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Wallace: 'It's My Offense'

The dean of Southeastern Conferences quarterbacks and the league's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns, senior Bo Wallace is as healthy and confident as ever, and he's also assumed a more vocal leadership role on the team.

"I feel like it's my team," Wallace said. "It's my offense. I have said in years past that I have to be more vocal. This year, I have done a lot better job of letting those guys know that I care about them and I want to be around them and I want those guys playing hard."

After playing through shoulder pain and fatigue for much of his first two years as the Rebels' quarterback, he has not noticed any flare-ups with his shoulder through fall camp.

"I have no pain at all," Wallace said. "Last year, I wouldn't really have pain, but I had days when I didn't feel great, but I feel really good now."

In front of Wallace, junior Fahn Cooper has earned the starting job at right tackle, while the battle for the starting job at center continues between junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers, with both players getting first-team reps in Monday's practice.

"Conyers and Still are still right there battling for the center job and I feel good with either of them about snaps and protections, so I feel like we have some guys who can play and be alright there," Wallace said.

"They are about tit-for-tat," Freeze said. "I'll let Matt (Luke) meet with those kids. They're both going to play. Both Ben and Robert have earned the right to play. Who gets the majority of the snaps will probably be sorted out after the first few games."

Do-It-All Hilton Adds Flexibility to Defense


When sophomore Tee Shepard and junior Carlos Davis went down with season-ending knee injuries, it meant a larger and perhaps less defined role for junior Mike Hilton. 

The one-time high school running back standout has started 16 games in his career, with 10 at cornerback, five at Huskie and one at free safety, including nine at cornerback this past season. 

He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie during fall camp but has now turned most of his attention to cornerback with the injuries to Shepard and Davis. 

"I had a full summer to really get my technique down and work with Coach (Jason) Jones on small things and get a better feel because I switched in the middle of the season," Hilton said. "Having this full summer has really helped me."

In Monday's practice he ran with the first-team defense at cornerback, opposite senior Senquez Golson, and second-team defense at Huskie, behind sophomore Tony Conner.

"(The coaches) make sure I'm on top of everything," Hilton said. "I watch film with the corners one day and go watch it with the Huskies to make sure I'm not making too many mistakes and make sure I can handle it."

Despite the injuries, it's one of the deepest and most experienced secondaries that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has had in his three years at Ole Miss. With that experience, Hilton said he expects a more aggressive defense and more blitzes.

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

Rebels Begin Boise Prep


White jerseys with numbers representing Boise State players dotted the scout-team offense and defense, as Ole Miss has turned the page in advance of the season opener against the Broncos.

One challenge of preparation is the unknown with a first-year head coach in Bryan Harsin and two-first year coordinators in Mike Sanford on the offensive side and Marcel Yates on the defensive side. Some of the preparation is based on Boise State film, while other preparation is based on film from the coaches' other previous experiences.

"It's definitely difficult on the offensive side because the (defensive) coordinator that has been hired has not been a coordinator before, so you're not sure," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'm sure he will take something from everywhere he has been, like all of us have done. We're not quite sure what his flavor is, so that's a bit difficult. 

"Offensively, with their head coach being an offensive guy, even though I know he's not going to coordinate it, you have an idea of what they will be like. We're going to study the places that the offensive coordinator came from also. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it happens."

Harsin was a graduate assistant (2001) and tight ends coach (2002-05) under Dan Hawkins before assuming the role of offensive coordinator and quarterback coach (2006-10) under Chris Peterson. He was most recently the co-offensive coordinator at Texas (2011-12) and head coach at Arkansas State (2013). Sanford most recently spent three seasons as a running backs coach at Stanford (2011-13). 

"You don't know what to expect," Hilton of preparation for Boise State. "We can watch film on Arkansas State, which is where he came from, but he can still throw something new in there. We watch Boise to see how their players are and see how physical receivers and running backs are. It's a challenge, but I feel like we can handle it."

On the defensive side, Yates was a cornerbacks coach (2003-05) under Hawkins before taking over the entire secondary (2006-11) under Peterson, and then serving as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M (2012-2013).

"We have an idea of what we think they're going to do," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of preparation for Boise State. "Study some years past and a little bit of A&M stuff and try to play fast. What we don't know, hopefully our tempo can help us in that area."

Steele Picks Ole Miss to Finish 9-3, Tied for Third in SEC West

ESPN Insider Phil Steele projects Ole Miss to finish 9-3 overall and tied for third in the SEC standings with LSU (9-3) and behind first-place Alabama (12-0) and second-place Auburn (10-2). He projects Georgia (11-1) to win the SEC East and meet Alabama in the SEC title game. Here's more from Steele on Ole Miss:

The Rebels welcome back QB Bo Wallace (3,346 passing yards in 2013) and their top two rushers, I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton (1,086 yards combined). I rank Wallace and backup Ryan Buchanan is the 11th-best QB unit in the country. Even better? What they don't have: South Carolina, Georgia or Florida on the docket. Since they avoid the East's big three, I have the Rebels as clear underdogs against only the West's big two, LSU and Bama (the A&M and Auburn games rate as toss-ups in my book). Ole Miss, talent-wise, is not far behind the Tigers or the Tide and could make a run to the SEC title game. In fact, I have the Rebels as my No. 6-rated surprise team in the country.

For ESPN Insider subscribers, here's the link to the full article, "Projecting the final SEC standings"

More from ESPN: The SEC has plenty of playoff possibilities, and Ole Miss is one of four teams that could make a magical run from outside the top 10, writes Edward Aschoff

NOTABLE:

Sophomore Laquon Treadwell and senior Vince Sanders got first-team reps at outside receiver, with junior Cody Core, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshman Dayall Harris also in the rotation.

Core also got first-team reps at slot receiver, with sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, junior Quintavius Burdette, freshmen Markell Pack and Sammie Epps also in the rotation.

Sophomore Evan Engram got a majority of first-team reps at tight end, with senior Nick Parker,  and sophomores Jeremy Liggins and Matt Brown also in the rotation.

Junior C.J. Johnson, sophomore Fadol Brown, and freshman Marquis Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and junior Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 

Sophomore John Youngblood and junior Channing Ward were second-team defensive ends, with seniors Bryon Bennett and Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

The five players who ran with the first-team defense in the secondary have combined to start 96 games in their career: Senior safety Cody Prewitt (28), junior safety Trae Elston (20), senior cornerback Senquez Golson (20), junior cornerback Mike Hilton (16) and sophomore Huskie Tony Conner (12).

Hilton also ran with second team at Huskie, where he was joined by sophomore Derrick Jones and freshman Kendarius Webster at cornerback and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman C.J. Hampton at safety.

In special teams work, the first-team kickoff returners were junior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Mark Dodson. The second-team kickoff returners were sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore and junior safety Trae Elston. 

The kickoff return units also included freshman defensive back C.J. Moore on the first team and freshman linebacker DeMarquis Gates on the second team.

QUOTABLE:

Hugh Freeze on field goal kicker: "We feel like we know who's ahead at this point, but it's a bit too early to tell who's going to be the guy. Right now, I would say (Andrew) Fletcher is the guy. Fletcher would kick short-to-medium field goals. All of them, on a given day, have done their share. He's probably been the more consistent on those. If it was a longer (field goal), it would be one of the other two (Gary Wunderlich or Andy Pappanastos)."

Freeze on rotating players on defense: "Any time you can rotate two-deep, you're better off. I'm all for rotating and keeping players fresh so they can play at a high level."

Freeze on Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo at slot receiver: "As soon as one runs a route, the other one is coming in. Cody has probably had a little more consistent camp with everything that is asked of him there, but we're excited about the year Quincy could have also."

Bo Wallace on Fahn Cooper: "He's good. He's physical. He plays hard and he's one of those kids, when you get into them, he will do anything in the world for you. The big thing for me has been to get into Fahn and let him know that I can care about so he wants to protect and wants to lay it on the line."

Wallace on Cody Core: "He has that confidence. This is his third year. He knows the speed of the game. He's confident. We have him learning both inside and outside. He knows he's going to play so he has to perform every single day."

Wallace on backup quarterbacks: "They're good. DeVante (Kincade) has to stay out of negative plays, but his physical abilities are crazy. Ryan (Buchanan) is really starting to learn the offense and know where to go with the football. You can tell in practice that Ryan has done really well."

Wallace on the defensive line: "They're phenomenal. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. Robert (Nkemdiche) draws so much attention that it frees up C.J. (Johnson), Fadol (Brown) and Marquis Haynes coming off the edge. They're going to be one of the best in the SEC, no doubt."

Mike Hilton on working on his press coverage: "I think I'm able to run with everybody. I can get underneath their pads and get my hands on them because I'm short and most receivers are tall."

Hilton on Kendarius Webster: "I'm really impressed. I played him in high school, so I knew how he would play. He's really going to help us in the long run. He's still young. He's going to be a really good one for us."

Hilton on Kailo Moore: "He's who has really impressed me the most. Coming from running back, you're not used to opening up your hips and stuff like that. The thing that helps him the most is his speed. Not too many people are going to beat him deep. He will help."

Looking at CB, OL, WR and RB Depth

Sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore returned from their respective injuries, while sophomore Tee Shepard remains out with a toe injury. The results from Shepard's MRI performed on Saturday are being sent to Birmingham, head coach Hugh Freeze said, and there could be another update on his status as early as tomorrow.

"I'm always optimistic, but this is something that I'm not really familiar with," Freeze said. "It's a tendon on the bottom of his big toe. If it's completely torn, it definitely needs surgery. If it's not, there have been some who played through the year and then gotten it fixed. I just want to wait for the guys who do that all the time to tell us what they think."

Freeze remains confident in the depth at cornerback, a position bolstered by the return of Moore and the addition of freshman Kendarius Webster, who had previously been practicing in a green, non-contact jersey prior to Saturday's open practice. 

It might also mean a larger role for junior Mike Hilton who has practiced at both corner and Huskie and senior Cliff Coleman who has practiced at both corner and safety.

"The guys who we have are definitely better, and Ken Webster is added to it, now that he can go," Freeze said. "He's going to be a good player. Kailo is back. ... That's one place where we have some capable guys."

One position where depth remains a concern, Freeze said, is offensive line, where there was some shuffling Monday. Freshmen Rod Taylor and Sean Rawlings were practicing at tackle, with senior Carlton Martin moving inside to guard. 

In the center position battle, which has gone back and forth throughout fall camp, junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers split first-team reps, with Still receiving the majority of them.

Junior Fahn Cooper appears to be the backup at left tackle, if they were to be without sophomore Laremy Tunsil, as he took some reps at left tackle with the first-team offensive line, similar to Pierce Burton last season. In the same look, Taylor took reps at right tackle with the first team. 

Freeze also mentioned tight end and wide receiver as areas of concern with depth. The wildcard in the wide receiver group is sophomore Damore'ea Stringfellow, a transfer from Washington, who has run half the time with the second-team offense, as Freeze and the Rebels await word on an appeal to be immediately eligible.

"There are some depth issues there," Freeze said. "We have to stay healthy. Some of those young kids, Sammie (Epps), Markell (Pack) and Dayall (Harris) are going to be good players. Will they be ready Aug. 28? I don't know. That's a good question, and we'll see. If String's appeal would come through, that would certainly help, but I really have no time frame to know when it would be coming and what the response would be."

Running back, similar to corner, is a position where Freeze feels they have quality depth, led by juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, the team's two leading returners. Because of their experience, Freeze said you have to give a nod to them, but the other backs have also received their share of reps in practice.

"I'm pleased with all our running backs," Freeze said. "That's another place where we have quality depth. I'm not afraid to play any of them at this point. (Mark) Dodson is just like the rest of them. They're tit-for-tat in a lot of things. There are some that do some things better, but I wouldn't be afraid to play any of them."


NOTABLE

Seven different offensive linemen received first-team reps during individual drills: Cooper (left tackle and right tackle), junior Aaron Morris (left guard), Still (center), Conyers (center), junior Justin Bell (right guard) and Taylor (right tackle).

In special teams work, Pack, junior safety Trae Elston, sophomore safety Anthony Alford, junior cornerback Carlos Davis, Mathers and Walton returned kickoffs. Davis, Elston and Pack also returned punts.

Redshirt freshman Will Gleeson and freshman Gary Wunderlich split reps at punter, with Gleeson on the first team and Wunderlich on the second team. Gleeson practiced both the traditional punting and rugby-style punting but significantly more of the latter.

With junior Issac Gross out due to injury, senior Bryon Bennett has worked with the first-team defense at defensive tackle, so he would be appear to be the team's third defensive tackle in the rotation with Gross and sophomore Robert Nkemdiche. 

Similarly, freshman Marquis Haynes continues to receive reps with the first-team defense at defensive end, even with the return of Fadol Brown, so it appears to be Haynes, Brown and junior C.J. Johnson in the rotation there.

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on Kendarius Webster: "As long as he's full-go on the contact, he's physically gifted enough. Where he is understanding our stuff, he's still a little behind in that. If there's no one place that is the easiest to pick up on stuff, it is corner."

Freeze, on Mark Dodson: "He's physical. He runs with great balance and finishes with good pad level. He takes care of the football when he runs it. In pass protection, he's pretty decent. He measures up quite nicely with the rest of them."

Freeze, on Rod Taylor's conditioning: "As you go through camp, you're leg weary, but he's pushing himself to get through it. He loves to play. He's a gym rat and loves to play the game. I don't worry about his conditioning. It will get there."

Dodson, on the running back competition: "We know that when we're in there, we have to make something happen because we have another man who has the same talent as us, so we're out there doing what we can and taking advantage of every opportunity."

Dodson, on separation among the running backs: "What I think will make the difference is when we get into game situations and who can do what. Picking up the blitz will be number one thing. Can you stand your ground and know your blitz packages?"

Brown, on his foot, having missed some practice due to injury: "It felt pretty good. I felt pretty good going forward, but when I get to planting on it, it kind of bothered me a little bit, but I'm going to fight through it."

Brown, on the defense: "We're definitely executing a lot better, flying around. That's what Coach (Dave) Wommack and Coach (Chris) Kiffin stay on us about: effort. That's what we're focusing on right now: executing and giving maximum effort."

NFL.com CFB 24/7 has counted down the 14 college football players to watch -- and some other college football topics -- in varying categories in 2014. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and the link to the complete 14 for '14 series.

Most versatile players: Robert Nkemdiche (7)

Particulars: 6-4, 277, sophomore 

Buzz: Did anyone else in the country see time on both the defensive line and at running back last year? Show of hands? Nkemdiche can make the claim, although he just got five totes in the backfield, for 32 yards. Short-yardage rushing aside, it's at defensive tackle where Nkemdiche is expected to dominate for the Rebels as a sophomore this fall. He played some end last year, as well, but tackle appears to be his home after making eight tackles for loss among 34 stops last year. But we won't be surprised if he gets a few more third-and-1 carries this fall.

Fastest players: Kailo Moore (5)

Another two-sport star in college, Moore mostly contributed last season on special teams as a freshman. He's off to a good start in 2014 on the track and has times comparable with TCU's Kolby Listenbee and Georgia Tech's Broderick Snoddy in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Toughest players: Serderius Bryant (4)

Particulars: 5-9, 215, junior

Buzz: Rebels free safety Cody Prewitt receives more acclaim for his big hits -- he almost eviscerated Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener -- but Bryant deserves the honor. He's a 5-9 linebacker (and the 5-9 is his listed height, with emphasis on "listed") who starts in the SEC. Bryant's nickname is "Bird," which he picked up in high school in the Orlando area for the way he flew around the field making tackles and big hits. Yes, despite his size, a guy nicknamed "Bird" really lays the wood. You have to be tough to be a 5-9 linebacker in the SEC who makes big hits.

Most physical players: Cody Prewitt (5)

Particulars: 6-2, 212, senior 

Buzz: He led the SEC in interceptions last season with six, but don't let that fool you: Prewitt is a hitter first, and a coverage ace second. He's like an extra linebacker when it comes to run support, and patrols the middle of the field with a nasty streak on passing downs. Recall star Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews vomiting on national TV last year in the first game of the season after taking a brutal hit -- it was Prewitt on the giving end.

Players with best intangibles: Deterrian Shackelford (6)

Particulars: 6-1, 215, senior 

Buzz: There are few stories of perseverance in college football to match that of Shackelford, who missed two straight years of football while recovering from multiple surgeries on a devastating knee injury. He returned last year to make 44 tackles -- 7.5 for losses. While not the team's best defender, he's the Rebels' emotional leader and the only two-time winner of Ole Miss' Chucky Mullins Award for courage. Shackelford's injury plight got him a rare sixth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, and he'll wear Mullins' No. 38 jersey this fall.

Smallest players: Jaylen Walton

Particulars: 5-8, 166, Junior

Buzz: Coach Hugh Freeze clearly likes his running backs small and quick, and that's exactly what Walton brings to the SEC in college football's most physical conference. He made seven starts in the Rebels' backfield last year, picking up 523 yards and six touchdowns. With 29 catches for 322 yards, he was also one of the SEC's most prolific receivers at the running back position. And if that wasn't enough for the two-year letterman from Memphis, he also returned 25 kickoffs for another 515 yards.

Heaviest players: Aaron Morris

Particulars: 6-5, 355, junior 

Buzz: What could have been a dominant year for Morris last season never even got started, as a torn ACL put him on the sideline in the Rebels' first game. He had been a full-time starter at guard in 2012, and even saw six starts as a freshman in 2011. Morris isn't just a big body -- he's a player -- and provides a physical presence to an offense known more for finesse than power. A healthy Morris in 2014 would be a major boost to the Ole Miss offensive front.

Top recruiters: Chris Kiffin

Remember when the Rebels seemed to come out of nowhere in 2013 and land a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 that included the best player in the country? Kiffin was the chief reason why Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche are in Oxford, and he's been the man behind the recruiting efforts of the program that has turned heads recently. Recruiting and the last name Kiffin always seem to go together and it will be interesting to see how Chris will fare going against brother Lane head-to-head.

Biggest hitters: Cody Prewitt (3)

Particulars: 6-2, 212, senior.

Buzz: He is from Bay Springs, Miss. If you're like us, you hear "Bay Springs" and you picture a calm, peaceful place. Well, that's not the way Prewitt plays football; instead, he flies around, making big plays and huge hits. His nicely executed form tackle on Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener is a perfect example. (Warning: Do not run a Google search on that hit unless you are comfortable with watching a guy throw up on the field.) But Prewitt, who should vie for All-America honors this fall, is more than a big hitter; he had six interceptions and seven pass breakups to go along with 71 tackles last season. Still, while he is good in coverage, his best trait is his hitting ability.


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.

Mathers, Walton Key Offensive Explosion

The Ole Miss offense racked up 572 yards of total offense, including 292 on the ground, as the Rebels rolled to a 59-14 win over Idaho on Saturday. It was the most total yards and points by an Ole Miss team in the Hugh Freeze era.


With senior Jeff Scott out with a thigh bruise, the sophomore tandem of I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton carried the load at running back for the second-straight game. 


Freshmen Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore also saw action, as Dodson set career highs with seven carries for 57 rushing yards and recorded his first career touchdown with a 30-yard reception from senior quarterback Barry Brunetti.


"They're all competing, and we'll sort it out," Freeze said. "We'll try to have some packages and keep them fresh for all of the guys that are healthy. Those two guys, along with Dodson and Kailo, they all did some good things tonight. I'Tavius and Jaylen certainly looked solid."


Mathers, who carried the ball 12 times for 51 yards in last week's win over No. 6 LSU, 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 LSU, Walton led the way for the Rebels, as he set career highs with 106 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. On Saturday, he rushed 11 times for 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was his second straight game with two rushing touchdowns, and he now leads the team with five rushing touchdowns this year.


When Scott returns from the injury Ole Miss will have three running with more than 300 yards rushing this season. Scott leads the team with 434 yards on 53 carries and two touchdowns, followed by the sophomore tandem.


Mathers is second on the team with 326 yards on 48 carries and two touchdowns, and Walton, who now leads the team with five touchdowns, has 321 yards on 64 carries.


"We're going to sit down and talk about it because those guys have done a really good job," said offensive coordinator Dan Werner of Mathers and Walton. "I was really pleased, and I know Coach Freeze is too. We have to see. They will play and definitely get some snaps."


Among the players who don't normally see significant playing time, Dodson and Moore stood out for Freeze.


"The first guy that jumps out at me would be Dodson," Freeze said. "He showed some explosion and physical runs. He has to take care of the ball better. Kailo showed some good burst on swing route. We think both of them are really good players. We have some good players at that spot."

Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 high school recruit in the nation last year, is slated to start at defensive end, opposite junior C.J. Johnson, in his first college game.

His position coach, Chris Kiffin, and the other coaches are confident in Nkemdiche, and if anything, they will have to guard against his emotions and overexcitement.

"What we have been battling all fall camp is the notion that he feels that he has to make every play," Kiffin said. "We're trying to get him to play within the defense. Especially going out in the first game, I can't fathom the amount of pressure on him outside of all the other stuff. If he can just understand to go out and play the game like he has the last four weeks, then he will be fine.

"He's done a great job for a young guy coming in and having to learn the defense," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "There have been some issues with him jumping offsides, but you would rather have that then have a good who's sitting back. He's eager to play, very excited. Robert is as advertised."

Nkemdiche came a long way during fall practice, Kiffin said, from when he ran the first-team defense as early as Aug. 5, to entering his first college game.

"I was impressed with him picking up the defense like he did," Kiffin said. "He still has mistakes, obviously, but throwing him in right away, I think it was perfect for him. There was no, so to say, learning curve. The first two weeks, he was thrown in there, and we coached on the run.

"He would stay after meetings, just him and I, to go over that film, and then slow down and coach. Let him go full speed on the field, make a quick correction here and there, then in the film room, explain why he was doing something wrong and how it needs to be done."

Kiffin said Nkemdiche's technique "has varied," and "it's been up and down," but having gone back to watch film of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's freshman season, he said he saw a lot of the same things -- natural athleticism and making plays -- from Nkemdiche.

"I have seen both of them doing the wrong thing a number of times and making plays," Kiffin said. "So I'm not trying not to overcoach him. I want him to make plays and not play tentative. That stuff will come with experience."

A big challenge on Thursday will be getting Nkemdiche acclimated and handling the pressure of starting in his first college game.

"I talked to some of the older guys about it too, Cameron Whigham and C.J. Johnson," Kiffin said. "I got him rooming with C.J. Johnson on purpose the night before," Kiffin said. "I think that will be good for him, and out there as the game goes on, between plays and on the sidelines between series, those guys talking to him.

"It can't just be me every time. Those guys actually did it themselves. C.J. sees everything out there, so he's going to know if something is going on with Robert and let him know about it."

Freshmen In The Passing Game

Junior wide receiver Vince Sanders (collarbone) and senior Korvic Neat (knee) both suffered injuries during fall practice. With their injuries, freshman wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo have taken on bigger roles in the Ole Miss offense.

Treadwell is slated to start at slot receiver, while Adeboyejo is a backup at one of the two outside receiver spots but will likely figure in the rotation on Thursday.

"Coming into the year, receiver was probably our deepest position," Wallace said. "And right now, we have two guys out, so recruiting those two guys definitely helped.

"Laquon is a big body. He helps you as a quarterback because defenders can't get around him to make a play on the ball. Quincy is a good route-runner. He's a little banged up right now, but he still looks good running around out there."

Another freshman, Evan Engram, is listed as a starter and expected a big role at tight end after losing seniors Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley from last year.

"He's going to really, really good," Wallace said. "He's one of the guys who's going to be a really good players. He's going to play a big role. He's a great receiving tight end. He's a mismatch for us, so he's going to play a big role for us."

Update On Mathers, Freshman Running Backs

Sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers, who was listed as co-backup with fellow sophomore Jaylen Walton behind senior Jeff Scott, is about 80 percent, head coach Hugh Freeze said on the weekly teleconference on Wednesday.

"We think he's going to have a special year. He's put on some more weight. He's a physical runner for us, and he has some twitch to him, too. We think he's going to be a special back. He was hampered for quite a bit of camp with an ankle.

"I would say he's about 80 percent right now, so I don't know that tomorrow night you will see the true I'Tavius Mathers that you are going to see the rest of the year, but we're confident that once he gets back to 100 percent, he's going to be an important factor to our offense."

Also, on the weekly teleconference on Wednesday, Freeze was asked specifically about redshirting freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, one of three freshman running back in the mix for playing time, along with Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore.

"I would never decide to redshirt anyone this early, just because you never know," Freeze said. "I don't make up my mind this early to do that. I would like to redshirt him (Jordan Wilkins). He's going to be a good player, too. We just happen to have good depth at that position.

"We have got six guys that I believe are good players and would love to get to try to make it through the season with four of them and redshirt two. But again, it's too early to tell that."

Maurice Harris Talks Tight Ends

When asked about the tight end position after practice, head coach Hugh Freeze said they don't have any one player right now -- at this point -- who can do everything they want out of the position. Four players have split reps between the first-team, second-team and third-team offense.


"It's more play-specific," tight ends coach Maurice Harris said of the position. "We have to get the right kind of guys to do the specific task that we ask them to do. If we run the ball, Jack (Nuismer) is doing a good job, as well as Nick Parker. When we pass the ball, Evan (Engram) has separated himself some, along with Matt Brown. We have to get some consistency there, and these guys have to hone in on what we are doing."


Engram caught two touchdown passes in a live session of practice last night, Freeze said, while Harris mentioned a jump ball catch Engram had in the corner of the end zone over freshman safety Derrick Jones. Harris also raved about Engram's speed, his agility, his play-making ability and strong hands, adding that he plays fast.


"Evan is a physical kid," Harris said. "He's just light right now. He's 224 pounds, which is a lot heavier than when he came in at 209 pounds, but he's just light. I think he's physical enough to get the job done. I feel confident that he will."


Another interesting player at the position is Parker, who switched from running back to tight end. Of the four players, he has the most game experience, having appeared in seven games last season, mostly on special teams.


"I've been pleasantly surprised by Nick," Harris said. "The question was his physicality. Would he able to get in there and block, drive his feet, shoot his hands and finish blocks? And he's doing that. He needs to work on his route-running, but his pass-catching has been really good."


Injury Updates


At cornerback, senior Charles Sawyer (shoulder) returned to practice, including some team drills, but did not participate in live contact drills. Junior Senquez Golson (hamstring) ran again today, his second day of running, which Freeze said is "a good sign."


On the defensive line, freshman defensive Robert Nkemdiche (groin) was held out, but Freeze said he is "good, progressing really nicely." Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson was held out a tight Achilles, and Freeze said "the last thing you want to do with a tight Achilles is make him push through it right now." Freeze also noted sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross (sports hernia) has practiced every day and "seems to be doing well."


On offense, Freeze said senior offensive lineman Patrick Junen (toe, wrist) is "really close and expects to see him start practicing next week." Freshman running back Kailo Moore (concussion symptoms) was back yesterday, and Freeze noted he "took a lot of carries today," and sophomore running I'Tavius Mathers (ankle) is now out of his boot, "so his situation is progressing," Freeze said.



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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