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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."

First Impressions at Fall Camp

With media day behind them, Ole Miss practiced for the first time of fall camp Saturday on the practice fields. Head coach Hugh Freeze split the practice into two parts, with about 40 minutes devoted to getting reps for the younger players.

"It was good for the young group to get out early," Freeze said. "We finally have some kids, when we go two-deep, that are not getting enough reps. That has not been the norm, so we split practice this morning and went out early with the young guys. That will give them some confidence moving forward."

The first part provided a first look at the many players from the 2014 signing class, ranked as high as No. 14 by the major recruiting services.

"I really like the class that we just brought in," Freeze said. "There are a lot of talented kids in it. If we can do a good job of helping them understand how we want to do things and what there is to do, we have some guys who can perform in that class. I don't want them to get too far behind that they can't play fast."

At media day, Freeze said he was most anxious to see the punters and kickers, as the Rebels look to replace Tyler Campbell and Andrew Ritter, who both graduated following their senior year last season.

"I'm pleased with (Will) Gleeson," Freeze said. "He hit it well today. On one day, Andy (Pappanastos) had the best day, but Gary (Wunderlich) had some really good hits, particularly on the left hash. He struggled a bit on the right hash. Andy had the best day of those guys today. I'm pleased with Gary's punting too. We have two quality punters there in Will and Gary. We have a good battle that's going to happen for the PAT and field goal stuff."

Another position battle to watch on special team is punt returner, where the Rebels look to replace Jeff Scott and Jordan Holder, who handled most of those duties last season.

"Carlos Davis would probably be the guy, if we played today," Freeze said. "Anthony Alford and Trae Elston are other good possibilities also. Carlos is pretty natural back there."

NOTABLE:

In the individual drills, junior Ben Still, senior Chase Hughes and junior Craig Frigo all took snaps at center, with Still getting most of the first-team reps. 

The other four players on the first-team offensive line were sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Justin Bell (RG) and sophomore Robert Conyers (RT).

The second-team offensive line consisted of redshirt freshman Davion Johnson (LT), redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin (LG), freshman Rod Taylor (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT), with Taylor also getting reps with the younger players in the first part of practice.

In special teams work, junior running back Jaylen Walton, sophomore running back Mark Dodson and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore split reps returning kicks. Junior defensive back Mike Hilton, senior defensive back Cliff Coleman, freshman safety C.J. Hampton and sophomore safety Anthony Alford worked as gunners on punt coverage.

QUOTABLE:

Freeze, on newcomers who stood out: "Dayall Harris was phenomenal. Rod Taylor is going to be good. We knew that and believed that. He kind of cramped today and didn't quite get all the reps. All of those guys, Tee Shepard, (Damore'ea Stringfellow) is what we like in our offense, the twins from Bassfield (A.J. Moore and C.J. Moore) are super athletic and make us faster, Ken Webster is going to be a good player at corner. Offensively, (Sammie) Epps was solid. (Jeremy) Liggins, too. I'm excited about them."

Freeze, on the arm strength of senior quarterback Bo Wallace: "He's overthrown two streaks. We have never had that problem before. We have just hoped it has gotten there sometimes, so we kind of laughed about that today, so his arm is definitely stronger. We hope it sustains the course of the time and grind of the year."

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

After going through a "laundry list" on injuries in Monday's weekly press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze had some good news on Wednesday with the possible return of defensive tackle Issac Gross and linebacker Temario Strong.

"It looks like we might get Issac (Gross) and Temario (Strong) back," said Freeze after practice on Wednesday. "Temario surprised us today and was moving around quite a bit better than what they expected. We might get him back. Those are the only two I expect at this point to get back."


Ole Miss was hit particularly hard on the defensive side of the ball, where it is expected to be without starting defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson, as well as starting cornerback Mike Hilton and backup defensive end Carlos Thompson.


"We ain't got but so many," said Freeze Tuesday of defensive line. "We're going to play four down linemen. I really don't know who is playing exactly where right now."


Bryon Bennett, listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle with Carlton Martin, also got some reps at defensive end in practice this week, opposite senior defensive end Cameron Whigham.


"It was fun," said Bennett of defensive end, where he also started against Texas A&M last week. "I played a little in high school, but there's still a lot to get used with adjustments and stuff... There's more reading. It's more fun going against the tackle.


"It's a next-man-up attitude. Everybody is excited for the game and wants this win. We're trying to stay fresh, stay healthy and be ready for the game." 


Defensive lineman Bryon Bennett meets with members of the media following Tuesday's practice.

Starting running back and leading rusher Jeff Scott was held out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and Freeze said Wednesday that he doesn't expect him to play on Saturday. The running back position would then fall on I'Tavius Mathers (22 carries, 137 yards for the season) and Jaylen Walton (34 carries, 129 yards).


"I feel good," said Freeze Wednesday of Mathers and Walton. "Both of them have proven they're ready to have that responsibility that comes their way. I have been pleased with their performance and think we'll be fine there."


"I feel like we can pick it up," said Mathers Wednesday. "We always have to be ready. I just have to play my role."


The injuries have also affected the special teams units, such as punt return, where Freeze said Wednesday that wide receiver Korvic Neat would return punts in Scott's absence, with Trae Elston as his backup. 


Cornerback Carlos Davis, who Freeze called "a great cover guy," will be back this week, and the possible return of Strong will also help the special teams units, but Freeze said Tuesday it did take a hit this week, and they're going to have to call on guys to play even more snaps because of injuries.


The injuries may also affect tempo, as Freeze said the Rebels will likely use a similar strategy to last week against Texas A&M.


"We managed the first half not going tempo to try to limit the opportunities that Texas A&M had and get to halftime in the game, and it worked," said Freeze Tuesday. "We were probably more patient than we would be, but it worked, and it gave us a chance at the end. We will probably manage the tempo similarly this week."


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

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