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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."

Before taking his turn at the podium in the main room at SEC Media Days on Thursday, head coach Hugh Freeze met with members of the Ole Miss local media and addressed a wide variety of topics. Here are some of the highlights:

On Tee Shepard:

"I saw his update yesterday. It looked good. When his classes end on July 25, we will start getting the grades from the junior college to the (NCAA) clearinghouse. You're never sure of the time frame of those things, but we feel very confident, today, that he has what he needs to qualify. Hopefully he will be there right around the beginning of the camp, provided he finishes the way he's doing right now."

On the health of Bo Wallace:

"He feels really good. He's really confident. He looks better and has put on about 15 pounds. He's excited about the way he feels and the works that's taking place in the offseason, not only with Paul Jackson, but with some specialists who have looked at him. It's as confident as I have seen him." 

On Bo Wallace working with quarterback specialist Tom House:

"We have talked about it and watched videos together. Everything is giving him confidence. We're excited. Hopefully, the arm strength that he has right now will be sustained throughout the year because of a full offseason of rehab work and strengthening and working with specialists."

On Fahn Cooper:

"(Paul Jackson) is excited about Fahn. He was ahead of where he thought he would be when he got here. He's a hard worker. He's an athletic kid. We're excited that he's exactly who we thought he would be."

On Aaron Morris and Christian Morris returning from injury, and the team's overall health:

"Aaron is doing everything now. It seems to be good. He's still working on his weight. He should be ready to go day one. Christian Morris is working out now. I'm not sure if he will be released to go day one for everything.

"Losing Chief Brown was difficult. He is a wonderful kid and we needed him. You finally get your secondary where you think it's a really solid two-deep. We lose Collins Moore this week for a period of time. He has a knee that will hold him out 4-to-6 weeks. That's part of the game. That's why you have to go recruit depth. We feel better because we have better depth at most places than we have had the last two years."

On incoming freshmen:

"Rod Taylor is a good player. How good will he be as a freshman, I don't know. We will need some of those young kids to play on the offensive line. Him and Fahn Cooper are the first two who jump off the page. We're really excited about Breeland Speaks and Garrald McDowell. We're going to need one of those receivers -- Dayall (Harris), Markell (Pack), Sammie (Epps) -- one of those guys to give us some depth at receiver. We're really excited about those guys. 

"We're really excited about the whole class. Top to bottom, it is a very solid class. The ones who jump out are the ones where we have needs: offensive line and wide receiver depth."

On Jeremy Liggins:

"He's done absolutely phenomenal work. I couldn't be happier with Jeremy Liggins. He looks like a million bucks. He's running around. He's down to about 280 pounds. I don't know where I'm going to play him, but he's going to help us."

On backup quarterback:

"If we were playing today, it would totally depend upon the situation. If we were able to run the entire offense that we have, it would probably be (DeVante) Kincade. If we had to stand in the pocket and make a drive throwing the ball down the field, it would probably be (Ryan) Buchanan."


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."

Special Moment For Grant, Moore

Ole Miss fell 17-10 in overtime to intrastate rival Mississippi State, but the Rebels' one score provided a special moment for two of the team's unsung players.

Down 7-0 with 31 seconds left in the first half, Ole Miss called its third and final timeout to force a Mississippi State punt and try to score some points before halftime.

Mississippi State punter Baker Swedenburg stood deep in the Bulldogs' end zone and bobbled the snap. And then, two Ole Miss players just made plays.

Junior wide receiver Collins Moore beat his man off the line and took the ball right off Swedenburg's foot in the end zone, and senior wide receiver Terrell Grant pounced on the ball for the touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 26 seconds left. 

It turned the momentum in the Rebels' favor, as they drove 81 yards on 17 plays on the opening drive of the second half, capped by an Andrew Ritter 22-yard field, to take a 10-7 lead. Head coach Hugh Freeze called it a "huge lift" and "big special teams play."

"(Linebackers/Special Teams) Coach (Tom) Allen came up with a great scheme this week," Moore said. "I told Terrell Grant that if I was the one to block the punt that I wanted him to be one to recover it and hopefully score a touchdown, which we did, because this will the be last time he will play Mississippi State being a senior."

"It was a great feeling," Grant said. "It changed momentum, which we needed. (Collins and I) had been talking about it all day. It was a great moment, and I'll remember it forever, but I wish we could have won. I would have rather not have the touchdown and win than have the touchdown and lose."

 For those two role players, despite the loss, those five seconds will last a lifetime.

Moore has 13 career catches for 189 yards and a touchdown, while for Grant, it was the first time he touched the ball in his four-year Ole Miss career, having seen action in 24 games on special teams and as receiver.

"Everything that Coach Freeze preaches about -- playing for the guy next to you -- that's all that was going through my mind, that I made a dream come true for one of my teammates," Moore said.

"Having a peace of mind and understand that God has his ways. I stuck with it," Grant said. "I love the game of football. I could have transferred, but I love Ole Miss and I love my teammates. They helped me the most. That's what helped me." 

Replacing Sanders At Receiver

Junior wide receiver Vince Sanders suffered a broken collarbone during one-on-one drills Saturday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Sanders started 12 games last season and finished with 39 catches (3rd on team), 504 receiving yards (2nd on team) and four touchdowns (2nd on team).


"It's certainly a blow," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Sanders' injury. "The guy knew everything we did, and he could do at a fast pace. And he had a great offseason. Hopefully, he only misses three games. We got that opening week early, so maybe he can be back for our fourth game.


"We have some good young kids, and they will get ready to play. Hopefully, we stay healthy and not lose anyone else from that spot."


Freeze said senior Ja-Mes Logan is prepared to play both outside and inside receiver. He also said they have to have four guys ready to play at outside receiver and mentioned Logan, junior Donte Moncrief, sophomore Cody Core and freshman Quincy Adeboyejo as players for that role.


"He is a smart kid out there on the football field," wide receivers coach Grant Heard said of Logan. "He can handle a lot. I can put him in any spot, and he'll know what to do. And he's' the ultimate team player, because it doesn't matter to him. He just wants to get out there and compete."


With Sanders's injury, senior Korvic Neat's role will increase in the slot, and two other receivers who will look to step up are sophomore Cody Core, who played mostly on special teams last season, and junior Collins Moore, who missed most of last season with injuries to both shoulders.


"I need Cody to be more consistent, but he knows what to do, but be more consistent making plays," Heard said. "He can be a guy that can be a big-play threat for us."


"Collins, I'm still trying to figure out and make sure he's good. He's trying to get back into the swing of things from missing spring, but he's out there and looking good. He knows how the offense runs, so he can do some things to help us, too."


The two freshmen, Adeboyejo and freshman Laquon Treadwell, Freeze said have got to get ready to play at outside and inside receiver, respectively.


"They pick things up quick," Freeze said of the freshmen. "They're quick learners. And of course, they have the skill level, which helps. I expect them to be very good players."


"They're freshmen," Heard said. "When things start going fast and get hectic, they make mistakes, but they are picking the offense really quick. And they're making plays out there, which is good to see. I think they're having fun. This offense is easy, but it's different for them. When things get hectic, they have to learn to slow it down in their minds."


NOTABLE:


Sunday was the first practice with shoulder pads.


Senior Pierce Burton was limited, so redshirt freshman Robert Conyers got some first-team reps at right tackle. Conyers is also getting reps at center behind senior Evan Swindall.


With senior Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette got first-team reps at cornerback for the second straight day.


On the defensive line, senior Cameron Whigham and sophomore Channing Ward got first-team reps at defensive end, and junior Bryon Bennett and sophomore Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 


Behind them, freshman Robert Nkemdiche, junior Carlos Thompson and sophomore John Youngblood got second-team reps at defensive end, and juniors Lavon Hooks and Carlton Martin at defensive tackle.


Five newcomers were among those who got reps in the back seven on the second-team defense, with freshman Tony Connor at Huskie, junior Quadarias Mireles and freshman Bobby Hill at cornerback, and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman Derrick Jones at safety.


In a kickoff return drill, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running backs Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore and sophomore safety Trae Elston got reps as the deep men.


QUOTABLE: 


Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace: "We really saved him until the end of practice today, and he seemed to be fine. He wasn't complaining, or anything. We just have to take things slow."


Heard, on flexibility at wide receiver: "The good thing about this offense is once they know it, they can be put in anywhere. Ja-Mes, Donte, Cody, I can move around, and they can go in and fill that spot."

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