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Dungy Visits Campus, Scott Returns

Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, visited campus Wednesday. He spent time with head coach Hugh Freeze, spoke to the team and signed the equipment room Wall of Fame.

"He's one of my heroes," Freeze said. "It's a special time for him to come. He spent about an hour with me in my office and then spoke to our team for about 20 minutes. I'm honored to have a man that stands for what he stands for and has done this job at the highest. Hopefully that helps and inspires us to finish strong.

His message? Choose the narrow gate. The wide road is what most folks go on.

"The whole theme of his books is there are very few uncommon people, therefore success won't be enjoy by the common man," Freeze said. "He challenged us to be uncommon in the way we do things, particularly the little things."

Scott Bolsters Backfield

Senior running back Jeff Scott, the team's leading rusher, has been sidelined since the Texas A&M game with a bone spur. He has had two good days of practice in a row and is expected to return Saturday against Troy. 

"He's doing good," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "The last few days, he's looked great. We're going to try to bring him along slowly for the game on Saturday. We'll have a couple of packages to get him involved. Just do what he can do and not try to run him into the ground right off the bat.

He will also resume his punt returning duties, Freeze said Wednesday.

"He had a good day today," he said. "That's two days in a row. And unless something sets him back between now and then, I feel like he will do that for us."

Scott has rushed for 434 yards and two touchdowns on 53 carries this year. Behind Scott, sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers has 370 yards and two touchdowns on 60 carries, while fellow sophomore running back Jaylen Walton has 329 yards and five touchdown on 70 carries.

"I think that's the whole idea that we're trying to get here at Ole Miss, especially in the running position back position room," Nix said. "We want competition. We want guys to come out and every day and in every rep in practice and in individual work and during the course of the game. I don't know that it helped speed his recovery up but it made him anxious to get out and make plays.

Freshman Mark Dodson, who set career highs with seven carries for 57 yards and recorded his first career touchdown against Idaho, will also remain in the mix at running back.

"Mark has shown he can do a little bit of everything, be an inside guy and an outside guy," he said. "And again, it's about getting different packages to get them all involved in the game."

Familiar Foe In Troy

Saturday marks the first ever meeting between Ole Miss and Troy in football, but Freeze and some of his assistants have coached against the Trojans when they were at Arkansas State. 

When Freeze was the offensive coordinator in 2010, the Red Wolves lost 35-28 on the road, and then with Freeze as head coach in 2011, the Red Wolves won 45-14 at home to win the Sun Belt Conference title outright and finish undefeated in league play with a perfect 8-0 record.

"Very little," said Freeze, of how Troy has changed since he was at Arkansas State. "It's a new defensive coordinator but it's very similar. They maybe play a little more man. I went back and watched my two years against them, and it's still similar."

Troy leads the Sun Belt Conference in passing (324.4 ypg) and total offense (47.5), which rank 15th and 23rd nationally, respectively. The Trojans also rank second in the league and 35th nationally in scoring offense (34.6).

"They always have offensive weapons that are scary," Freeze said. "They've been able to put up points against anybody they have played this year with the exception of one team. They are a scary team offensively because they are going to spread you out and they are athletic. (Corey Robinson), he's one of nation's leaders in passing yards. I have played against him and know he can throw it, so we'll have a challenge there for sure."

"When they had the other quarterback, (Deon Anthony), they changed quite a bit because they were running some of the same stuff that our offense runs with a little more option and so forth," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who also served as Arkansas State defensive coordinator in 2011. "They tried to do a little bit of that for a game or two, but they're more similar to what they were two years ago with (Corey) Robinson play quarterback."

Robinson holds 11 Troy and Sun Belt Conference career records, including both the school and league marks for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total yards. His 24 300-yard passing games leads all active players in the NCAA.

"He's got a quick release," Wommack said. "He's thrown for a lot of yards in his career and his high school. He's had his ups and downs at times, he's been banged around, he's been inconsistent at times, but he is dangerous from the standpoint of having a great arm and a quick release."

Rebels Continue Arkansas Preparations

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

Robert Nkemdiche will return against Arkansas, having missed the LSU and Idaho games after suffering a hamstring injury against Texas A&M. The freshman defensive lineman has played in and started six games, recording 15 total tackles (11 solo) and four tackles for loss.

"He looks really good," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "He looks quick and light on his feet. We just got make sure he's 100 percent. He's still feeling it a little bit out here. He's down 15 pounds. I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing, but he looks really quick out here. It's just him picking up the mental side again."

Nkemdiche will move inside to defensive tackle, where he started against Alabama, while junior Bryon Bennett will remain outside at defensive end, where he started the last three games.

"That's the plan with who we got right now with C.J. (Johnson) being out for the year and Bryon doing a good job out there," Kiffin said. "Maybe that's Rob's future, so that's where we're at right now.

"He's physical enough. He gives those guys problems inside because of how quick he is, and he's not afraid to get physical. It's just natural for him."

Nkemidche and the Ole Miss defense will be tasked with an Arkansas offense that has rushed for at least 200 yards in six of nine games and average 211.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the SEC. The Razorbacks also lead the league and rank fifth nationally allowing just 0.78 sacks per game.

On the offensive line, Arkansas has opened each of the last four games with the same five starters, including a pair of freshman guards in Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, who have started each of the last five games.

"They look like freshmen that are getting better every game," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, of Kirkland and Skipper. "They didn't play them as much early in the season. Both of them are going to be really good football players. You see them make mistakes at times, but they're getting better every time."

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

'We're not afraid to use any of the four'

With senior running back Jeff Scott out each of the last two games with a thigh bruise, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have carried the load on the ground for the Rebels.

Mathers carried the ball 12 times for 51 yards against LSU, then notched his first career 100-yard rushing game with 138 yards on 14 carries, including a career-long 64-yard run for a touchdown, against Idaho.

Walton rushed for two touchdowns in both games, as he set career highs with 19 carries for 106 yards against the Tigers, then rushed 11 times for 86 yards against Vandals. With those four scores, he now leads the team with five rushing touchdowns this year.

"They took the bull by the horns, so to speak," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "It's never been about their ability. They had just been waiting for the opportunity to get on the field and show what they could do. 

"I'm glad a year ago they got the little experience that they did, so right now, they don't any type of stage fright, and the big lights don't bother them at all. They just go out and perform to their capabilities and do the things they could always do."

The Idaho game was also an opportunity for freshmen Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore, as Dodson set career highs with seven carries for 57 rushing yards and recorded a 30-yard touchdown catch, the first score of his career.

"He earned the right to get some looks," said head coach Hugh Freeze, of Dodson. "I'm not afraid at all to play him. He'll probably get a carry or two."

"He's had more excitement and enthusiasm about practice," Nix added. "Not that he didn't have it all year but you could see more of a bounce in his step. I feel like he has a real shot of helping us out on Saturday."

The status of Scott for Saturday remains uncertain, but Freeze is confident about his other four running backs.

"I like the way they're going about their business," he said. "They're taking the chances they have been given and made the most of it. All four of them have looked good in some things this week. We're not afraid to use any of the four. Jeff, I'm not sure. We'll have to make that call tomorrow."

Running backs coach Derrick Nix meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Tunsil, Golson Continue To Progress

Freshman offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson have played in every game this season, with Tunsil starting five games at left tackle and Golson playing extensively at guard.

"Laremy has played solid the entire time," Freeze said. "He's really special. It's a little easier to play on the edge. We threw Austin in the middle in that first game, and there is a lot of different things happening in there. It's been more of a process, but he's improving and not making as many mistakes."

Offensive line coach Matt Luke has also been pleased with Tunsil and Golson.

"He does a lot of things well," said Luke, of Tunsil. "He can get bigger and stronger, but technically, that's what makes him special. He does a lot of things naturally. He's good with his hands and has a really good base with his lower body. He's a natural pass protector. We're very fortunate to have him. He's playing really well overall."

"He's probably not the prototypical guard," said Luke, of Golson. "He's more of tackle, but because of the seniors we have at tackle, he has stepped in there for us and played it well for 40-50 snaps a game at least.

Tunsil's emergence at left tackle, where he has started each of the last four games, has allowed senior offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray to move around and contribute at both tackle position, left guard and tight end, when the Rebels are in their six offensive lineman set.

A strong Arkansas defensive line is led by senior defensive end Chris Smith, who is tied for second in the SEC and tied for 13th nationally with 7.0 sacks. As a team, the Razorbacks rank third in the SEC and tied for 27th nationally with 22.0 sacks.

"They're very good," Luke said. "Their front four collectively is as good as we have seen. 86 (Trey Flowers), 42 (Smith), 91 (Darius Philon), 54 (Byran Jones), all those guys are good players. I have been very impressed."

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

When asked about his confidence in regard to different positions, head coach Hugh Freeze said the area that concerns him the most is the secondary.

Both cornerback positions were listed with co-starters -- junior Senquez Golson and sophomore Quintavius Burdette at Field corner, and seniors Dehendret Collins and Charles Sawyer at Boundary corner. With both Golson (hamstring) and Sawyer (shoulder) returning from injury, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones feels confident about those four players at the position.

"Starting out at fall camp, we didn't have a lot of depth at the position, but we got some guys back the last couple of weeks, and those guys are now practicing and executing the game plan," Jones said.

"I have four guys that are experienced and mature and can help us. I want to keep all of them fresh. It's supposed to hot on Thursday night. And at times, Vanderbilt can tempo you. The more depth you have, the more guys you can play, and so the fresher they will be."

Burdette, who ran with the first-team defense for most of fall camp, earned the start at Field corner, Freeze said Monday.

"It makes me feel great," Burdette said of getting the start. "It makes me feel like I have to go out there and prove myself even more now." 

"He improved his game a lot," Sawyer said of Burdette. "He's making plays on the ball. He's getting the calls. He's understanding the defense. He's just making plays."

A converted safety, Burdette said he feels more comfortable with the defense. He also said he has learned a lot from facing junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief every day in practice, whether it was he or Moncrief making a play.

"After a play, we would go back and talk about it and see what he was thinking during the play, or if I wasn't doing something right, he would tell me," he said. "It taught me to be more patient as a defensive back, and how to make plays against a wide receiver of his size and quality."

On the injury front, Freeze and staff are confident about the status of senior cornerback Charles Sawyer (shoulder) and junior Senquez Golson (hamstring). Sawyer is prepared to play both cornerback positions, Freeze said, while Golson will come in at Field corner, and then they will see how the game goes.

"Charles, he's been going now for at least a couple of weeks," Jones said. "We may practice non-contact to try and take care of each. He's out there laying out for balls and banging around with Donte and things like that. I'm not concerned about him at all. 

"Senquez, even though he was injured, he was still getting conditioning in with Coach Jackson on the side. His conditioning shouldn't be a big problem. Both of those guys should be good to go for Thursday."

At the safety position, sophomores Trae Elston and Chief Brown were listed as co-starters at Rover safety, with junior Cody Prewitt at free safety. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he thinks of all three as starters who will all play about the same number of snaps.

"It's a battle between all three of them," Wommack said. "I have called them all starters to them in person. Chief has the ability to play both sides. Hopefully, between the three of them, we can keep them fresher than they were last year."

Crowded Backfield

Ole Miss has six players vying for playing time at the running back, including three freshmen in Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. Running backs coach Derrick Nix feels great about the overall depth of the position.

"We feel like we have choices at the position, which is always good," Nix said. "If something happens to Jeff (Scott), we have guys who are capable of going in and bringing some of the same skill set that he brings to the table. But most importantly, we have guys with more experience than last year.

Nix said they haven't finalized it all the way which running backs will travel to Nashville, and that guys are still competing every day.

What is probably set in stone, Nix said, is Scott, the team's leading rusher last season, then sophomore running back Jaylen Walton. After that, he said, there is a question mark about what they are going to do.

Sophomore I'Tavius Mathers, who was listed as co-backup with Walton behind Scott, has returned to practice since suffering an ankle sprain, but his status for Thursday remains uncertain.

"He did well in practice yesterday," Nix said. "We're going to evaluate him more today to see what he looks like. As the week goes on, we'll see how he progresses and then determine if he will play or not on Thursday."

That question mark also includes potential redshirts, which Freeze said they're considering for sure, adding that there's no way they can say at a position like running back exactly what will happen, such as injuries.

Looking at WR, CB and RB

From individual drills, to 7-on-7 drills, to team drills, a large emphasis was placed on converting inside the Red Zone. One of the players that stood out was freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who showed a knack for getting separation, running good routes and catching the ball in the slot position.


"Laquon had a really good day," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "He's starting to understand things more. We're going to slow it down a little bit for them. Him and Quincy both, we're looking at them as having to play. When you install something new every day, it's tough on a young kid, so as they understand things more, they will get much more confident, and you saw that today with Laquon."


There's a lot of rotation at the wide receiver position in team drills, but Treadwell got a majority of the second-team reps in the slot, with sophomore Cody Core and freshman Quincy Adeboyejo outside. 


The first-team wide receivers, right now, are senior Ja-Mes Logan and junior Donte Moncrief outside, with senior Korvic Neat in the slot. Junior Collins Moore, who missed most of last season with injuries to both shoulders, has also gotten a lot of reps in the slot.


On the other side of the ball, with junior Senquez Golson and senior Charles Sawyer sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette continue to run with the first-team defense at cornerback. 


When the defense added an extra defensive back, Collins moved inside, and sophomore Anthony Standifer got some first-team reps at cornerback. In the base defense, Standifer and freshman Bobby Hill got second-team reps there.


"Up and down," Freeze said of cornerback play behind Sawyer and Golson. "I think Dehendret has had a good camp. He gave up a touchdown in that red-zone competition, but I think he has had a good camp. I think Bobby Hill is going to be fine. He's just really young. 


"We need to get Charles (Sawyer) back. At field corner, Quintavius Burdette has a chance to be OK, and Standifer and Q(uadarias) Mireles, we need to bring them along. Everyone knows that's an area that we feel thin at."


Stable Of Backs


It's a crowded backfield for running backs coach Derrick Nix, with senior Jeff Scott, sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton and freshmen Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins splitting reps between the first-team, second-team and third-team offense.


Scott is the leader of the group, having led the team with 846 rushing yards on 197 attempts last years, but there's some definite competition behind him.


"It's going really well," Nix said of the running back competition. "The younger guys have come in and gave us some more energy, some more guys that can do a lot of things with speed and size. They're pushing Jeff Scott, and I'Tavius (Mathers) and Jaylen Walton really hard. 


"I have to brag on Mark Dodson. I think it was a big help for him to get in here early for the spring semester and going through spring football and summer workouts. He's light year ahead going through fall camp right"


For Scott, Nix said, it's about continuing to be a pro in everything he does, from perfecting his protection, to perfecting his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, to knowing exactly what's happening when the offensive line is blocking for him, which includes cutting up and running inside.


"Me and him sat down and watched four or five games and hone in on that part of his game," Nix said. "He's a guy who has always been the fastest guy on the field all through high school, and he always leans on that as his crutch. I'm trying to make him conscious about down and distance, and knowing what he needs to have to keep the chains moving."


The other two returners, Mathers and Walton, Nix said are "light years ahead" of where they were last year.


"Those two guys have shown tremendous improvement, just mentally," Nix said. "They have always had the running ability, but the fact that they know exactly what they're doing now, they're 10 years ahead of what they were doing last year. 


"They are so much more comfortable. You can see it when they get up and lined up, they know exactly what is happening, and they can become the players they were in high school again."


With Dodson participating in spring practice, the two newest players are Moore and Wilkins. Nix described Moore as home-run threat who can flip the field with his speed, while Wilkins is the biggest back of the group 6-foot-2, 200 pounds.


"Right now, he's an every-down back in my opinion," Nix said of Moore. "I think he can run the ball inside, on the perimeter, and he can catch the ball. Right now, I won't put a cap on what he can do. I think he's a guy who can go in and operate in every facet of our offense right now."


"From that injury that he had in high school, he's back 100 percent to me," Nix said of Wilkins. "He's cutting well. He's running the ball downhill. He's got a little bit of an AC sprain (in his shoulder) right now, but he's battling through that every day, showing some toughness and doing a really job so far."


NOTABLE:


With junior Carlos Thompson out, freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche ran with the first team for the second straight day, opposite senior defensive end Cameron Whigham. Behind them, sophomore Channing Ward and redshirt freshman John Youngblood got second-team reps there.


Senior Pierce Burton, who Freeze said is "really close" and "could have gone today," was held out, and freshman Laremy Tunsil got first-team reps at left tackle, with senior Emmanuel McCray at right tackle.


There was a lot of rotation at the guard position in team drills. Junior Aaron Morris got the majority of first-team reps at left guard, with sophomore Justin Bell at right guard, but senior Jared Duke and freshman Austin Golson also got some first-team reps at guard. Freshman Daronte Bouldin also moved up and got some reps on the second team at right guard.


In kickoff return drills, it was the same five players from earlier in fall practice, with sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running backs Mark Dodson and Kailo and sophomore safety Trae Elston rotating as the deep men.


In punt return drills, Elston was joined by senior running back Jeff Scott and senior wide receiver Korvic Neat as the deep men.


QUOTABLE:


Freeze, on running back position: "Jaylen and I'Tavius are probably a little ahead of the others, but Dodson, Kailo and Jordan are not far behind. Kailo is doing some things for us, as you get into a game plan, you might put him in some places to get him the ball in space.


"Any guy that we feel like we can line up and be very multiple, as far as whether we're going to throw it or run it, and bring him back (into the backfield) and do things, he helps the offense. Jeff can do that, too."


Freeze, on junior Senquez Golson's hamstring injury: "I'm always worried about injuries, yeah. It's a hamstring. You can push it, but if you don't get it well, you're going to be fighting it all year long, so we're just trying to get it well and then move forward from there."


Sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton, on cornerback play: "I'm out there with Quintavius Burdette most of the time. He's a really good athlete. He'll come up and hit. He can run. I feel comfortable. Dehendret at boundary corner, he played there, so I feel pretty comfortable with everyone."


Senior Dehendret Collins on switching from Huskie to cornerback: "I look at as I'm back home because I came here as a boundary corner. I started there, but they moved me because they told me they wanted to get the best players on the field, but now I'm back at home, so I look at it as I'm home."


Sophomore Jaylen Walton, on running backs being involved in the passing game: "We got so many personnels where we got to motion out into a slot, or line up in a slot. We got to learn so many different routes to run."

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