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Luke Breaks Down the Offensive Line

The center and right tackle position battles have been two of the biggest story lines of fall camp, but as the Rebels prepped for their second preseason scrimmage Wednesday night, they are closer to solidifying the depth chart along the offensive line.

"It's starting to shape up," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "Right now, there's still a pretty good battle going on at center with Ben (Still) and (Robert) Conyers, and then Conyers being able to move out and play tackle gives us some flexibility there. Rod Taylor has come on, understanding with more reps he gets. He's very talented. The more reps he gets, the better he's going to get there (at guard). Craig Frigo has been impressive. He can give us some depth there (at guard). 

"The issue we have right now is tackle, trying to figure out the mixing and matching when we're subbing. In early games, you want to be able to play some guys, especially with our tempo, so the challenge right now is to figure out the best rotation."

The discussion along the offensive line starts with sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American, who will anchor the line at left tackle and has made a jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

"He's much more confident," Luke said. "I know it's hard to believe with a guy of that ability, but his ability level has really risen. I have been very impressed with him as a leader and his knowledge of the game. He's gotten a lot stronger. He's kept his weight right where it needs to be, in the 305-pound range. He's moving really well. I have seen the biggest improvement in his run-blocking, trying to finish people. He took the challenge to get stronger and finish in the run game."

Inside, juniors Aaron Morris and Justin Bell have been constants at left and right guard, respectively, with Taylor and Frigo the primary backups there. Morris, who missed all of the 2013 season and was limited in spring drills with an ACL injury, has showed no ill effects during fall camp.

"I have been impressed with him," Luke said. "He has a little tendinitis from coming back from the knee injury, but he's gone every rep of every single thing. He hasn't come out. I'm hoping he will continue to get in football shape as we go through this second big scrimmage of preseason."

There has been shuffling on the line with redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin moving outside to tackle and leaving Taylor inside at guard. Bouldin is battling fellow redshirt freshman Davion Johnson for the fourth tackle spot behind Tunsil, junior Fahn Cooper, who appears to have solidified the starting right tackle spot, and Conyers.

"He's doing well," said Luke of the move for Bouldin. "I have been very pleased. We tried Rod out there a little bit, but with a young guy, it's better to leave him at one spot. Maybe as the season progresses, we can play some more tackle. Daronte has been in the offense longer and knows the offense. He's done well out there on the edge. He's been a pleasant surprise at tackle because I had him slotted as a guard in my mind."

Overall, Luke said, they're a couple of guys away from being where they want to be depth-wise, but they are comfortable with six to eight players in the offensive line. One area he looks for marked improvement this season is the run game.

"Our line is built to get better in the run game," Luke said. "We're bigger and more physical. Fahn gives us some punch there at right tackle because he's a big, physical guy. The run game will be good. We'll be physical. We still have to continue to try to block No. 5 (Robert Nkemdiche). That's hard for anybody, but when he gets into those 1-on-1 match ups, we have to step up and protect and we have struggled to do that against him."


Ole Miss Ranked No. 18 in SI Preseason Poll

Sports Illustrated unveiled its preseason top 25 Wednesday, including its four playoff-bound selections in No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Ohio State. In addition to Ole Miss at No. 18, other Southeastern Conference teams included in the top 25 were No. 7 Auburn, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 14 LSU, No. 20 Texas A&M and No. 22 Missouri.

Ole Miss had one of the SEC's best attacks at times last season, averaging 6.0 yards per play and a league-leading 78.3 plays per game, but execution was often a problem. The Rebels ended the year next to last in the conference in red zone efficiency (73.9%). That inability to finish kept Ole Miss from contending in the SEC West last season. Senior Bo Wallace holds the keys to coach Hugh Freeze's up-tempo offense. Sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell and sophomore tight end Evan Engram should give Wallace plenty to work with through the air, while tailbacks I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, who combined for almost 1,100 rushing yards last year, will man the backfield.

For a complete scouting report on Ole Miss from Sports Illustrated, click here.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze, on the status of Tee Shepard: "We are getting different opinions, but it doesn't look good. It is a rare injury that he could try to push through and get fixed after the season. However, there is the chance that scar tissue could form and affect him long term. We certainly think he has a career in football and we want to do everything we can to preserve that career. The final decision has not been made; we are waiting on one final opinion from one of the top doctors that deals with this injury every day, but right not it doesn't look promising."

Freeze, on Shepard's eligibility if he doesn't play this season: "He would have two (years) to (play) two (years). He's three (years) to (play) three (years) right now, but there's hopefully a basis for an appeal to get a year back. You can't do that until after his eligibility is done.

Freeze on Issac Gross: "He's fine. He was back yesterday at practice. He seemed to be his old self. He had a little neck strain, but he looked good yesterday at practice."

Freeze, on the offensive line: "We're pretty close to solidifying our depth chart. We worked a lot of combinations. We moved Daronte (Bouldin) to right tackle. We decided we're going to leave Rod (Taylor) inside. Davion (Johnson), Fahn (Cooper), Laremy (Tunsil) and Robert (Conyers) are getting work at tackle. Robert is going between center and tackle. There are going to be some guys who have to play two spots, but we're pretty close."

Jaylen Walton, on the running backs: "This is the most talented group because of depth. We're all young, all around the same class. I played against Mark (Dodson), I'Tavius (Mathers) and Jordan (Wilkins). All of them are going to be good backs."

Walton, on Akeem Judd: "Out of all the running backs, Akeem is the bruiser. He's the hard-nosed runner out of all of us. He's coming along, learning all the plays and all the assignment. He's picking it up pretty well."

Vince Sanders, on missing spring drills: "It was very frustrating. Any time you miss you wish you were out there with your guys practicing. It was frustrating, but I know I had to stay positive because I was looking forward to camp."

Sanders, on being overlooked: "I understand you can't get too caught up in the media. I have been here for a long time now and my name has never been up there because we had other guys. I don't let that get to me too much."

Matt Luke, on Sean Rawlings: "He's doing well. He's been doing some center and tackle. He has a similar body type to Conyers. As he grows, he will be in line with that. He's done well. He's picked up the offense. We would love to be able to redshirt him and Jordan Sims, if I can, but I don't know if I will be able to or not. We'll see how it goes."

Luke, on Craig Frigo: "He's exactly what you're looking for in terms of his demeanor in football. He's a tough guy. I asked him to play some tackle early on and he did that, but I see him contributing at guard, with him and Rod being able to sub for Aaron and Justin."


 

Ole Miss football players will report to campus on Friday for the start of 2014 fall camp. 

Friday will also feature Media Day activities beginning with head coach Hugh Freeze's press conference at 2 p.m, which will be streamed live on OleMissSports.com's RebelVision, followed by interviews with assistant coaches and requested players.

The roster has been updated to include newcomer bios, jersey numbers and updated positions, heights and weights. 

Among them are sophomore defensive back Tee Shepard, wearing No. 2, and a trio of athletes in freshmen D.K. Buford and C.J. Moore, wearing Nos. 35 and 26, and sophomore Jeremy Liggins, wearing No. 15.

Here are four things to watch as the Rebels meet the press on Friday and open fall camp on Saturday:

Finding Best Five On Offensive Line

The Rebels have to replace three starters from last year who graduated -- left guard Jared Duke, center Evan Swindall and right tackle Pierce Burton. Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American and one of the first two Ole Miss freshmen to be named All-SEC, anchors the line at left tackle.

Junior Aaron Morris, Freeze said at SEC Media Days, should be ready to go day one, having missed most of last season after suffering a torn ACL in the season opener against Vanderbilt. He will return at left guard, where he started all 13 games in 2012.

Junior Justin Bell started every game last season, with six at left guard and seven at right guard, where he is listed as the starter entering fall camp. Junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers are listed as the starter at center and right tackle, respectively, entering fall camp. 

Redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin, who got a lot of reps in spring practice, is another player to watch, as are newcomers Fahn Cooper, a second team NJCAA All-America selection, and Rod Taylor, an Under Armour All-America selection, whom Freeze raved about at SEC Media Days.

Second Time Around For Talented Sophomores

Last year's freshman class, headlined by four freshman All-Americans, are now sophomores, and they will have a huge role in defining how successful Ole Miss will be this season. The Rebels will also look for the fruits of the labor from another year in the offseason program with Paul Jackson.

For Robert Nkemdiche and Derrick Jones, it's the first full camp at their new positions, having moved to defensive tackle and cornerback, respectively, during their freshman seasons. For Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo, it's continuing in their transition to outside receiver and slot receiver, respectively. 

Backup Quarterback Battle To Continue

In addition to watching senior Bo Wallace, as it relates to his confidence and arm strength in fall camp, the battle behind him has continued into fall camp between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Since the start of fall camp last season, this has been a story line and it will undoubtedly continue, whether they continue to split snaps or one separates from the other. 

On a related note, it will be interesting to see where junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins, listed as an athlete, will work during fall camp and how he might contribute this season. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach wrote that he will start fall camp working as a tight end, but he may end up contributing at any number of positions, including quarterback.

Making Special Teams Special

The Rebels return 15 starters on offense and defense, but they have to replace both their kicker and punter on special teams. Senior Andrew Fletcher and redshirt freshman Will Gleeson are listed as the starters at placekicker and punter, respectively. The wildcard in the group is incoming freshman Gary Wunderlich, the nation's No. 1 kicker prospect, who has the potential to handle both duties.

There are a lot of options in the return game, with junior running back Jaylen Walton listed as the starter at kick returner and junior cornerback Carlos Davis listed as the starter at punt returner. A trio of sophomores in safety Anthony Alford, cornerback Kailo Moore and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo also figure in the mix.

Rebels Excited But Not Satisfied

Ole Miss is bowl eligible for the second straight year under head coach Hugh Freeze after a 34-24 win over Arkansas this past Saturday. The Rebels are also 6-3 for the first time since 2009, when the started 8-3 before finishing with a 9-4 record. As excited as they are about being bowl eligible and the 6-3 start, the coaches and players are not satisfied.

"I like that the expectation level has risen," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "They're not just satisfied with getting six wins but trying to build this program to where we all want it to be.

"It's a sense of accomplishment," sophomore offensive lineman Justin Bell said. "It shows that we're better than we were last year. We're not where we want to be but we're far from where we used to be."

Ole Miss continues with its fifth of six straight home games, as the Rebels (6-3, 3-3 SEC) step out of Southeastern Conference play on Saturday for its first ever meeting with the Troy Trojans (5-5, 3-3 Sun Belt). 

"I don't think it a challenge of focus," Luke said. "We have to focus on us and getting better. That's the main thing. We want to finish going up, and to do that, each game has to be improvement. And there are certainly a lot of areas of improvement from the Arkansas game, and that's a good thing. Our goal is to focus on us, get better and finish these three games playing our best football."

"Our mindset is so much on nine wins that we know we have to be prepared to play and reach that goal," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said.

Wallace, Passing Game In Focus


After a stat correction from Saturday's game against Arkansas, Wallace is now credited with a career-best 416 passing yards and 428 total yards, which both rank No. 2 in school history, to go along with three touchdowns. He also ranks top 25 nationally in total offense (283.2 ypg) and passing (264.8 ypg).

He moved into fifth place in school history in career total offense yards (5,942), passing Jevan Snead and Archie Manning this past Saturday, and sixth place in career passing yards (5,386), fourth in passing touchdowns (36) and second in 300-yard passing games (7). 

"It was a goal of mine to do that," said Wallace, of his place in the record books. "It's surprised some people that it's happened so early, but I'm a confident. I think I'm the best when I walk out there, whether I am or not. 

"I just got to keep improving. There are so many things I can still get better at. Last offseason, I didn't really get a chance to get better physically. This year, I'm really excited about the offseason to do that."

Led by Wallace, the Rebels finished with a season-high 428 passing yards and eclipsed 500 yards for the third straight game and the fourth time this year. They had two receivers with over 100 receiving yards for the first time since 2003. 

Ole Miss has four receivers with over 200 receiving yards for the year, not including freshman tight end Evan Engram who is out for the year with an ankle injury. 

"We're really fortunate to have all of those guys," Luke said. "Coach Heard does a great job. Those guys play hard and are very unselfish. There are times e have asked them to block on the perimeter, and they have done that. It's good to see those guys step up and make plays."

Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has a team-high 49 catches for 424 yards and three touchdown, followed by junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief with 41 catches for a team-high 647 yards and team-high five touchdowns. 

Senior Ja-Mes Logan has 35 catches for 496 yards and three touchdown, and junior wide receiver Vince Sanders has 10 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a team-leading 20.4 yards per catch.

"I'm not looking at who I'm throwing to," Wallace said. "We have great receivers everywhere. When I make a read, I don't care who it is." 

"As receivers, we feel like we're the group of this team that gets everybody going," Sanders said. "When we make a play, the offense flows. When don't make plays, the offense struggles. As a group, we feel like the group goes through us."

Treadwell Among Nation's Best, Tunsil Honored



Treadwell, who caught a game-high passes for 39 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, now has a team-high 49 catches for 424 yards. His 5.4 catches per game leads SEC freshmen and ranks third among freshmen nationally. It also ranks fifth in the SEC and 56th nationally.

"You look at him and he looks like an NFL receiver right now," Wallace said. "He's done a great job. He can get so much better. He probably has the best hands on the team, him and Donte, probably. He'll work on his route-running and mature. His body will get better. You guys are going to have a lot of fun watching him."

Another freshman, Laremy Tunsil, was honored as SEC offensive lineman of the week, as he helped Ole Miss to the second-most passing yards in school history and the third straight game of 500-plus total offense yards.

Tunsil has played in every game and started six at left tackle, and he is one of two true freshmen in the nation to be his team's full-time starting left tackle.

"Not when he's a five-star who comes in, looks the way does and works the way he does," said Wallace, of a lack of trust with a freshman left tackle. "I trust him as much as everyone else up there."

"The proof is in the pudding," Bell said. "You see his footwork. He's a natural-born athlete. I was amazing especially comparing my freshman year to how he is now. It's great and it only gets better from here. He does everything pretty well. There's always room for improvement. He does everything pretty well. He hits his landmark, shoots his hands, and most importantly, he keeps his feet moving."

Bowl Projections For Now Bowl-Eligible Rebels

After Saturday's game against Troy (11 a.m., ESPNU), Ole Miss plays its sixth of six straight games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and finishes the seven-game home slate with with a primetime showdown against No. 9 Missouri on Nov. 23 (6:45 p.m., ESPN). The Rebels wrap up the regular season on Thanksgiving night against intrastate rival Mississippi State (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

In this week's bowl projections, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards and CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm all have the Rebels in the Music City Bowl, while SI.com's Stewart Mandel has them in the Gator Bowl.


Replacing Morris, D. Nkemdiche

As Ole Miss enters game week against Southeast Missouri State, the Rebels will be tasked with replacing two starters in junior offensive guard Aaron Morris and sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche.


"We didn't experience injuries last year very much, but now right off the bat we're faced with adversity with Aaron Morris being done for the year," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "The worst part of our game is to see how much effort they put in during the offseason and then they get to go play in front of everyone and to get that news is not easy."

Morris, Freeze said, does have a redshirt available, so hopefully they can get him a medical redshirt and still have two years to play.

In his absence, four players -- seniors Patrick Junen and Jared Duke, sophomore Justin Bell and freshman Austin Golson -- will rotate at guard. Senior Emmanuel McCray, who got the start at left tackle, will also work inside, with freshman Laremy Tunsil's impressive college debut at tackle.


"Laremy graded extremely high after the Vanderbilt game, and Austin was about average," Freeze said of the freshman offensive linemen. "Austin's effort was phenomenal, he pulled the wrong way a couple of times but those are things a normal freshman will do, especially while playing inside.  Inside a lot of things can go on and he's only been taking reps there for about a week and a half, but I was real pleased with his effort and focus."

Nkemdiche's injury, Freeze said, not season-ending, so they feel like he will be back, best case four weeks, worst case six weeks. Juniors Keith Lewis and Serderius Bryant will fill his spot at Stinger linebacker.


Lewis, the Rebels' starting Wolf linebacker, played mostly in 4-3, nickel and dime defensive sets, while Bryant sat behind Nkemdiche on last week's depth chart at Stinger linebacker


"It's the loss of the leadership and the loss of a very bright individual, but we have that in me and (Bryant) as well," Lewis said. "Me and (Bryant) combined can make up for the loss."


Senior D.T. Shackelford, who returned from a two-year absence due to knee injuries, played both linebacker and defensive end and will now focus solely on linebacker while Nkemdiche recovers from injury.


"I was pleased, we've shuffled him around a lot," Freeze said. " By the end of the opening week I would like to be settled on exactly where guys will play, and now with the injuries we have to move guys around again. He made a few mistakes on his fits but he played with phenomenal effort and now that he's beginning to settle in I think he'll be fine."

Cornerback Shuffle


Sophomore Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins got the start at field and boundary corners, respectively, against Vanderbilt. Going forward, Freeze said they will keep moving guys around and hopefully getting some guys, like senior Charles Sawyer and junior Senquez Golson, healthy.


"I think everybody that watched the game saw that when Senquez Golson can go we are much better," Freeze said. "We were trying kids that had never played snaps, and I think they're going to be good.  We have to get Charles Sawyer healthy, and we'll try moving guys from the husky over to the boundary corner."

Freeze said Golson (hamstring) looked good in practice Monday and that Sawyer (shoulder) is closer to getting healthy as well.

"Right now, I feel like I don't any limitations," Golson said of his hamstring injury. "I mean I'm not feeling 100 percent, but I feel like I'm good enough to go... It was sore. I think I just had to loosen it up a little bit. The first deep ball that I had against Matthews was the first time I had opened up and ran in two or three weeks. After that play, I had more confidence and was good to go."

In addition to getting healthy, there will also be movement at the position this week.


Collins, whose eyes, Freeze said, "were pretty bad at times" at cornerback against Vanderbilt will move back to Huskie, where he played last season. 


Sophomore Mike Hilton, who got the start at Huskie, will move to cornerback, where he played some last season and also got some reps at during fall practice. Freeze also noted sophomore Anthony Standifer and freshman Bobby Hill as other options at cornerback.


"We got some changes to make and figure out who we have where," Golson said of the cornerback position. "We had Mike Hilton and Tony Conner at the same spot. We need both of those guys on the field at the same time."


Freshmen Impress


Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell was named SEC Freshman of the Week after leading Ole Miss in receiving with nine catches for 82 yards in his first college game. His nine catches were an Ole Miss freshman record and most by a Rebel since Mike Espy had nine against Auburn in 2005.


Treadwell hauled in a pass on three straight players and four to of five in one stretch in the third quarter, including a one-handed grab.


"That's him," Wallace said of Treadwell. "That's why he was the number one receiver recruit in the nation. That's what he does. He's not just terribly fast, but he has great ball skills, and you just have to give him a chance."


The play immediately after that stretch, which ended in the Rebels' second touchdown, Wallace completed a nine-yard pass to freshman tight end Evan Engram, who finished with five catches for 61 yards, which were both second-most on the team. 


"He's a stud," Wallace said of Engram. "He had a great game, and he just has to keep building on that. He's a huge playmaker in our offense. He creates mismatches for us. 


Engram, along with junior Donte Moncrief, also made the key block to spring junior running back Jeff Scott on his 75-yard, game-winning touchdown run with 1:07 left.


"As soon as he was here in 7-on-7, we saw how good of a receiver he was going to be. As small as he was, I was kind of worried about his blocking, but as you saw against Vanderbilt, he did a great job."


Holder Makes His Mark


A former walk-on, senior wide receiver Jordan Holder ran with the first-team during most of camp, worked his way on to the two-deep, and then quickly made an impact this season, catching a 4-yard pass from Wallace on the first offensive play of the game against Vanderbilt.


"I looked up and had to pinch myself for a second because Bo just slung it right at me," Holder said of the catch. "I'm happy that I caught it and got that out of the way, so we could play."


That 4-yard pass was also the first in his career, and he finished the game with three catches for 20 yards, having previously played in just two games. He played significant snaps in the slot, along with Treadwell and Engram.


"Whenever I was sticking with 1's during most of camp," Holder said of when he realized he was going to play this year. "That's when I kind of knew. I never wanted to get my hopes up because I had been there before the past couple of years, but I just stuck to it, and it finally worked out for me."


At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Holder was asked about what he brings to the wide receiver position, and Holder noted his physical abilities, but also his awareness and knowledge of coverages.


"I may not look as fast as I am, but I definitely think I am deceptive with my speed, and my quickness and hands," Holder said. "You got to catch everything that comes your way.


"When you do it as long as I have been here, you pick things up that most people may not know, as far as if a blitzer is coming, or a safety is dropping down on top of you. Things like that, seeing what coverages are, so you know how to run your routes."


Holder was also a unanimous selection for one of five available scholarships for walk-on players, Freeze said last week. But when his name was called, he gave the scholarship to fellow senior and walk-on tight end Justin Bigham.


"It was a definitely an honor," Holder said. "It was something I always wanted to earn and work for. I was just happy to get it. What I did for Bigham, I was happy I was able to be in that position to help him out because he's a great guy and he's earned it just as much as I have, or anybody else has, so he deserved it.


"He was sitting right beside me when they announced mine, and they never called his name. I felt sick to my stomach because we started off together, and I definitely wanted him to have one." 

Depth On The Offensive Line

The story with the offensive line continues to be its depth.

Earlier in fall practice, offensive line coach Matt Luke said they should have eight or nine players ready to go this season, and that depth is taking shape on the practice fields, as senior Patrick Junen returned to full-speed practice on Monday.

"Right now, we're probably looking at three tackles and maybe four guards, so seven, then you always have got to have another center ready, so seven or eight is a fair number," Luke said Tuesday of the offensive line rotation.

Ole Miss returns both of its starting tackles from last season, seniors Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton, at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Luke said he expects them to be leaders this season, as they both enter year two as starters.

"For us to be good this year, our seniors have to play like seniors," Luke said. "I expect them to be leaders and role models for those young guys. Laremy (Tunsil) is going to play some, so they have to be able to handle that and help mentor him to be the player that he can be.

With McCray out due to a family issue, Tunsil earned first-team reps at left tackle in Saturday's scrimmage, and head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday that Luke said Tunsil graded out better than any freshman he has ever coached in a scrimmage. Tunsil also drew similar praise from one of his teammates.

"Laremy is a class act," McCray said. "He's definitely a talented kid. He has to keep a level head, learn how to practice harder and play hard when he's tired. As far as the fundamentals, there are little things here and there, but for him to be a freshman and as talented as he is, he will be just fine."

There has been a lot of competition at both guard positions, with junior Aaron Morris, senior Jared Duke, sophomore Justin Bell, senior Patrick Junen and freshman Austin Golson all getting reps there.

At right guard, Junen missed most of the spring and the first two weeks of fall practice due to injury, so Bell got most of the first-team reps there. On Tuesday, Junen got first-team reps due to Bell being held out with a minor back issue.

"He missed most of the spring and sat out," Luke said of Junen. "That's always hard. The good thing is he's played a lot of football. I don't think it will take him long once we get into the flow of the season. Obviously, conditioning is going to be an issue. He's not ready to play a full game yet. Hopefully, by the third or fourth game, he will be."

"Without a doubt," Luke said of Bell making a strong case to be the starting right guard. "He's been there, day in and day out. He's a great kid. He's competing his butt off. It's very, very important to him. I am very comfortable with Justin playing, if we had to start today."

Senior Evan Swindall returns at center, but behind him, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers and sophomore Ben Still have split reps there.

"I have still have got a few days to decide between (Robert) and Ben," Luke said. "They are going back and forth, splitting all those reps. It's a battle. I would say, right now, they're about even. I would feel comfortable with either going in there and fighting and competing. Obviously, we want Evan to get the majority of the reps, but he's always one play away, so they have got to be ready to play."

'Back Into The Swing Of Things'

After missing most of the spring and first two weeks of fall practice due to toe and wrist injuries, senior offensive guard Patrick Junen returned to full-speed practice on Monday.

"It was very frustrating," Junen said of missing practice. "Seeing my fellow seniors out there, guys who I have been here for four years with, going through it and not being out there with them, it's super frustrating. I'm finally getting back into the swing of things and trying to get back on the line."

After losing seasons in 2010 and 2011, then last year's 7-6 season, Junen said there's much more excitement going into this season.

"It's a great feeling seeing Coach Freeze come in and build a program that's winning," Junen said. "It's very exciting to be a part of that and be able to be there at the beginning of the transition and go through it."

Protecting Wallace, Increasing The Tempo

As Ole Miss prepares for Vanderbilt, senior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray said they're not letting the preseason hype and expectations get in their mind at all, especially on the offensive line.

"We gave up too many sacks, and we had a lot of little things that we could have fixed," McCray said. "Toward the middle and end of the season, we honed in on the little things and did them better. We're trying to pick off where we left off and get better from there."

One of those things, McCray said, is protecting junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who underwent offseason clavicle surgery.

"With him coming off the surgery, we're taking it personal already, just because we already kind of feel responsible for last year's injury," McCray said. "You definitely don't want to see your quarterback hurt. And with the quarterback situation that we have, we never know who's next after Bo. We don't know that right now, so we need to keep him healthy as possible."

Another of those things is tempo, which the offensive linemen have talked about throughout fall practice.

"We feel faster," McCray said of the tempo. "We're still getting into tempo shape. It's looking pretty good. We're definitely ahead of schedule, but we're not where we want to be. We had a couple of guys who were out with injuries and surgeries, like (Patrick) Junen and Aaron (Morris) that still got to get in shape. But for the most part, we're moving faster and looking better."

Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson was a full participant in practice and ran with the first-team defense, opposite freshman Robert Nkemdiche. It should also be noted that both senior defensive end Cameron Whigham and junior defensive end Carlos Thompson were held out of practice.

"He seemed to handle it pretty well," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Johnson. "He is going to have to just play through some pain. The doctors were here and everything looks good with the repair, he is just going to have to push through some of it and get himself back into shape."

Behind Johnson and Nkemdiche, sophomore Channing Ward got second-team reps at defensive end, opposite senior D.T. Shackelford, who moved from linebacker to defensive end, where he played some as a sophomore in 2010.

"We are moving him around to several positions and he was solely at end today," Freeze said of Shackelford. "He plays with a wide open motor and that is something you have to have on the defensive side of the ball. He is a great leader and any time he is out there people rally around him. His quickness is a lot better than it was this spring. He feels good and is getting more and more comfortable."

In the secondary, sophomore Chief Brown got some first-team reps at Rover ahead of sophomore Trae Elston. In a third-down situational competition, the defense showed what looked like a 3-2-6 base defense.

The notable personnel changes from the 4-2-5 to the 3-2-6 on the first-team defense were junior Bryon Bennett as the only defensive tackle, junior Keith Lewis replacing senior Mike Marry at one linebacker spot and the addition of freshman Huskie Tony Connor, alongside sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton.

"He is learning quickly and plays very physical," Freeze said of Connor. "He is still like any freshman and his eyes are in the wrong place some times, but he is everything we thought he would be and will be a really good player for us."

Options On Offensive Line

Not including senior Patrick Junen who has been held out of fall practice while recovering from offseason surgery, eight different offensive linemen have gotten first-team reps.

"There are several competitions going on right now, and that's part of the good thing about this camp. Last year, guys didn't really get pushed. We have a lot of competition going on at every position, and guys battling for their spot."

One of those competitions is right guard, where Junen and sophomore Justin Bell were listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. With Junen out, Bell has gotten most of the first-team reps there throughout fall practice.

"He's doing well," offensive line coach Matt Luke said of Bell. "Justin is a great kid. He tries to please in everything he does. He's a student of the game. He's very intelligent. He's paid his dues. He's worked hard, and he's really doing a great job while Patrick has been out. He has some things to work on in pass protection, but he's done a good job."

At the other guard position, junior Aaron Morris had gotten most of the first-team reps, but senior Jared Duke ran with the first team on Thursday.

"That's one of the battles going on right now," Luke said. "Jared has had a great camp. He's a little bit heavy, but he's had an unbelievable camp."

When senior Pierce Burton was held out earlier in fall practice, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers and freshman Laremy Tunsil both got first-team reps at tackle, and they now work with the second-team offense at right tackle and left tackle, respectively, behind Burton (right tackle) and senior Emmanuel McCray (left tackle).

"Laremy is doing well," Luke said. "He's a very, very talented freshman. And he's working to learn some things right now, but he's doing some things really well."

Another freshman, Austin Golson, has gotten second-team reps at right guard and might figure in the rotation on the offensive line this season.

"I expected him to come in and be tough, and nasty and hard-nosed," Luke said. "He was learning the system early, so he wasn't playing quite as fast. These last two days, I have really seen a change in him as he's learned the offense."

NOTABLE:

The defense won both team competitions, including the third-down situational competition.

A couple of highlights from individual drills: Freshman safety Derrick Jones had an interception on a jump ball against freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. In the same drill, junior quarterback Bo Wallace connected with junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief on a fly route against sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette.

A couple of highlight from team drills: On the first play of the third-down situation competition, Wallace connected with Treadwell on a seam route between two defenders. Later in the competition, sophomore cornerback Anthony Standifer had an interception on a jump ball against sophomore wide receiver Cody Core.

In a full-team kickoff return drill, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running back Mark Dodson and sophomore safety Trae Elston were the deep men. Three other freshmen -- Derrick Jones, Laquon Treadwell and Jordan Wilkins -- also got reps on the front line of the unit.

QUOTABLE:

Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace's decision-making: "It was better, but we still got to get there, and we will continue to have some discussions watching film. He's being real coachable right now, which is a really good thing. He doesn't want to make mistakes any more than any other kid. His are much more noticeable because of the position he plays."

Freeze, on Wallace's shoulder: "I think that's just something he's going to have to work through. Ryan Aplin at Arkansas State had the same surgery, and he said it took him months to where his bicep and elbow area didn't hurt him. I think we're coming through it. I think he's getting better."

Senior D.T. Shackelford, on practicing at defensive end: "I enjoyed it. I played a lot there my sophomore year before I got injured so I felt comfortable at end. I don't care if I play linebacker or defensive end, I truly don't. I just want to be on the field and be able to contribute. I feel good at both. I'm just ready to play."

Luke, on offensive line rotation: "I would say we could play, right now in my mind, eight or nine offensive linemen. That's not to say I have eight or nine ready right now, but I think by the end of fall camp, we should have eight or nine guys ready to go."

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