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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."

Treadwell Continues To Impress

Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell continues to make plays in the slot. He separates well, runs good routes and has shown an ability to catch the ball in traffic and also gain yards after the catch.


A couple of plays that stood out for him in team drills included a pair of touchdown grabs, one on a corner route throw from freshman quarterback Devante Kincade, the other on a swing pass from junior quarterback Bo Wallace.


"He's just getting more comfortable," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Treadwell. "He starts understanding things more. Quincy, also, made some good plays. I think the more comfortable they get, the faster they feel like they can play. And I think they see now how vital they are to us and how they fit into things. I thought they both had good days."


Kincade himself continues to impress and has gotten a lot of reps with the second-team offense and even a few with the first-team offense during fall practice.


"I'm real excited about him," Freeze said of Kincade. "I think he's going to be a really good player, and he wants to. He studies hard and works hard. He wants to be a leader."


A couple of notable plays from team drills included a long run by sophomore running back Jaylen Walton, then back-to-back completions from Wallace to Treadwell that resulted in a touchdown. 


On the defensive side, junior linebacker Keith Lewis had an interception in a red-zone drill, and junior linebacker Serderius Bryant delivered a big hit on freshman running back Jordan Wilkins.


In the 3-2-6 defensive look similar to yesterday, there were similar changes in personnel. Lewis replaced senior Mike Marry at linebacker, but also sophomore cornerback Anthony Standifer was an extra defensive back on the outside and moved sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette from outside to inside alongside sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton.


"I'm still concerned," Freeze said of the cornerback position. "We're real thin there. We really need to get Senquez and Charles back, and we're working hard toward that. But at the same time, you know you got to have some depth.


"I think we may have to consider moving Cliff (Coleman) back out there a lot more than we have. I think (Anthony) Standifer has had a good week, and I like his length, particularly in the red zone."


Conyers Gets Second-Team Reps At Center


Redshirt freshman Robert Conyers, who has worked primarily at right tackle, got second-team reps at center behind senior Evan Swindall.


"It's a little new, just trying to get used to it," Conyers said of the move. "I went from tackle to center, and just trying to get on the field, whichever way Coach Luke uses me."


Conyers said the move was prompted this past summer by offensive line coach Matt Luke.


"Coming in, Coach Luke told me to be ready to play everything," he said. "And this past summer, Coach Luke told me to start snapping. Back in workouts, I would go with Evan Swindall to get it right. Now, it's time to step up and starting it a little bit. It's just learning how to get the snaps down."


The biggest adjustment, Conyers said, is just the snapping and getting the ball right, adding that blocking responsibilities also changes with the move from tackle to center.


"Dealing with the bigger guys," he said of the adjustment. "Trying to get over and making the calls right. At tackle, you're just seeing the edge pressure and the blitzes. But at center, you got to see everything, and you got to push the tempo of the ball. I think that's where I can help a lot is running up and pushing the tempo of the ball."


NOTABLE


In a punt coverage drill, sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette and senior cornerback Dehendret Collins remained the outside gunners. And freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche remained one of the three personal protectors, alongside senior linebackers Mike Marry and D.T. Shackelford.


Senior Jared Duke got first-team reps at left guard ahead of junior Aaron Morris for the second straight day. Freshman Austin Golson got second-team reps at both right guard and tackle.


Shackelford got reps at defensive end for the second straight day, primarily with the second-team defense.

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