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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.


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.

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." 


Jeff Scott put his foot in the ground about the Ole Miss 45 and made one defender miss, as he sprinted for a 75-yard touchdown to give Ole Miss a 39-35 lead with 1:07 left in the game. 

"Once Bo gave me the ball, I started getting to the corner, I was like, 'I got to make something happen.' Donte (Moncrief) sealed it, and I hit the seam," Scott said of the run.

"I'm so happy for Jeff because he's really bought into our program," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Scott. "He's one of my favorite guys... All we needed at that point was a field goal. I saw what they did on the first play of the drive and I knew that we could get a good run play. He executed on the play and put us up for good.

The senior from Miami, Fla, finished with 138 yards on 12 carries, his eighth career 100-yard game. Vanderbilt had a final chance on the ensuing drive, but junior safety Cody Prewitt intercepted a pass off Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews' hands with 26 seconds left.

"I think it's a huge confidence booster," Scott said of the win. This is a huge step for us going into the next game." 


Freshmen Make Immediate Impact 

Junior quarterback Bo Wallace's favorite target of the night was freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who caught nine passes for 82 yards in his first college game, the most catches by an Ole Miss player since Mike Espy had nine against Auburn in 2005. Another freshman, tight end Evan Engram, was second on the team with five catches for 61 yards. On the offensive line, freshmen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson played significant snaps at tackle and guard, respectively.

"Big-time kids who stepped up under the lights on national TV," Wallace said of Treadwell and Engram. "They're going to be great players, and you're going to have a lot of fun watching them for three or four years."

On the other side of the ball, freshman Huskie Tony Conner intercepted a pass on his first career defensive to set up a 30-yard field goal by senior Andrew Ritter. Consensus top recruit Robert Nkemdiche got the start at defensive end and finished with two tackles, including a tackle for loss, but also made a big play on special team with an 11-yard run on a fake punt.

"I think they're freshmen," Wommack said of Conner and Nkemdiche. "It's good for them to have their first games under their belt, and there's a lot to work on for those guys, but there is for everybody right now."

In all, 13 Rebels, including nine true freshmen made their college debuts in the game, including two starters in Treadwell and Nkemdiche.

"Number one, they're great kids," Freeze said of the freshmen. "I can't stress how good of kids Laquon, Tony, Laremy and Robert are. Maybe you're concerned they have too much ego. Not at all. They're like sponges. They'll compete and win.

"Laquon, he didn't play like a freshman. Neither did Laremy. Neither did Austin Golson. Neither did Tony Conner."

Parting Shot

Freeze, on what the win can mean for the program: "It's just one win... At Arkansas State my first and only year as head coach there, we hadn't won a road conference game in forever and we were coming off some losing seasons. We went to Western Kentucky, where (Ole Miss Athletics Director) Ross (Bjork) was, and we won a game similar to that, one we probably shouldn't have won. Dang, if our kids didn't get great confidence and run the table in the conference that year. I'm not saying we're ready to do that, but tonight has to give us some confidence."

 

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."

Building Depth At Corner

In his Media Day press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze said senior Charles Sawyer, along with sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross, were the furthest off, injury-wise. And junior Senquez Golson was held out of Saturday's practice after suffering a pulled hamstring yesterday. 


Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said they're trying to find two guys who are going to step up and be more consistent behind Sawyer and Golson on the two-deep, and with their two injuries, it's offered an opportunity to build depth at the position.


"He's out moving around, just trying to get him ready for the game," Jones said of Sawyer. "We know what we can do. He's been playing for a long time and has a lot of experience, so we're not going to rush him. With the [Vanderbilt] game a few weeks away, we can take time and develop these younger guys and develop some depth." 


With Sawyer and Golson sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette got the bulk of first-team reps at cornerback. Both players are relatively new to the position, as Collins moved from Huskie during the spring, and Burdette moved from safety during the summer.


"We moved Dehendret, right at the end of spring, and he's done a great job for us," Jones said. "Him and Charles Sawyer, they are going to provide depth in the boundary. He's had two really good days.


"Q Burdette has been a great surprise for us. He worked hard all summer. You can tell. He came out to practice yesterday and today, and he's flying around, making plays for us. We're pleased with those two guys."


Two freshmen also got a lot of reps at cornerback, along with sophomore Anthony Standifer. Freeze said yesterday that Bobby Hill, one of the freshmen, will be a big plus, and Jones also had praise for Hill and the other freshman, David Kamara.


"Bobby Hill has done a great job for us," Jones said. "Right now, we have him working in the boundary. He's had two really good practices and I'm looking forward to him continuing to progress. I'm looking forward to him to contribute this year, so he will be guy that we will depend on.


"David is doing a great job for us also. He's in the field. We're still trying to see and make a decision about him. He's working hard, still learning coverages and things like that. We'll know more once we get pads and continue to practice."


Notable:


With senior Pierce Burton dealing with a lower back strain, senior Emmanuel McCray moved from left tackle to right tackle, and freshman Laremy Tunsil got reps at left tackle on the first-team offense. 


In some of the other offensive line drills, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle, opposite McCray. Another freshman, Austin Golson, got second-team reps at left tackle.


The first-team defensive line consisted of junior Carlos Thompson and sophomore Channing Ward at defensive end, and junior Bryon Bennett and sophomore Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle.


Along with Bobby Hill at corner, freshmen Robert Nkemdiche (defensive end) and Tony Connor (Huskie) got reps on the second-team defense.


Quotable:


Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace: "His arm is hurting today, not where his shoulder was repaired, but his arm. To come out yesterday and throw a lot of balls, and come out today, it was sore, so we held him out about halfway through to try to get it well."


Freeze, on freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche: "He's physically gifted enough to play. It's all about, can he understand what we're trying to accomplish and what his assignments are. If he can get that, there's no question he can physically. They better be trying to get him ready."


Freeze, on freshman offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil: "He's as physically gifted as any freshman that I have seen, athleticism-wise. He's swimming right now with everything being installed. He's going to make mistakes, like any freshman, but he is a gifted player."


Freeze, on freshman tight end Evan Engram: "Evan is going to be a good one. Again, he's a freshman that is undersized at this point in his career, but he has got to play, and he's going to play. We just have got to be sure we ask him to do things that he can do."

Wrapping Up Rebel Media Day

Among the 105 players who reported yesterday for the start of fall camp were 23 first-year Rebels, and many have already made an impression on the coaches and returning players.


"I did get to see them this morning and liked what I saw," head coach Hugh Freeze said in his Media Day press conference. "I thought guys like Robert NkemdicheLaremy TunsilLaquon Treadwell and Tony Connor all looked really good. I came off the field thinking Quincy Adeboyejo is going to be a really special player. 


"Herbert Moore is a big guy and had a quick twitch. I am very excited about the young kids like  Daronte Bouldin out of Canton. I think we hit on all of them. I haven't had a staff meeting with defense guys yet, but I think Bobby Hill will be a big plus for us."


His position coach, Chris Kiffin, and one of his teammates, C.J. Johnson, also had praise for Robert Nkemdiche, his work ethic and how he has handled outside expectations.


"I don't think he thinks about the outside stuff as much as people think he does," Kiffin said. "He's really focused on being the best player he can be. He has a desire to be great. That's what I continue to say about him. And he has a motor like his brother. They just fly around, it's what they do. He has all the intangibles, but everything is going to be new for him."


"He's a hard worker," Johnson said. "It's hard to put those expectations on a freshman like that, but I think he has really embraced the opportunity. he understands the sense of urgency and knows he will be able to play a role on this football, and he has embraced that really well.


"His work ethic is second to none. He's a great guy. He goes out there every day, competes and works hard."


Of the freshman offensive linemen, senior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray singled out Tunsil and freshman offensive tackle Austin Golson as guys who have stood out to him.


"All of the freshmen have good level heads," McCray said. "The mental aspect, they will be fine. Athleticism-wise, Laremy and Austin are ready to play I wouldn't just off the bat. With experience, they will be All-SEC kind of guys."


Some other freshmen, Freeze said freshman Evan Engram will be special at tight end and is the guy they have to get ready to play and ask him to do things they need him to do because they are thin at the position. 


Freeze also said he would like to redshirt both freshman quarterbacks, Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade, but one of them will have to be ready to play just in case. He added both had a lot of reps Friday, and he will continue to prepare both of them.


"It's going to take them a while to get into the playbook," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said of the freshman quarterbacks. "It's a tough playbook to understand, but at the same time, they're working hard. They came in right away and started working, so they'll get it down."


Wallace Continues Recovery


One of the biggest storylines of SEC Media Days for Ole Miss was junior quarterback Bo Wallace's recovery from clavicle surgery in January. He participated in seven-on-seven workouts, and Freeze said in his press conference, he is practicing, but they are charting every throw and try to keep it at 50 throws.


"It's good," Wallace said of the shoulder. "They're limiting my throws. I'm looking forward to next week, so I can condition my arm and get used to throwing all those throws, but it feels good though.


"They're giving me the reps that I feel like I need, that I want. I know that if there's a rep I don't feel good about, then I will get right back in. I'm still getting my reps. It's not really like I'm limited out there."


It's year two for Wallace as a starter, and he said it's night and day, this year from last year.


"Last year, I was in a competition, so I was having to worry about every rep, what the other guy is doing, what I'm doing," Wallace said. "Now, it's just going out there, playing and trying to get the team better, trying to get me better."


One Goal For Nkemdiche


When the players reported yesterday, sophomore Denzel Nkemdiche said it was a completely different feeling, with the locker room and the new faces, including his brother Robert, who he now shares a locker beside.


"It's something I have waited for forever, and something I had dreams about," Denzel Nkemdiche said of playing with his brother. "Seeing him out there with the number five jersey and with the team, I can sit back and thank god for everything that has happened. I'm truly blessed. 


"We're here now, so we have to take it to another level. Right now, we have one goal and that is to make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship."


In trying to get better this offseason, Denzel Nkemdiche described both his individual goals, and the goals his brother set to get ready for his first season.


"This offseason, I put an emphasis on putting on weight, and today, I weighed in at 210 pounds," he said. "I'm still moving fast, and I still feel explosive, so I'm definitely excited about that and looking forward to putting the pads on. No matter how well I know the position, I can still find things to improve on every day.


"His goal was to stay fast and stay strong. Throughout the summer, he put on weight and still able to run, learning the defense and progressing fast than incoming freshmen typically do. He knows the burden and pressure he has on him, so he's definitely excited about that."


Close-Knit Offensive Line


The Rebels return four starters on the offensive line, plus senior Patrick Junen, who saw action in all 13 games last year, and two of the seniors, Emmanuel McCray and Evan Swindall talked about the chemistry within the unit.


"We have always been a close-knit bunch," McCray said. "We have these guys that have experience, and it gives us a jump-start. They have been in this fast tempo for a while, but what we're working on now is getting into game shape. We have conditioned all summer, but it's something different about that tempo. It takes two or three days to get it going."


"We all hang out together," Swindall said. "We all understand each other. I don't even have to make some calls this year because we know what we're doing naturally."


Both McCray and Swindall admitted some of guys did gain a few pounds, but after the first day, they feel like they're in a good spot. 


"Some guys needed to put on weight like Robert Conyers and Ben Still," McCray said. "And other guys were injured, so that comes with the territory. Between camp and the strength and conditioning staff, we'll definitely get those pounds off before the season start."


Also, of note, Swindall said Conyers has been working with him at center, and Tunsil, Golson and Bouldin have been working at second-team left tackle, right tackle and right guard, respectively.


Other Quotables:


Chris Kiffin, on health of CJ Johnson and Issac Gross: "I expect both of them to be ready for Vanderbilt. They may be a little rusty, but I think we can get some full-speed reps a couple of weeks before, and I think they will be ready to go."


Emmanuel McCray, on putting on pads: "I haven't had a chance to go against Robert yet. I'm waiting on my opportunity, but I really can't wait until we get our pads on. That's a true test. These shirts and jerseys, you can only grab on cloth so long."


Nick Parker, on his move to tight end: "The coaches came to me about it. They wanted to ask me about it, and I said I would give it a try. As of right now, it's going good. I have to learn different techniques and get everything down, but I think I will get it."


Charles Sawyer, on being a leader in the secondary: "I'm going to coach them like Cassius Vaughn or Marshay Green coached me and help them learn from their mistakes."


D.T. Shackelford, on returning to fall practice: "I'm ready to get back to work. I'm ready to get back in there and playing like I'm capable of playing."


Bo Wallace, on Treadwell and Adeboyejo: "They're big, physical guys. They got to get used to the college game, the speed of it. A couple of times they're getting jammed outside, just from the physicality of playing against an SEC defense, but they'll get used to it and be ready to roll."

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