. "They're very physical up front. You have a difficult time consistently having drives on them. That's the thing that stands out game after game, even the game against Texas A&M. You don't put on the film and see a consistent drive without having a big play or a phenomenal one-on-one play.


"Physically they're very good and they're not going to make the mistake that allows you to have many explosive plays. That's been the staple of their defense. They're going to stay in the right position. Very rarely  do you see explosive plays. We've got to find a way to create those, or find a way to stay in and convert on third and shorts to stay on the field."


Last year, in a 33-14 loss in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss managed two sustained drives, one of 13 plays for 75 yards, another of 16 plays for 70 yards, but two is not enough to win against that type of team, Freeze said.


Through three games, Alabama ranks 56th in the nation in total defense and 83rd in pass defense, having allowed 373.0 total ypg through three games, including 250.3 ypg through the air. But both statistics are due in large part to Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel's historic day against the Crimson Tide. He threw for 464 yards and ran for another 98 yards, as the Aggies with 628 yards of total offense in a 49-42 loss in College Station.


Manziel is a difference-maker, yes, but there are similarities between the Texas A&M and Ole Miss offenses. Part of that is tempo, where Ole Miss and Texas A&M rank second and third, respectively, in the SEC behind Missouri. The Rebels average 79.3 plays of offense per game, which ranks 20th in the nation, while the Aggies average 76.75 plays per game, 28th in the nation. 


Last year, opponents ran an average of 59.8 plays of offense against Alabama, and this year, opponents have ran an average of 58.7 plays. In last year's 33-14 loss to Alabama, Ole Miss ran 68 plays of offense, while Texas A&M ran 77 plays last year and 71 plays this year against the Crimson Tide.


"We're going to go our tempo in any game we play," Freeze said. "We have it ready. I would love to say that we're going to do it a lot, but you have got to win first down to do that. They were able to win first down a lot. Even though we're similar schematically, us and A&M, at a lot of things, you don't treat us the same if you're defending us because of who is taking the snap for them."


"We can put points on them," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We can put points on anybody. We have to show up and play. It's the same thing every week. That's stay on schedule, control the tempo and don't have any turnovers. We're winning first downs on most drives. Even if we don't win first downs, we have been pretty good on second downs. As long as we're staying schedule with third and short, and third and medium, we're having good drives."


Wallace also showed a lot of confidence in his group of receivers, which will be bolstered this week with the return of junior Vince Sanders, who suffered a broken collarbone during fall practice. Last season, he played in every game with 12 starts and finished with 39 receptions for 504 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-high seven receptions for 46 yards against Alabama.


"He went through a full practice yesterday," Freeze said of Sanders. "We'll incorporate him in just like we would anybody. He will be ready to go. You will probably see him, Laquon, Ja-Mes and Donte all out there at the same time some. We'll rotate them and keep them fresh. We love having him back. He gives us another threat for sure.


"It's exciting, and glad to have him back," Wallace said. "It seems like he's been gone forever. He was catching balls yesterday and looked good running routes. I'm excited to have him back."






Preparing For Texas


Head coach Hugh Freeze discusses what he expects with new Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who replaced Manny Diaz after their loss to BYU, 40-21, in Provo, Utah. Robinson was a co-defensive coordinator for the Longhorns in 2004, which ended with an 11-1 record and the Longhorns' first BCS Bowl and Rose Bowl win over Michigan. 


That season, Texas held its opponents to 320.1 yards per game (23rd in the nation) and 17.9 points per game (18th in the national). He most recently served as the defensive coordinator at Michigan from 2009-10 after four years as the head coach at Syracuse from 2005-08.


Wallace 'Overwhelmed' Last Year Against Texas


Through two games, junior Bo Wallace has completed 39 of 62 passes for 471 yards with two touchdown and no interceptions. Last Saturday against SEMO, Ole Miss scored on all four of Wallace's drives -- three touchdowns and a field goal -- before he rested the rest of the game. 


"I don't think we're at all where we need to be," Wallace said. "This week is a huge test for us. We're focused in. Everybody is excited about it, especially being in the rankings. We have a huge test, so we have a lot of work to do this week."


This week, the test is Texas, coming off a 40-21 loss to BYU, and Wallace said Texas probably feels like their backs are against the wall with the media scrutiny surrounding the team.


"It's frustrating," Wallace said of the change in defensive coordinator. "We were in meetings when we found out yesterday. We talked about it then, and the coaches are going to get a plan together of what they want me to look at and things like that."


In last year's 66-31 loss to Texas, Wallace completed 13 of 24 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, and he described the feeling as "overwhelming."


"It was my first game against a big-time college football team," Wallace said. "I have played in big games now, and I know what to expect. I'm excited about it."


After last Saturday's win over SEMO, offensive coordinator Dan Werner said Wallace is light years ahead of where he was entering last year's game against Texas. On Monday, Wallace and Freeze said more of the same.


"I am way more prepared, and I have been in big games," Wallace said. "I have played against the great athletes like we're going to play against Saturday. I feel much more comfortable with it."


"Bo has played in some pretty big games at good places in this league in the year and a half since Texas last year, so all that experience has got to better prepare him for Saturday at Texas," Freeze said. "And that's the same for the rest of our team. I feel confident that we're better prepared. Does that mean the results will follow? I don't know. I'm confident we're better prepared mentally and physically."



Added Motivation For Both Teams



On the Ole Miss side, it's the motivation from last year's 66-31 loss to Texas.


"It was quite embarrassing to be honest," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "They pretty much came in and beat us like a drum. We had a lot of missed assignments. We weren't as physical, and we didn't play real well in the first half. It was just a bad game. We played a bad game."


"It's a huge motivator, just like playing Vanderbilt, who we lost by one to last year, and we really wanted to beat them," senior offensive tackle Pierce Burton said. "Now, we have turned our focus to Texas. Any team that we lost to last year, we have a real chip on our shoulder when we play them this year."


For Texas, it's last week's 40-21 loss to BYU. Defensively, Texas allowed 550 rushing yards on 72 attempts, a 7.6 yards per carry average, and four rushing touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Texas offense converted just 5 of 17 third-down attempts and 0 of 3 fourth-down attempts.


"We know we're going into a hostile environment, and those guys are going to be playing with a chip on their shoulder to play better from last week, so we have to be prepared," Johnson said.


"I expect them to be very emotional in front of their home crowd," Freeze said. "They will raise their game, and I expect to see the best that they can be. It won't be hard to get our guys up. They understand. We challenge them after the game the other night, and they will be anxious to get ready for this game and give them their best shot."


Other Notes & Quotes


Defensively against SEMO, Ole Miss allowed 13 points and 252 yards. Freeze was generally pleased with the defense, and the game plan entering Saturday's game against Texas centers on not allowing easy scores and stopping the run.


"We've got to quit allowing the easy scores. We allowed two that resonate on my mind. We had one of those the other night. Hopefully we can stop the run, that'll be our goal going in. We were not able to do that last year against them. We've got to be able to stop the run and not give up the easy score. They have some weapons and a lot of speed. They can also certainly throw it over the top of you any time. Hopefully we get a couple turnovers and we don't give up the easy play."


Sophomore Mike Hilton moved from Huskie to boundary corner, where he started last week against SEMO. This week, he is again listed as the starter there, opposite junior Senquez Golson at field corner. 


"Hilton played a good game the other night except for one play," Freeze said. "His eyes got bad, and he didn't get a read route on a kid, but he practiced at corner all of about three days. He had a solid game other than that one play."


Sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers returned from an ankle injury last week against SEMO, and he rushed for 56 yards on four carries, including a 10-yard touchdown run.


"He gives us more of a physical back," Freeze said. "He made some good runs the other night. He's still not healthy. You can see that, when he tried to really make a cut. He's still not 100 percent, but hopefully he will be better this Saturday night than he was this past Saturday night. Certainly, we like his style. It's a little different and more physical. He's tough to bring down. He's a good complement to Jeff (Scott) and Jaylen (Walton)."


Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 high school recruit in the nation last year, is slated to start at defensive end, opposite junior C.J. Johnson, in his first college game.

His position coach, Chris Kiffin, and the other coaches are confident in Nkemdiche, and if anything, they will have to guard against his emotions and overexcitement.

"What we have been battling all fall camp is the notion that he feels that he has to make every play," Kiffin said. "We're trying to get him to play within the defense. Especially going out in the first game, I can't fathom the amount of pressure on him outside of all the other stuff. If he can just understand to go out and play the game like he has the last four weeks, then he will be fine.

"He's done a great job for a young guy coming in and having to learn the defense," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "There have been some issues with him jumping offsides, but you would rather have that then have a good who's sitting back. He's eager to play, very excited. Robert is as advertised."

Nkemdiche came a long way during fall practice, Kiffin said, from when he ran the first-team defense as early as Aug. 5, to entering his first college game.

"I was impressed with him picking up the defense like he did," Kiffin said. "He still has mistakes, obviously, but throwing him in right away, I think it was perfect for him. There was no, so to say, learning curve. The first two weeks, he was thrown in there, and we coached on the run.

"He would stay after meetings, just him and I, to go over that film, and then slow down and coach. Let him go full speed on the field, make a quick correction here and there, then in the film room, explain why he was doing something wrong and how it needs to be done."

Kiffin said Nkemdiche's technique "has varied," and "it's been up and down," but having gone back to watch film of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's freshman season, he said he saw a lot of the same things -- natural athleticism and making plays -- from Nkemdiche.

"I have seen both of them doing the wrong thing a number of times and making plays," Kiffin said. "So I'm not trying not to overcoach him. I want him to make plays and not play tentative. That stuff will come with experience."

A big challenge on Thursday will be getting Nkemdiche acclimated and handling the pressure of starting in his first college game.

"I talked to some of the older guys about it too, Cameron Whigham and C.J. Johnson," Kiffin said. "I got him rooming with C.J. Johnson on purpose the night before," Kiffin said. "I think that will be good for him, and out there as the game goes on, between plays and on the sidelines between series, those guys talking to him.

"It can't just be me every time. Those guys actually did it themselves. C.J. sees everything out there, so he's going to know if something is going on with Robert and let him know about it."

Freshmen In The Passing Game

Junior wide receiver Vince Sanders (collarbone) and senior Korvic Neat (knee) both suffered injuries during fall practice. With their injuries, freshman wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo have taken on bigger roles in the Ole Miss offense.

Treadwell is slated to start at slot receiver, while Adeboyejo is a backup at one of the two outside receiver spots but will likely figure in the rotation on Thursday.

"Coming into the year, receiver was probably our deepest position," Wallace said. "And right now, we have two guys out, so recruiting those two guys definitely helped.

"Laquon is a big body. He helps you as a quarterback because defenders can't get around him to make a play on the ball. Quincy is a good route-runner. He's a little banged up right now, but he still looks good running around out there."

Another freshman, Evan Engram, is listed as a starter and expected a big role at tight end after losing seniors Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley from last year.

"He's going to really, really good," Wallace said. "He's one of the guys who's going to be a really good players. He's going to play a big role. He's a great receiving tight end. He's a mismatch for us, so he's going to play a big role for us."

Update On Mathers, Freshman Running Backs

Sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers, who was listed as co-backup with fellow sophomore Jaylen Walton behind senior Jeff Scott, is about 80 percent, head coach Hugh Freeze said on the weekly teleconference on Wednesday.

"We think he's going to have a special year. He's put on some more weight. He's a physical runner for us, and he has some twitch to him, too. We think he's going to be a special back. He was hampered for quite a bit of camp with an ankle.

"I would say he's about 80 percent right now, so I don't know that tomorrow night you will see the true I'Tavius Mathers that you are going to see the rest of the year, but we're confident that once he gets back to 100 percent, he's going to be an important factor to our offense."

Also, on the weekly teleconference on Wednesday, Freeze was asked specifically about redshirting freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, one of three freshman running back in the mix for playing time, along with Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore.

"I would never decide to redshirt anyone this early, just because you never know," Freeze said. "I don't make up my mind this early to do that. I would like to redshirt him (Jordan Wilkins). He's going to be a good player, too. We just happen to have good depth at that position.

"We have got six guys that I believe are good players and would love to get to try to make it through the season with four of them and redshirt two. But again, it's too early to tell that."

Maurice Harris Talks Tight Ends

When asked about the tight end position after practice, head coach Hugh Freeze said they don't have any one player right now -- at this point -- who can do everything they want out of the position. Four players have split reps between the first-team, second-team and third-team offense.


"It's more play-specific," tight ends coach Maurice Harris said of the position. "We have to get the right kind of guys to do the specific task that we ask them to do. If we run the ball, Jack (Nuismer) is doing a good job, as well as Nick Parker. When we pass the ball, Evan (Engram) has separated himself some, along with Matt Brown. We have to get some consistency there, and these guys have to hone in on what we are doing."


Engram caught two touchdown passes in a live session of practice last night, Freeze said, while Harris mentioned a jump ball catch Engram had in the corner of the end zone over freshman safety Derrick Jones. Harris also raved about Engram's speed, his agility, his play-making ability and strong hands, adding that he plays fast.


"Evan is a physical kid," Harris said. "He's just light right now. He's 224 pounds, which is a lot heavier than when he came in at 209 pounds, but he's just light. I think he's physical enough to get the job done. I feel confident that he will."


Another interesting player at the position is Parker, who switched from running back to tight end. Of the four players, he has the most game experience, having appeared in seven games last season, mostly on special teams.


"I've been pleasantly surprised by Nick," Harris said. "The question was his physicality. Would he able to get in there and block, drive his feet, shoot his hands and finish blocks? And he's doing that. He needs to work on his route-running, but his pass-catching has been really good."


Injury Updates


At cornerback, senior Charles Sawyer (shoulder) returned to practice, including some team drills, but did not participate in live contact drills. Junior Senquez Golson (hamstring) ran again today, his second day of running, which Freeze said is "a good sign."


On the defensive line, freshman defensive Robert Nkemdiche (groin) was held out, but Freeze said he is "good, progressing really nicely." Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson was held out a tight Achilles, and Freeze said "the last thing you want to do with a tight Achilles is make him push through it right now." Freeze also noted sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross (sports hernia) has practiced every day and "seems to be doing well."


On offense, Freeze said senior offensive lineman Patrick Junen (toe, wrist) is "really close and expects to see him start practicing next week." Freshman running back Kailo Moore (concussion symptoms) was back yesterday, and Freeze noted he "took a lot of carries today," and sophomore running I'Tavius Mathers (ankle) is now out of his boot, "so his situation is progressing," Freeze said.



Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson was a full participant in practice and ran with the first-team defense, opposite freshman Robert Nkemdiche. It should also be noted that both senior defensive end Cameron Whigham and junior defensive end Carlos Thompson were held out of practice.

"He seemed to handle it pretty well," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Johnson. "He is going to have to just play through some pain. The doctors were here and everything looks good with the repair, he is just going to have to push through some of it and get himself back into shape."

Behind Johnson and Nkemdiche, sophomore Channing Ward got second-team reps at defensive end, opposite senior D.T. Shackelford, who moved from linebacker to defensive end, where he played some as a sophomore in 2010.

"We are moving him around to several positions and he was solely at end today," Freeze said of Shackelford. "He plays with a wide open motor and that is something you have to have on the defensive side of the ball. He is a great leader and any time he is out there people rally around him. His quickness is a lot better than it was this spring. He feels good and is getting more and more comfortable."

In the secondary, sophomore Chief Brown got some first-team reps at Rover ahead of sophomore Trae Elston. In a third-down situational competition, the defense showed what looked like a 3-2-6 base defense.

The notable personnel changes from the 4-2-5 to the 3-2-6 on the first-team defense were junior Bryon Bennett as the only defensive tackle, junior Keith Lewis replacing senior Mike Marry at one linebacker spot and the addition of freshman Huskie Tony Connor, alongside sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton.

"He is learning quickly and plays very physical," Freeze said of Connor. "He is still like any freshman and his eyes are in the wrong place some times, but he is everything we thought he would be and will be a really good player for us."

Options On Offensive Line

Not including senior Patrick Junen who has been held out of fall practice while recovering from offseason surgery, eight different offensive linemen have gotten first-team reps.

"There are several competitions going on right now, and that's part of the good thing about this camp. Last year, guys didn't really get pushed. We have a lot of competition going on at every position, and guys battling for their spot."

One of those competitions is right guard, where Junen and sophomore Justin Bell were listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. With Junen out, Bell has gotten most of the first-team reps there throughout fall practice.

"He's doing well," offensive line coach Matt Luke said of Bell. "Justin is a great kid. He tries to please in everything he does. He's a student of the game. He's very intelligent. He's paid his dues. He's worked hard, and he's really doing a great job while Patrick has been out. He has some things to work on in pass protection, but he's done a good job."

At the other guard position, junior Aaron Morris had gotten most of the first-team reps, but senior Jared Duke ran with the first team on Thursday.

"That's one of the battles going on right now," Luke said. "Jared has had a great camp. He's a little bit heavy, but he's had an unbelievable camp."

When senior Pierce Burton was held out earlier in fall practice, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers and freshman Laremy Tunsil both got first-team reps at tackle, and they now work with the second-team offense at right tackle and left tackle, respectively, behind Burton (right tackle) and senior Emmanuel McCray (left tackle).

"Laremy is doing well," Luke said. "He's a very, very talented freshman. And he's working to learn some things right now, but he's doing some things really well."

Another freshman, Austin Golson, has gotten second-team reps at right guard and might figure in the rotation on the offensive line this season.

"I expected him to come in and be tough, and nasty and hard-nosed," Luke said. "He was learning the system early, so he wasn't playing quite as fast. These last two days, I have really seen a change in him as he's learned the offense."

NOTABLE:

The defense won both team competitions, including the third-down situational competition.

A couple of highlights from individual drills: Freshman safety Derrick Jones had an interception on a jump ball against freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. In the same drill, junior quarterback Bo Wallace connected with junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief on a fly route against sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette.

A couple of highlight from team drills: On the first play of the third-down situation competition, Wallace connected with Treadwell on a seam route between two defenders. Later in the competition, sophomore cornerback Anthony Standifer had an interception on a jump ball against sophomore wide receiver Cody Core.

In a full-team kickoff return drill, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running back Mark Dodson and sophomore safety Trae Elston were the deep men. Three other freshmen -- Derrick Jones, Laquon Treadwell and Jordan Wilkins -- also got reps on the front line of the unit.

QUOTABLE:

Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace's decision-making: "It was better, but we still got to get there, and we will continue to have some discussions watching film. He's being real coachable right now, which is a really good thing. He doesn't want to make mistakes any more than any other kid. His are much more noticeable because of the position he plays."

Freeze, on Wallace's shoulder: "I think that's just something he's going to have to work through. Ryan Aplin at Arkansas State had the same surgery, and he said it took him months to where his bicep and elbow area didn't hurt him. I think we're coming through it. I think he's getting better."

Senior D.T. Shackelford, on practicing at defensive end: "I enjoyed it. I played a lot there my sophomore year before I got injured so I felt comfortable at end. I don't care if I play linebacker or defensive end, I truly don't. I just want to be on the field and be able to contribute. I feel good at both. I'm just ready to play."

Luke, on offensive line rotation: "I would say we could play, right now in my mind, eight or nine offensive linemen. That's not to say I have eight or nine ready right now, but I think by the end of fall camp, we should have eight or nine guys ready to go."

R. Nkemdiche Runs With First Team

It took until the fourth day of fall practice, but freshman Robert Nkemdiche got the majority of first-team reps at defensive end today. 


"Carlos (Thompson) got a ding to the head," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I don't know what all is wrong with him, but I wouldn't be shocked to see (Nkemdiche on the first team) quite frequently," Freeze said. 

Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been pleased with Nkemdiche's progress through the first four days of practice and the work he's putting in outside of it.

"He's learning every day, staying after it, staying after getting work, staying after meetings and watching extra film," Kiffin said. "Like I have said before, he wants to be great."


Kiffin said one of the things he thinks about is balancing how much he works with Nkemdiche, relative to the other defensive linemen.


"I think about that every day, making sure the other guys don't feel like they're getting slighted," Kiffin said. "We got a couple of guys out here helping. But at the same time, we got to get him ready for opening night. He's going to take more attention because he's behind the 8-ball. 


"There are guys who have been here two years, so I can trust that they know it. Guys like Cameron Whigham, I'm limiting his reps because I know he knows it inside and out."


Among the things Kiffin said Nkemdiche needs to work on are his consistency, his first step and understanding pass sets, similar to what they worked on with sophomore defensive end Channing Ward last season. At the same time, Kiffin said he doesn't want to overcoach Nkemdiche.


"A guy like that, when you overcoach him, he made maybe three or four plays out here today he shouldn't had made because he did the wrong thing," Kiffin said. "You got to find the fine line right  there and let him play ball, and making sure he's doing it right and doesn't cost the team."


Defensive Line 'Further Ahead'


Kiffin said he can see the improvement in his overall unit, from where it was a year ago.


"I think the effort has been there," Kiffin said of his unit. "You can tell we're so much further ahead in the second year of the system, coming out of the spring. These guys know the defense like the back of their hand. 


"Obviously, tempo will always give us a problem, getting the signals and getting lined up. The effort and desire for these guys to get better has been there. I'm pretty pleased right now."


Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson was held out of team drills, but he participated in all individual drills today, as he recovers from a broken leg suffered in spring practice.


"He looks great, doing all of the individual stuff," Kiffin said. "And we gave him pass rush today, and he looks fine. The plan was to get him a couple reps of pass rush today, then maybe in a couple of days, get him into some team work. I think he's going to be fine all season. He looks great, running around and cutting. We just got to get him feeling the big bodies on him."


Kiffin also had praise for Channing Ward who has also gotten some first-team reps at defensive end. Ward played in 12 games at defensive end and on special teams, recording 21 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss last season.


"He looks a lot better, more focused," Kiffin said. "The speed of the game is just different for him now. I think he feels more comfortable with that but still has a ways to go to be consistent every day. He's making plays that he never made before. They're routine plays that take a little work, but he's showing a lot of improvement."


Carlos Thompson and Cameron Whigham also got first-team reps at defensive end, with redshirt freshman John Youngblood getting second-team reps there. Inside, sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross has been sidelined, but Kiffin said he feels good about the defensive tackle position.


"I feel really good about the guys working there, with Bryon Bennett and Lavon Hooks playing '3' technique and Woody (Hamilton) and Carlton (Martin) playing nose," Kiffin said. "Those guys are getting a lot of reps, and I don't think we're missing a beat. 


"Obviously, we don't have the explosiveness inside with Issac out, but those guys are playing heck out of the run. And we can find ways to get pressure on the quarterback, so I'm pleased inside."


NOTABLE:


Robert Nkemdiche also worked as one of the three personal protectors on the first-team punt coverage unit in a special teams drill, along with senior linebackers D.T. Shackelford and Mike Marry.


In the same drill, sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins worked as the two gunners on the first-team punt coverage unit. Sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton and freshman cornerback Bobby Hill were the gunners on the second-team unit.


With senior Pierce Burton limited, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers got first-team reps at right tackle for the the third straight day. Freshman Laremy Tunsil also got first first-team reps at left tackle, with senior Emmanuel McCray switching from left tackle to right tackle.


Senior Patrick Junen has also been limited, so sophomore Justin Bell continues to get first-team reps at right guard. Freshman Austin Golson, who has worked primarily at tackle, got second-team reps at right guard.


In the secondary, Burdette, Collins and sophomore Anthony Standifer all got first-team reps at cornerback, with junior Cody Prewitt, sophomores Trae Elston and Chief Brown and senior Brishen Mathews getting first-team reps at safety. Hill and junior Quadarias Mireles continue to get get second-team reps at cornerback.


QUOTABLE:


Freeze, on quarterbacks behind junior Bo Wallace: "I think Devante is going to be really good, and I think Ryan has a chance also, once they get an understanding of what we're doing. Barry did some decent things today but also did some really bad things. Bo hasn't been that consistent either. It feels kind of like last year. We just have to manage the game and help them not make mistakes that really hurt us."


Sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, on his brother, Robert: "He's definitely dominant. He's a dominant player and definitely getting better. We just got to make sure he knows what do when he's out there and make sure he keeps getting better every day."


Kiffin, on sophomore defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton: "I just love Woody. I love his attitude, his work ethic. He's just a good ol' country kid that comes out here. The guy, he's still a pup. He's a 305-pound pup. I love being able to mold a guy that is so physically dominant. I can't say enough about him."

Wrapping Up Rebel Media Day

Among the 105 players who reported yesterday for the start of fall camp were 23 first-year Rebels, and many have already made an impression on the coaches and returning players.


"I did get to see them this morning and liked what I saw," head coach Hugh Freeze said in his Media Day press conference. "I thought guys like Robert NkemdicheLaremy TunsilLaquon Treadwell and Tony Connor all looked really good. I came off the field thinking Quincy Adeboyejo is going to be a really special player. 


"Herbert Moore is a big guy and had a quick twitch. I am very excited about the young kids like  Daronte Bouldin out of Canton. I think we hit on all of them. I haven't had a staff meeting with defense guys yet, but I think Bobby Hill will be a big plus for us."


His position coach, Chris Kiffin, and one of his teammates, C.J. Johnson, also had praise for Robert Nkemdiche, his work ethic and how he has handled outside expectations.


"I don't think he thinks about the outside stuff as much as people think he does," Kiffin said. "He's really focused on being the best player he can be. He has a desire to be great. That's what I continue to say about him. And he has a motor like his brother. They just fly around, it's what they do. He has all the intangibles, but everything is going to be new for him."


"He's a hard worker," Johnson said. "It's hard to put those expectations on a freshman like that, but I think he has really embraced the opportunity. he understands the sense of urgency and knows he will be able to play a role on this football, and he has embraced that really well.


"His work ethic is second to none. He's a great guy. He goes out there every day, competes and works hard."


Of the freshman offensive linemen, senior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray singled out Tunsil and freshman offensive tackle Austin Golson as guys who have stood out to him.


"All of the freshmen have good level heads," McCray said. "The mental aspect, they will be fine. Athleticism-wise, Laremy and Austin are ready to play I wouldn't just off the bat. With experience, they will be All-SEC kind of guys."


Some other freshmen, Freeze said freshman Evan Engram will be special at tight end and is the guy they have to get ready to play and ask him to do things they need him to do because they are thin at the position. 


Freeze also said he would like to redshirt both freshman quarterbacks, Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade, but one of them will have to be ready to play just in case. He added both had a lot of reps Friday, and he will continue to prepare both of them.


"It's going to take them a while to get into the playbook," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said of the freshman quarterbacks. "It's a tough playbook to understand, but at the same time, they're working hard. They came in right away and started working, so they'll get it down."


Wallace Continues Recovery


One of the biggest storylines of SEC Media Days for Ole Miss was junior quarterback Bo Wallace's recovery from clavicle surgery in January. He participated in seven-on-seven workouts, and Freeze said in his press conference, he is practicing, but they are charting every throw and try to keep it at 50 throws.


"It's good," Wallace said of the shoulder. "They're limiting my throws. I'm looking forward to next week, so I can condition my arm and get used to throwing all those throws, but it feels good though.


"They're giving me the reps that I feel like I need, that I want. I know that if there's a rep I don't feel good about, then I will get right back in. I'm still getting my reps. It's not really like I'm limited out there."


It's year two for Wallace as a starter, and he said it's night and day, this year from last year.


"Last year, I was in a competition, so I was having to worry about every rep, what the other guy is doing, what I'm doing," Wallace said. "Now, it's just going out there, playing and trying to get the team better, trying to get me better."


One Goal For Nkemdiche


When the players reported yesterday, sophomore Denzel Nkemdiche said it was a completely different feeling, with the locker room and the new faces, including his brother Robert, who he now shares a locker beside.


"It's something I have waited for forever, and something I had dreams about," Denzel Nkemdiche said of playing with his brother. "Seeing him out there with the number five jersey and with the team, I can sit back and thank god for everything that has happened. I'm truly blessed. 


"We're here now, so we have to take it to another level. Right now, we have one goal and that is to make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship."


In trying to get better this offseason, Denzel Nkemdiche described both his individual goals, and the goals his brother set to get ready for his first season.


"This offseason, I put an emphasis on putting on weight, and today, I weighed in at 210 pounds," he said. "I'm still moving fast, and I still feel explosive, so I'm definitely excited about that and looking forward to putting the pads on. No matter how well I know the position, I can still find things to improve on every day.


"His goal was to stay fast and stay strong. Throughout the summer, he put on weight and still able to run, learning the defense and progressing fast than incoming freshmen typically do. He knows the burden and pressure he has on him, so he's definitely excited about that."


Close-Knit Offensive Line


The Rebels return four starters on the offensive line, plus senior Patrick Junen, who saw action in all 13 games last year, and two of the seniors, Emmanuel McCray and Evan Swindall talked about the chemistry within the unit.


"We have always been a close-knit bunch," McCray said. "We have these guys that have experience, and it gives us a jump-start. They have been in this fast tempo for a while, but what we're working on now is getting into game shape. We have conditioned all summer, but it's something different about that tempo. It takes two or three days to get it going."


"We all hang out together," Swindall said. "We all understand each other. I don't even have to make some calls this year because we know what we're doing naturally."


Both McCray and Swindall admitted some of guys did gain a few pounds, but after the first day, they feel like they're in a good spot. 


"Some guys needed to put on weight like Robert Conyers and Ben Still," McCray said. "And other guys were injured, so that comes with the territory. Between camp and the strength and conditioning staff, we'll definitely get those pounds off before the season start."


Also, of note, Swindall said Conyers has been working with him at center, and Tunsil, Golson and Bouldin have been working at second-team left tackle, right tackle and right guard, respectively.


Other Quotables:


Chris Kiffin, on health of CJ Johnson and Issac Gross: "I expect both of them to be ready for Vanderbilt. They may be a little rusty, but I think we can get some full-speed reps a couple of weeks before, and I think they will be ready to go."


Emmanuel McCray, on putting on pads: "I haven't had a chance to go against Robert yet. I'm waiting on my opportunity, but I really can't wait until we get our pads on. That's a true test. These shirts and jerseys, you can only grab on cloth so long."


Nick Parker, on his move to tight end: "The coaches came to me about it. They wanted to ask me about it, and I said I would give it a try. As of right now, it's going good. I have to learn different techniques and get everything down, but I think I will get it."


Charles Sawyer, on being a leader in the secondary: "I'm going to coach them like Cassius Vaughn or Marshay Green coached me and help them learn from their mistakes."


D.T. Shackelford, on returning to fall practice: "I'm ready to get back to work. I'm ready to get back in there and playing like I'm capable of playing."


Bo Wallace, on Treadwell and Adeboyejo: "They're big, physical guys. They got to get used to the college game, the speed of it. A couple of times they're getting jammed outside, just from the physicality of playing against an SEC defense, but they'll get used to it and be ready to roll."

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