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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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