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Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said on day one that his expectations were to make the program relevant in the Southeastern Conference Western Division.

With a full allotment of 85 scholarship players and more depth of both sides of the ball, Freeze said, Ole Miss should be just that and competitive in every single game this season.

"Obviously I can't control the health of players, injuries, turnovers, how your quarterback plays," Freeze said. "All of those factors will kind of determining the ending result of wins and losses. But there's no question in my mind we're a better football team today than we were in year one and year two and we should be very competitive."

The players also feel those expectations coming off back-to-back bowl wins in each of the last two seasons, as the Rebels enter year three of the Hugh Freeze Era.

"The basketball team has been able to do it," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "The baseball team has been able to do it. Our fans are hungry for our football team to go to Atlanta. We feel those expectations and we're working hard every day."

In addition to upperclassmen such as Wallace and senior safety Cody Prewitt, a first team All-American last season, last year's freshman class will have a huge role in defining how successful Ole Miss will be this season.

"I certainly hope that another year in the offseason program with Paul Jackson and being a college student-athlete, that the grind of what we ask them to go through is more common to them so that they are better equipped and better prepared to go through the grind of the season that we're going to ask them to go through," Freeze said.

"The guys last year, their biggest setback was the mental side of the game," Prewitt said. "They are extremely athletic. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. Last year, they made a lot of mistakes. The biggest difference I saw in the spring was a lot of those mistakes weren't there anymore. They really progressed mentally. That's what's going to make that class special and help the team."

Freeze Excited For Season Opener In Georgia Dome

Ole Miss will open the 2014 season against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Thursday, Aug. 28. The game, which will start the 2014 college football season, will kick off at 7 p.m. CT and be televised by ESPN.

"We get to open college football," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "All eyes will be on you on that Thursday night against a very good Boise program.

"So we're excited and hopefully embrace that opportunity and the magnitude it will have on expanding our brand nationally. You certainly know that could help. Hopefully we get a chance to embrace that opportunity and make the most of it."

Another Chip On Wallace's Shoulder

Dating back to his high school days at Giles County in Pulaski, Tennessee, senior quarterback Bo Wallace has always played with a chip on his shoulder.

Add another chip on Wallace's shoulder, as the three-year starter and the SEC's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns was voted third team All-SEC by league media, behind Auburn's Nick Marshall and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

"I have always had a chip on my shoulder," Wallace said. "I have always felt like I could play at this level. This is a familiar position for me. In high school, people were saying, 'You can't play in college.' In junior college, people were saying, 'You can't play in the SEC.' I have been able to put up numbers. I'm familiar with this place and I enjoy it."

Backup Quarterback Battle Continues

Behind Wallace, the battle for the backup quarterback position continues between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Head coach Hugh Freeze has been pleased with both options, and if the season started today, it would depend upon the situation.

"They both bring a little different skill set to us," Freeze said. "The good thing is they both have used their redshirt year, so I'm not afraid to throw them in for a series here or a series there to see exactly what they do."

"The big thing with DeVante is he has all the talent in the world," Wallace said. "He needs to not create as many negative plays. Ryan knows the offense and his arm has gotten a lot stronger this offseason. It's going to be a really good battle in the offseason."

Freeze also mentioned junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins and Southern Miss transfer Anthony Alford, who figures in the mix at safety, as wildcards who could possibly add to the quarterback position. Freeze had particular high praise for Liggins, who might end up contributing at any number of positions.

"He's done absolutely phenomenal work," Freeze said. "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."

Prewitt Looks To Improve On All-American Junior Season

A first team All-American this past season, senior safety Cody Prewitt was one of three Rebels voted first team All-SEC by league media, along with sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Prewitt led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions. He also ranked second on the team with 71 tackles and first with 13 passes defended. Entering his senior season, he remains focused on all-around improvements and not to get complacent. 

"I missed a couple of balls I shouldn't have missed last year," Prewitt said. "I missed a couple of tackles I should have made last year. I made a couple of mental mistakes I shouldn't have made last year. It's the little things you can do to improve."

At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Prewitt has been labeled a physical player and a big hitter, and while he didn't shy away from that reputation, it's more about making plays and making a difference on the defensive side of the ball.

"I like to hit people," Prewitt said. "My style is to be aggressive. Whatever I can do to be aggressive. Anything I can do to start shift momentum for my team. Whether that's a big hit or an interception, if I can get my team pumped up, focussed and back into the game, that's what I want to do."

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."

Senior Bo Wallace returns at quarterback and will go through spring drills for the first time since 2012, having missed spring practice last year recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

"I feel like strength-wise, I'm a lot better than I was at the end of the year," Wallace said. "It's not exactly where I want it to be. From the time period I have had to get it right, I feel good about it. I have been throwing. Every day, I stay an hour or an hour and 15 minutes extra working on shoulder stuff and mobility stuff. I know I have put in the work, so I trust that it's going to get better."

"He said he feels as good as he has felt in two years," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We'll see how that goes. He didn't get to do any offseason training last year and that showed as the year went on and his arm strength deteriorated some. We're confident that it should be stronger, and hopefully it will stay consistently strong."

Behind Wallace is a four-way battle for the backup quarterback position between redshirt freshmen DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan, along with sophomore Jeremy Liggins and freshman Kendrick Doss.

"Jeremy and Kendrick are both eager to learn and ask a lot of questions," Wallace said. "Ryan and DeVante are coming on. They're starting to know it better. It's going to be fun to watch."

"I would say no one is ahead of the pack," Freeze said. Based on last year, there were some things that DeVante does naturally better than Ryan, and there are some things that Ryan does naturally better than him, and we didn't have the other two here."


A few other notes from practice:

Sophomore Kailo Moore, listed as a running back, practiced with the cornerbacks Tuesday. Freeze said he expects him to stay there, and he may run certain packages offensively.

"He is going to play some field corner this spring to see how he adjusts there," Freeze said. "He's all for that. He's kind of wanted to do that for a while."

With the departure of Donte Moncrief, sophomore Laquon Treadwell will move to outside receiver, and fellow sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo will move to inside receiver. Senior Vince Sanders, junior Cody Core and senior Collins Moore will also work at outside receiver, with juniors Quintavius Burdette and Quadarias Mireles moving from cornerback to inside receiver.

Both Treadwell and Adeboyejo excelled in their new roles Tuesday, as well as sophomore tight end Evan Engram, who participated in position drills with the wide receivers.

On the offensive line, redshirt freshman Christian Morris (Achilles) and senior Aaron Morris (ACL) will be out for the spring, and sophomore Austin Golson (shoulder) will be limited this spring. 

The first-team offensive line Tuesday consisted of sophomore Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, junior Justin Bell at left guard, junior Ben Still at center, redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin at right guard and sophomore Robert Conyers and redshirt freshman Davion Johnson splitting time at right tackle.

"That's the spot we're hurting the most at," Freeze said of the offensive line. "We're looking forward to a spring where we look and we have two full depth charts and replacements for those. Right now, we have full one, and we will use some walk-ons to make up the second one."

Senior Carlton Martin, listed as both an offensive lineman and defensive tackle, and junior Channing Ward, listed as both a defensive end and tight end, will stay on offense for spring practice, Freeze said, and that they could immediately go back to defense in summer workouts and not miss a lot.

"He will help us get a two-deep offensive line and also make sure he's getting a chance to contribute in his senior season," Freeze said of Martin. "He's one of our strongest players. We have a little more depth inside on the defensive line, so he's jumped in, and we'll see how he does this spring."

"We will see how he will adjust to that," Freeze said of Ward. "We are trying to make we get him into a good position to contribute to this football team a lot."

Other position changes include sophomore Jeremy Liggins who will split time between quarterback and tight end, senior D.T. Shackelford, who will start at Mike linebacker and junior Chief Brown who will move from safety to Huskie

Sophomores Anthony Alford and Fadol Brown, who both sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, are expected to step in and compete for playing time this fall. Alford ran with second-team defense at safety, while Brown ran with the first-team defense at defensive end.

"I feel like I can help the team out now and play a role as part of the defense," Alford said. "I just come out and work hard every day and everything else will take of itself."

In the return game, Freeze mentioned junior running back Jaylen Walton, sophomore running back/cornerback Kailo Moore, sophomore safety Anthony Alford, junior safety Trae Elston and redshirt freshman Eugene Brazley as options at kickoff returner. Freeze mentioned Alford, as well as sophomore wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo as options for returning punts.

'They Bounce Back And Will Fight'


Coming off a heartbreaking 41-38 loss to then-No. 9 Texas A&M this past Saturday, Ole Miss plays its third top-10 ranked opponent in four games with No. 6 LSU. The Rebels will try to snap a three-game losing streak, as they also deal with a lot of injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.


"(Sunday), I thought was pretty good, and I know our coaches how we will handle it, said head coach Hugh Freeze of the team's confidence. "And talking to Coach Jackson this morning, he was pleased with the attitudes they had in workouts (Sunday). I just keep coming back to my experience with these kids, and they bounce back and will fight. And that gives me confidence to walk out there tomorrow with the same swagger we hope to have every Saturday."


"We're still confident," quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We played a tough schedule, but we're not using that as an excuse. We're 3-3, and we have a big game this weekend."


Among the injured players is junior Serderius Bryant, who left the Texas A&M game after being carted off on a stretcher. Bryant, Freeze said, suffered a concussion, then rejoined the team in meetings on Sunday and has started the concussion protocol to return.


On the field, Bryant had recently been added to the Bednarik Award Watch List and leads the SEC and ranks eighth nationally with 11 tackles per game, including a team-leading 12 tackles and forced fumble against Texas A&M.


"I'm extremely proud of him," Freeze said. "He runs the ball as passionately as any kid that we have, and he's a sold tackler once he gets there. He finishes plays. To lose him not only in that game, but to be without him going forward, if that's the case, it would be a big hit to us. 


"He's responsible for a lot of tackles, and I'm proud of him as the person he has become, on and off the field. He is making much better decisions for himself and how he goes about living, with academics and the social responsibility we're trying to get out kids to understand. I'm proud of the year he is having."



Freeze called it a "laundry list" of injuries, and it includes Aaron Morris, who was already out, starting running back and leading rusher Jeff Scott, starting defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson, starting nose tackle Issac Gross and starting cornerback Mike Hilton.


Also among the injured is backup linebacker Temario Strong, backup quarterback Barry Brunetti, backup safety Chief Brown and backup defensive end Carlos Thompson.


"The other injuries, you see other teams go through it, and unfortunately we joined the ranks with them," Freeze said. "... It's part of the game. You hate it for the kids and you fear that because of our depth issue, we won't be able to adequately represent the progress we're making against these top teams. That's part of the game, like I said, and we won't blink. We will get the ones we have ready that can play, and I know they will compete with great passion for university Saturday evening."


"It's tough," said Wallace of the injuries. "You feel bad for the guys, but at the same time, we still have a long season and we have to be prepared to paly this week. There a lot of defensive guys out, so offensively, we have to put up some points."


When asked about who is out for Saturday's game, Freeze said "most of them."


"Not sure about Barry," Freeze said. "I don't know that he injured it any worse than it was, so hopefully he will be fine. Issac will try to go, I'm sure. I doubt Temario will make it, Robert no, Serderius I'm not sure, C.J. probably not, Carlos definitely not, Hilton doubtful. We have a challenge ahead of us."


If something should happen, and Bo Wallace nor Brunetti would be available, Devante Kincade would the guy to get to the nod, Freeze said. If Brunetti is out for Saturday's game against LSU, Freeze said he would not have a guaranteed package for Kincade, like has had for Brunetti, but they would have him ready to play.


"Devante is the guy we have said would get the nod to go should something happen," Freeze said. "We'll get him prepared to go, and again, you always struggle with what's in the best interest in the kid. But we also have to look at what's best for our team with six games left to play. We're inching forward in our progress in getting better and having chances to win, and we probably wouldn't hesitate to put him in if that's what's best for our team.


"The only way that Devante would be the backup is if I felt like we didn't have Bo nor Barry available. We're certainly not, at this point, not going to burn a redshirt on a young man that I don't know if, at this point, would be further ahead of either one of them in game-type situations."


How ready is Kincade?


"I would be comfortable with Devante doing some things," Freeze said. "We have yet to see how he is going to respond in front of 62,000 against a rival of your school. I don't know if that's fair to him to expect miracles. I think he's going to be a very good player, and I wouldn't hesitate to put him in if that's what's best for our football team."


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.

On Tuesday, a large emphasis was placed on converting inside the Red Zone. Today, one of the team drills focused on covering at the goal line, with the ball placed at the 3-yard line. 


A couple of the big plays in the drill was a pair of touchdown passes, one from junior quarterback Bo Wallace to junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief, another from senior quarterback Barry Brunetti to redshirt freshman tight end Matt Brown. On the other side of the ball, redshirt freshman defensive end John Youngblood dropped into coverage and intercepted Brunetti.


Another part of this drill was the shift from a base 4-2-5 defense with the Huskie position, to a base 4-3 defense with the Wolf linebacker, where junior Keith Lewis got first-team reps, along with senior Mike Mary at middle linebacker and sophomore Denzel Nkemdiche at Stinger linebacker.


"I see him having a big role on this defense," linebackers coach Tom Allen said of Lewis. "Keith is one of those guys who from a size-speed ratio has the best combination of that and does an excellent job. I want to see him be a big third-down linebacker for us and be on all our money packages in situations like third-and-long. 


"I believe he's a very good inside linebacker and can play in all our packages. He's going to be a guy whose role I see expanding and be able to make plays for us on Saturday."


A freshman All-American last season, Nkemdiche started all 12 games at Stinger linebacker and led the team with 82 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interception. Allen said he looks for Nkemdiche to improve with his leadership, preparation and being the total package.


"Last year, I think he was a guy that just made a lot of plays on Saturday, and he did that consistently, but I would like to see him be the guy that leads our defense, on and off the field," Allen said. "His energy and effort is never in question, but just making he eliminates mistakes. Leadership is part of that. And off the field, being a guy who we look to as a model of doing the little things right every single day."


In the base defense with Huskie position, Lewis slides to middle linebacker on the second team, and junior Serderius Bryant has gotten second-team reps at Stinger linebacker. Allen said Bryant has probably made the biggest jump from last season to this season.


"I think his knowledge has really improved," Allen said. "And he's one of the guys who changed his body and committed to the program, in the way he takes care of himself, and it's showing on the field. He's a step quicker. He's always been talented athletically, but with his knowledge of what he's doing now, as well as being physically better, it's showing up on tape."


Senior D.T. Shackelford has missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries. He returned in the spring and has mostly worked with the second-team and third-team defense in fall practice but got some first-team reps today. For Shackelford, Allen, said it's more mental than physical, specifically reacting split-second on the field and confidence in his knee.


"We met last night at length, and he feels good," Allen said. "He feels like that his knee is strong, and when you watch him moving around, you can tell he's better than we was in the spring. But it's a process with him, and we're trying to bring him along."


Early Look At Special Teams


Through six practices, all four special-team units -- punt, kickoff, punt return and kickoff return --have gotten work. Senior punter Tyler Campbell and senior kicker Andrew Ritter both redshirted last season, and Allen is pleased with their performance in fall practice.


"Right now, we're in the beginning stages of the process of putting in all of them schematically," Allen said of special teams. "I'm please with our kickers. Tyler is a guy who's very talented, and Andrew Ritter is doing a really god job for us.


"We have a lot of guys back from last year that played as freshmen and sophomores. So we're getting them ready, the depth chart set with coordination with our travel squad is the challenge right now. I feel like we're making progress and we're trying to work on it every practice and getting better."


In kickoff coverage drills, from left to right, not including kickoff specialist Ritter, the first-team unit consisted of freshman running Kailo Moore, sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette, junior linebacker Serderius Bryant, sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, junior Keith Lewis, freshman Huskie Tony Connor, redshirt freshman Temario Strong, sophomore safety Chief Brown, sophomore wide receiver Cody Core and sophomore Mike Hilton.


On Tuesday, senior running back Jeff Scott, senior wide receiver Korvic Neat and sophomore safety Trae Elston all got reps as the deep men in punt return drills, and Allen said, right now, Scott is their starting punt returner for sure. The competition at kickoff returner is more wide open.


"Jaylen Walton is very talented and he's gotten himself physically bigger and stronger," Allen said. "I'm excited about I'Tavius Mathers and what he can do. And Kailo Moore, he's a threat back there. There are going to be a few other guys competing for that spot, but we got some speed back there that give us a chance to get a good return."


NOTABLE:


Senior offensive tackle Pierce Burton participated in team drills and got first-team reps at right tackle, so freshman Laremy Tunsil got second-team reps at left tackle, with redshirt freshman Robert Conyers at right tackle.


In the team competition, the offense won 13-12, with the offense winning the decisive point by drawing the defense offsides. 


Some of the highlights from the team competition: For the offense, freshman quarterback Devante Kincade had a pair of touchdown passes, one to freshman Laquon Treadwell and another to freshman Quincy Adeboyejo. For the defense, junior safety Cody Prewitt and sophomore safety Trae Elston each had an interception. 


In that same drill, Kincade got some reps with the first-team offense, including a nice sideline throw to junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief and the touchdown pass to Treadwell.


QUOTABLE


Freeze, on sophomore safety Trae Elston: Trae is really athletic, really solid. We expect him to have a great year. He kind of got his nose bloodied a little bit last year as a true freshman. He got a lot of experience, so hopefully he has a great year."


Elston, on the cornerback position: "I think our twos and threes are doing very well. It will be better when Charles and Senquez come back, so we're just trying to get better.


Elston, on freshman safety Derrick Jones and freshman cornerback Bobby Hill: "The freshmen are looking very good, very quick and fast, learning very quicly. DJ is a good athlete. Bobby is a physical athlete. They're both very good."


Allen, on the linebacker position: "I think several of them have improved themselves physically, in the way their bodies are shaped, and that excites me. I think the knowledge of what we did in the spring, building off of last season, and having so many guys back, I think we are able to move forward and not take steps backward."

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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