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Eleven Rebels Garner Phil Steele Preseason Honors

The start of summer heat and vacations is also the start of another tradition - preseason college football magazines.

One of the first to produce a magazine every year is Phil Steele, whose 2015 version includes about as many Ole Miss representatives as any other school on his preseason All-America and All-SEC teams.

Leading the way are a quartet of Rebel juniors - TE Evan Engram, OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Laquon Treadwell and DT Robert Nkemdiche - on Phil Steele's All-America first or second teams.

A total of 11 Rebels dot Phil Steele's four All-SEC squads, including those four All-Americans on the first team.

The other preseason prognostications that have been released are from CFB Matrix, which similarly has four Rebels on its All-America squads (with Tony Conner instead of Treadwell).

See the full lists below.

Phil Steele All-Americans
1st team: Evan Engram - TE
1st team: Laremy Tunsil - OT
2nd team: Laquon Treadwell - WR
2nd team: Robert Nkemdiche - DT

Phil Steele All-SEC
1st team: Laquon Treadwell - WR
1st team: Evan Engram - TE
1st team: Laremy Tunsil - OL
1st team: Robert Nkemdiche - DT
2nd team: Tony Conner - DB
3rd team: Aaron Morris - OL
3rd team: Denzel Nkemdiche - LB
3rd team: C.J. Johnson - LB
3rd team: Will Gleeson - P
4th team: Marquis Haynes - DE
4th team: Markell Pack - PR

CFB Matrix All-Americans
1st team: Evan Engram - TE
1st team: Laremy Tunsil - OT
1st team: Robert Nkemdiche - DT
2nd team: Tony Conner - DB

CFB Matrix All-SEC
1st team: Laquon Treadwell - WR
1st team: Evan Engram - TE
1st team: Laremy Tunsil - OL
1st team: Robert Nkemdiche - DT
1st team: Tony Conner - DB
3rd team: Javon Patterson - OL
3rd team: Marquis Haynes - DE

Nation's No. 2 DL Unit (CFB Matrix)
Nation's No. 5 WR Unit (CFB Matrix)
Nation's No. 10 DB Unit (CFB Matrix)

Through the first seven spring practices, or three weeks since the start of spring practice on March 3, there does not appear to be any separation between sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly. 

Whether you talk to head coach Hugh Freeze, or one of the quarterback competitors, they all have one overarching goal for the position: consistency.

"We're charting every single throw, and it's really close between all three," Freeze said. "It really depends on the day. Ryan has had his great days, Kincade has done well at times, and so has Chad. We're compile it all after this week and look at it again, but it's really close."

"All of them look great," sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. "It's still a learning process for them. They don't have a lot of experience going live against the first-team defense and doing all the things we do every day, but they all look good and they're all making plays."

Every snap and every series, Buchanan and Kincade said, it's a challenge to stay consistent and do the little things right to separate themselves in the quarterback competition.

"I feel like I have gotten progressively better each camp from fall to spring the last couple of years," Buchanan said. "The biggest thing is you have to do it life. I can sit in meetings and know exactly where everything is supposed to be, but you have to make on-the-second decisions when you're out there."

"Every day, you have to bring it, no matter where you are," Kincade said. "Anywhere you go, it's going to be a competition. You have to bring your 'A' game every time you're on the field."

Every practice, they face a defense that boasts seven returning starters from the nation's No. 1 scoring defense. 

They're also short-handed on the offensive side of the ball with only eight healthy offensive linemen as well as injuries to sophomore wide receiver Markell Pack and senior wide receiver Cody Core, joining Treadwell and senior wide receiver Collins Moore, who were already being held out.

"We can force our defense to be in some vanilla looks and we look a lot better then," Freeze said. "When they're who they want to be, it's been quite challenging to have successful plays for sure."

Injuries and Opportunities Along the Offensive Line

The Rebels were already without a trio of offensive linemen at the start of spring practice and the injury list has only grown longer three weeks into it.

"We're struggling to just stay healthy," Freeze said. "We're losing kids to some freak injuries that have certainly made reps more difficult. That's part of the game. 

"On the offensive line, we're down to about eight guys. It's a struggle. There are a lot of good looking ones standing on the sideline. At receiver, Markell (Pack) and Cody (Core) are hurt. Laquon (Treadwell) and Collins (Moore) are already out. We're facing some adversity right now offensively."

By name, according to Freeze, junior Laremy Tunsil, senior Aaron Mooris, sophomore Daronte Bouldin, junior Robert Conyers, sophomore Christian Morris, junior Talbot Buys, sophomore Davion Johnson and redshirt freshman Sean Rawling are offensive lineman that have been ruled out for spring practice.

The eight healthy offensive lineman, Freeze also said by name, are senior Justin Bell, freshman Javon Patterson, senior Ben Still, junior Jeremy Liggins, senior Fahn Cooper, redshirt freshman Jordan Sims, sophomore Rod Taylor, junior Jacob Feeley, and redshirt freshman Tyler Putman.

"We have who we have for spring," Freeze said. "Hopefully, Markell and Cody are not out significantly long. On the offensive line, it doesn't look like we will get any of them back for spring."

Freeze praised the effort of the younger and less-experienced players, stepping up and having to go a lot of reps with the first-team and second-team offenses. Of the injured offensive linemen, Freeze said he is hopeful they will be ready for summer workouts.

Those injuries along the offensive line have also presented an opportunity for younger players, such as Patterson, an early enrollee, and Liggins, who has moved to offensive tackle.

"He's getting all the reps he wants," said Freeze of Patterson. "He's having to go with the one's some and the two's some. He's getting all the reps he wants. All of them are. I'm really pleased with him. He's going to be a really good player. I'm really excited about him."

"It's going really well," said Freeze of Liggins. "He has really good feet. He's picked it up as well as I would have hoped. There are times, just like with any offensive lineman, where you get these strange looks that you really didn't work on in individual work that may be moving a little fast for him. That's not just him. That's all of them. I really think he's a talented kid there."

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on the defense: "Defensively, I'm really, really pleased. I think we have a chance to be really good on that side of the ball. Certainly, it's going to make us better going forward having to practice against the speed and length that our defense plays with."

Freeze, on Saturday's scrimmage: "It's been a very physical spring thus far. I'm hoping that Saturday, when we get there, we will have enough healthy guys to have a quality scrimmage to see if we have made some significant improvements because we have spent an enormous amount of time on technique and individual work."

Freeze, on quarterback Chad Kelly: "I'm really pleased with everything he's done to this point. It's a process. I'm very aware that any of these young men can make a decision that's wrong. He's got very little rope to do that with, but i'm really with him to this point. He studies film. He's a competitor. He's a team guy. That's been my experience with him thus far."

Freeze, on cornerback Tony Bridges: "He's a long, athletic corner and he's physical. Him and Tee Shepard, they're both playing really well at corner right now. They're a little too aggressive sometimes, particularly when they're on an island. They're very aggressive and long."

Freeze, on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell: "We're probably going to hold him out. He goes through all the one-on-ones and routes versus air, but we haven't put him in any team situation yet."

Freeze, on linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche: "Denzel is having a really good spring. Really solid. He's fine. He's 100 percent."

Treadwell, on Kelly: "Chad is competing. He's learning and he's making plays. Every day, he's competing and that's going to help the team a lot."

Buchanan on the quarterback competition: "They're tracking each throw and each decision, and I know I have to make the most out of every single snap and every single series I go in and do the best I can."

Buchanan, on Kelly: "He has a great arm. He can spin the ball really well. He's getting used to the playbook and getting used to having to make decisions against our defense, but he's good. He's a good quarterback."

Kincade, on the quarterback room: "It's fun competing. I love competing. If he makes something good happen, I tell him. If I make something good happen, he tells me, and we tell Ryan the same. We all share with each other."

Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-TCU

Three areas to watch as No. 9 Ole Miss plays No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the inaugural "New Year's Six" bowl game.

Containing Boykin, Handling TCU's Tempo

Ole Miss coaches and players have compared TCU junior quarterback Trevone Boykin to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, two quarterbacks who were each 2-0 against the Rebels in their respective careers.

The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and fourth-place finisher for the Heisman Trophy, Boykin ranks third nationally in total offense (363.0 ypg) and is also on pace to become just the third quarterback since 2009 to average over 300 yards passing (309.5) and 50 yards rushing (53.5).

"You just have to make sure you prepare on every play because he's always, you know, a broken tackle away or a throw away from a big play so we have to make sure that we're locked in on every snap," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said.

The other key to the nation's statistically most improved offense in both total yards and scoring from last season has been tempo. TCU runs 79.9 plays per game, while Ole Miss opponents have averaged just 69.7 plays per game.

"As far as the layoff, I think our intensity has been good here," Freeze said. "I've been pleased with that. I have a concern about just how the conditioning will be when we hit the field against a tempo team like these guys, particularly it's just hard to simulate that over and over again, and particularly the closer you get and we've had a Christmas break and you get here. You certainly want to have fresh legs when the game starts.

"But the energy and the emotion that will be involved when it kicks off will no question have an impact early on with some fatigue issues probably. So we'll have to be smart, how we rotate our kids and I think everybody will regain that shortly into the game."

Young Receivers Called Upon

Sophomore tight end Evan Engram has drawn the most attention, and deservedly so, as Ole Miss will be without their top two receivers against No. 6 TCU, but a trio of young receivers will also have to step up to replace the production and leadership of sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and senior wide receiver Vince Sanders.

"Stepping up is a big thing for us," sophomore wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo said. "We've been instilling that in our heads since Laquon went down. And when Vince went down, we knew we had to compete even more."

An All-America second team and consensus All-SEC first team selection, Engram stepped up with a career-high 176 receiving yards in a win over Mississippi State in the regular-season finale, but against the Horned Frogs, the Rebels will likely also need contributions from some combination of Adeboyejo, junior wide receiver Cody Core, and freshman wide receiver Markell Pack.

"We know we're down some guys, but we have guys that are going to step up and fill that void," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said.

Rebels Ride Walton

Helped by a couple of long runs, Ole Miss had a breakout game on the ground, rushing for 205 yards in a win over Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. Sophomore Jaylen Walton led the way with a career-high 148 yards on 14 carries, including a highlight-reel 91-yard touchdown run.

"We made just a decision, going into the last game, that he's our best option," said Freeze of Walton. "Let's get the ball to 6 and we wanted to get him a certain number of touches and thought he ran extremely physical, made explosive plays, and we always knew he could and we believe the other can too. But we just made a decision that he's our most mature guy. He's had the most experience in our offense. He's good in the pass game. He's good in understanding protections."

Walton emerged as the leader of a crowded backfield, rushing for a career-high 583 yards and averaging a career-best 5.9 yards per carry this season. He also leads the team with seven total touchdowns. Freeze expects more of the same from Walton in the bowl game against No. 6 TCU.

"He produced really, really well," said Freeze of Walton. "We'll do the same tomorrow. I don't know that it's been so much that he's done anything different. I think he's always been that way. It's probably us just making sure he got the number of touches that he got."

With injuries mounting on both sides of the ball, Saturday's game against Presbyterian presents an opportunity for young players and backups to gain experience and make an impression on the coaching staff.

Among those injured players, head coach Hugh Freeze said, are sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, who will both be held out Saturday. 

Junior running back I'Tavius Mathers and junior safety Trae Elston, Freeze said, have not been cleared for practice and are doubtful to play, while they will try to limit the reps for senior safety Cody Prewitt and junior center Ben Still, among other players.

As part of the shuffle, freshman Rod Taylor is expected to make his first career start at right guard, while freshman Kendarius Webster is expected to make his second career start at cornerback opposite senior Senquez Golson.

"I hope to execute whatever we do and get everyone some time," Freeze said. "I'm concerned about winning the game and executing. I'm not concerned about how much you win a game by. At this point in the season, getting a win and getting your team ready for whatever lies next is very important. That's what my focus will be."

Moving on without Treadwell

Sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, Freeze said, is back around the team and ready to help coach the other receivers up after suffering a season-ending leg injury against Auburn.

With his absence, junior Cody Core moves to outside receiver opposite senior Vince Sanders, with sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo and freshman Markell Pack working at slot receiver. Sophomore Derrick Jones also moved back to wide receiver from cornerback , giving the Rebels another option at outside receiver.

"We had to move some people around, but it's not as drastic as people think," wide receivers coach Grant Heard said. "Putting Cody outside, he was there for the first two years of his career. They're all interchangeable, so it's not a big deal for us. Next man up. We have to keep rolling."

"Laquon is going to rooting for us as much as he can," Adeboyejo said. "He's been shooting me texts. With him out, it makes you want to go out there and do it for him, do it for this team, and do anything we can to help this thing keep going."

The Rebels' second-leading receiver in receptions (33), receiving yards (536) and receiving touchdowns (4), Sanders is being asked to step up in terms of production and leadership as the team's No. 1 receiver.

"My guys, they respect him and look up to him," Heard said. "He's been through more wars than anybody in that room. He's the grandfather in my room. He's going to do a good job and make sure those guys are ready to go Saturday."

"I'm excited for this opportunity to be in this position," Sanders said. "I hate I got it the way I got it. Now that I got it, I have to take it in stride and make the best of it. That's what I plan on doing."

Shuffling the Deck at Other Spots

Along the offensive line, without Tunsil and Morris, junior Justin Bell will move to left guard from right guard, while junior Fahn Cooper and sophomore Robert Conyers will start at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, for the second straight week.

Senior Chase Hughes and Craig Frigo will be the backup centers behind Still, with Frigo also playing some backup guard. A trio of redshirt freshmen in Christian Morris, Davion Johnson and Daronte Bouldin will also figure in the mix Saturday.

"We're going to rotate them in and out and hopefully can find a way to score a few points with them," Freeze said.

In the secondary, junior Mike Hilton will move from cornerback to Rover safety, where he started in the Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech last season and played some against Auburn last week. 

Junior Chief Brown, who made his season debut against Auburn, will provide depth at safety, and senior Cliff Coleman and sophomore Kailo Moore will be the primary backups at cornerback.

"Kendarius had a great camp and he's played in every game," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "He's done well. He started the first half of the Texas A&M game. He's been tested, and I think he'll do well."

Rebels Fall to No. 11 in CFB Playoff Poll

After debuting at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff poll, Ole Miss fell seven spots to No. 11 in the latest top 25, revealed Tuesday by the CFB Playoff selection committee.

At No. 11, the Rebels are the highest-ranked two-loss team and are ranked ahead of four one-loss teams from power-five conferences in Baylor (No. 12), Nebraska (No. 13), Ohio State (No. 14) and Duke (No. 22).

"We don't feel like we're out of it," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "Obviously we don't control our destiny anymore, but crazy things can happen in the SEC. A lot of people still have to play each other, so we're hopeful good things can happen for us, but we can win all our games down the stretch. We have to come in and prepare and come out and have good showings in every game."

This weekend features six matchups of ranked teams, including five involving teams ranked ahead of Ole Miss.

No. 4 Oregon travels to No. 17 Utah, No. 5 Alabama travels to No. 16 LSU, No. 6 TCU hosts No. 7 Kansas State, No. 8 Michigan State hosts No. 14 Ohio State, and No. 9 Arizona State hosts No. 10 Notre Dame.

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Through the years, special teams play has provided a winning edge in the Ole Miss-LSU rivalry, and and you don't have to go all the way back to Billy Cannon's 1959 Halloween run.

In a run that reminded fans of Cannon, Odell Beckham Jr. sparked a 41-35 comeback win for LSU with a game-tying 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the teams' last meeting in Baton Rouge.

Andrew Ritter split the uprights on a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left on the clock to lift Ole Miss to a 27-24 win in last year's meeting in Oxford.

"When you watch all the highlights of the games of the past, there always seems to be a special teams play in there," special teams coordinator Tom Allen said. "We all know about the famous punt returns that have occurred down there. I was pretty emotional and passionate when I addressed our guys on Tuesday in our special teams meeting. I believe it's going to be the difference.

"Our 'it' that Coach Freeze challenges us with is to provide the winning edge, and that's what we need to do. We have done that in several games this year, and we need to do it again in this kind of environment."

The Rebels have a trio of freshmen in key spots on special teams, with Will Gleeson handling the punting duties, Gary Wunderlich handling placekicking and kickoff duties and Markell Pack returning punts. 

Gleeson ranks among the nation's leaders in punting (45.5 ypg) and net punting (44.0), while Wunderlich is 3-of-4 on field goals with a long of 46 against Alabama. Pack has had some shaky moments and continues to learn through game experience, but Allen remains confident in him.

"As I have said before, returning punts is the most difficult thing we ask anybody on our team to do," Allen said. "Being a young guy doing that is hard, but he's smooth catching the ball. He's the most natural one we have. Now, it's a matter of making good decisions under fire."


Defense Preps for Powerful Ground Game

The LSU offense is led by a three-headed powerful rushing attack that ranks sixth in the SEC (220.9 ypg). Freshman Leonard Fournette leads the way with 544 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by seniors Kenny Hilliard (353 yards, 6 TDs) and Terrence Magee (344 yards, 3 TDs).

Over their last two games, the Tigers have rushed for 195 yards on 50 carries in a 30-27 win at Florida and rushed for 303 yards on 51 carries in a 41-3 win over Kentucky, but they face their stiffest test of the season in Ole Miss, which boats the nation's sixth-best rush defense (97.1 ypg).

"The last two weeks they turned back into what they want to be, which is running the ball downhill," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They have the big backs who are always falling forward, very good football players, with play-action off of it. The quarterbacks, especially (Anthony) Jennings, have gotten more comfortable in their offense."

Wommack said they faced a similar test earlier this season in Alabama. The Rebels held the Crimson Tide to 17 points and 396 yards of total offense (168 rushing, 228 passing), both well below their season averages of 39.6 points per game and 514.6 yards per game.

"Alabama, to me, is very similar," Wommack said. "Their lines are similar, and their backs are similar. Their receivers, in some ways, are similar. The one outstanding receiver at Alabama (Amari Cooper) is probably better than any one person at LSU, but as a group LSU's receivers are younger. The quarterbacks are very similar."

The more traditional, smash mouth offense, Allen said, plays to the strengths of their physical, downhill players, such as linebackers Serderius Bryant and Deterrian Shackelford.

"We're not a big linebacker corps, by any means, but we're tough kids," linebackers coach Tom Allen said. "That's what you've got to have against these guys. We're big enough and we tackle well enough that we feel comfortable against their scheme.

"I don't feel like we have a group of guys that can't adjust. We're probably better suited for this than we are some of the wide-open spread looks that we see."


Still Remains Questionable for LSU

Center Ben Still (sprained MCL) did not practice Wednesday remains questionable for Saturday's game against LSU.

"He is coming, just don't know exactly how he'll be Saturday," Freeze said. "The good thing is he knows everything. He doesn't have to get reps. If he can go, he certainly will."

If Still is unable to play, Robert Conyers will take over at center, having played almost all of the second half against Tennessee. He would be backed up Craig Frigo at center, with Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson also figuring in the tackle rotation.

"It lessens our depth at other places, but he had a really good game against Tennessee," said Freeze of Conyers. "He's very athletic. He's maybe not as strong or has as much mass as Ben for certain blocks, but he did really well and his snaps have been good."


Like defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been pleased with his players throughout fall camp, particularly the depth bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the addition of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"I don't think it's any secret that we have some depth there," Kiffin said. "We finally have the numbers we want at all four positions. I have been really pleased with the guys. For the most part, it's been guys I thought we could count on. Marquis Haynes is a guy who has surprised as a freshman, but he was here in the spring, so it's no surprise. Him and Fadol (Brown) have both been coming along really well."

One area he looks for marked improvement is the pass rush after a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013. Wommack said earlier this week that they would like to get back to bringing pressure (five or more players) 35-40 percent of the time after bringing pressure around 27-28 percent this past season.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us. I think we're there right now. We obviously haven't done it in a game. There are a lot of variables that go into it. You still have to win first down and be able to get them in passing situations, get a lead, and a lot of those things come late in the game when teams are playing from behind."

In addition to depth, Kiffin also noted the position flexibility along the defensive line, as he looks to play at least eight players in the season opener. 

"This year, I challenged the guys to be able to play multiple positions," Kiffin said. "C.J. being able to do that gives us flexibility with Marquis. Bryon (Bennett) being able to do that gives us flexibility inside. John Youngblood, I can't say enough about him. He's a limited-rep guy. He knows the whole defense. He's going to get the job for us, so I can play him at multiple positions. It allows us to do a lot of things."

With the depth and experience at the position, Kiffin and the coaching staff might be afforded the luxury of redshirting the freshman trio of Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks, who have all been practicing with the scout team this week.

"Early on, we had the split practices, and those guys got a ton of reps," Kiffin said. "All three of those guys I'm really happy with. I'm glad we signed all three of them. Victor is a really long guy, Gerrald is more of just a football player, and Breeland is a really big athlete right now. He needs to get his weight down a little but he gives us a lot of things in there. I'm very excited about those three guys' futures. With our depth, we probably won't need to use them right off the bat. That's a good problem to have."



NOTABLE

On Wednesday, head coach Hugh Freeze challenged a group of his backup wide receivers to step up alongside the top four players at the position, and from that group, freshman Markell Pack and redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe have emerged.

Pack joins sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo and junior Cody Core in the rotation at slot receiver, while Bledsoe joins sophomore Laquon Treadwell, senior Vince Sanders and Core in the rotation at outside receiver.

Sophomore Anthony Alford has continued to get reps at wildcat quarterback, in addition to backing up junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, while junior Jeremy Liggins is focusing on three packages where he will line up at tight end.

Freeze had a lot of praise for redshirt freshman Will Gleeson for sky punt stuff and his coming-out punts in Thursday's mock game, while senior Andrew Fletcher remains in the lead for field goal duties from inside 40 yards.

In the return game, junior running back Jaylen Walton, Elston and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore are in the mix on kickoffs, while Pack and Alford are in the mix on punts.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Jeremy Liggins: "We centered in on three packages for him in week one where he doesn't have to feel like he has to learn everything. He's concentrating on those three. He's getting better and better. He still makes some missed assignments. When he does it right, he's pretty good."

Freeze on C.J. Hampton: "He will back up Cody (Prewitt). We really like the way he's working with his attitude and the way he's coming on. He made some checks to some different looks that the scout team gave, so his reps will pick up even more. We have to make sure he's ready."

Freeze on injuries: "Issac is coming on. He put a helmet on today and did some running around. Monday will be a big test for Issac to see where he is. Mentally, he understands what we're doing. That's the good thing. Collins Moore has a shot. We'll know Monday. They're going to turn him loose tomorrow. Even though it's an off-day, he's coming in and let him run around some and see how he is. He can't practice until school starts because he's not in the 105. He's getting treatment, but Pat feels like he's way ahead of schedule. We'll check him out Monday and see what he does."

Chris Kiffin on Marquis Haynes: "He's a guy right now who can do it all. He's 230 pounds and we move a lot. C.J. (Johnson) has gotten away with playing 230 here for a number of years... Marquis is going to play all downs for us, not just the third down, starting off."

Kiffin on Robert Nkemdiche: "I expect really big things from him. The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

Rebels Battle Injuries on Defense

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze confirmed that junior cornerback Carlos Davis suffered a torn ACL and will likely have surgery Monday. 

Davis joins sophomore cornerback Tee Shepard and junior safety Chief Brown on the list of players expected to miss the 2014 season. Freeze also noted Davis has not used his redshirt year, so they will use it for him this year.

"We have lost arguably our top cover corner (in Tee Shepard), and Carlos, I believe without a shadow of doubt was our best special teams guy, both coverage units and return guy," Freeze said. "It hurts."

"Any time you lose somebody like Tee, that's a big hit," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "Carlos, too. He was really going to help us a lot on our dime team. Those are two guys who really could have helped our football team a lot. For us to lose them, not that we don't have guys, and that's great, but it would have been better if we had those two."

With Davis out, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack, junior safety Trae Elston and sophomore safety Anthony Alford are all in the mix to return punts. It might also mean larger roles on special teams for younger players such as freshman Huskie A.J. Moore and freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster.

Ole Miss was also without junior Issac Gross on Friday, who briefly returned to practice earlier this week after being held out with a neck strain.

"He's still dealing with the neck," Freeze said. "He came back out, and it kind of flared up again. We're taking our time to make sure he gets it well. (Head athletic trainer) Pat (Jernigan) and them have a protocol that they're going to take him through, and they think they can improve it doing this if we can hold him out for a few more days. That's the plan there."

"We're missing him a lot," said Johnson of Gross. "Issac is a guy in the middle - especially when we go against an offense that runs a lot of spread and inside-zone stuff - who can get up and disrupt the timing of the blocking scheme. He can rush a little bit. He's a really big hit for us. We need him to hurry up and get back."

Senior Bryon Bennett ran with the first-team defense in place of Gross, beside sophomore Robert Nkemdiche, along with Johnson and freshman Marquis Haynes at defensive end. The second-team defensive tackles were junior Woodrow Hamilton and senior Lavon Hooks.


Updating the Backup Quarterback Battle 

Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, Freeze said, split the majority of snaps in Thursday's scrimmage, so it was a good look into the backup quarterback battle.

"Ryan had a good scrimmage," Freeze said. "Bo (Wallace) did not take many snaps. DeVante had some really, really exciting, good plays. He had some on the other end of the spectrum also, so we have to keep bringing him along. He definitely brings a different element to us. But they have both improved."

Freeze noted Buchanan is ahead of Kincade in the passing game, adding that Kincade needs to improve his decision-making.

"I'm trying to work on pocket presence and stay in the pocket more because I know I have the ability to run, so I'm trying to make sure I stay in the pocket more and deliver better throws," Kincade said.

Freeze said he does not plan on naming a true backup quarterback in advance of the season opener against Boise State on Aug. 28.

"It would depend on what we're needing at that moment," Freeze said. "Each has different strengths. We'll do everything with both of them, but it would depend on the scenario to which they go in."

For both players, with their respective redshirt years behind them, their preparation has been different this season.

"My mental aspect is I prepare as if I'm the starter," Buchanan said. "I know I'm not the starter, but any second Bo can roll an ankle, get a concussion or something, so I have to be ready for whenever they call that play and always keep the drive going and never take a step back."

"It's a big difference from last year," Kincade said. "I remembered I would come out and put my helmet down and cheer on the guys. Now, I have to have my helmet ready any time the offense goes in, so it's a big difference."


 

NOTABLE:

In the individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line consisted of sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT).

The second-team offensive line consisted of redshirt freshman Davion Johnson (LT), junior Craig Frigo (LG), sophomore Robert Conyers (C), freshman Rod Taylor (RG) and redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin (RT). 

Different combinations along the offensive line also included Cooper at left tackle, Taylor at left guard, Frigo at right guard and Conyers at right tackle.

With the injuries in the secondary, freshman A.J. Moore ran with the second-team defense at Huskie, sophomore Kailo Moore got some second-team reps at cornerback and senior Cliff Coleman got some second-team reps at free safety.

In special teams work, Coleman, freshman safety C.J. Hampton and sophomore Derrick Jones were on the first-team punt return blocking the gunners. A.J. Moore, junior defensive back Mike Hilton and freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster were on the second-team punt return in the same role.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Collins Moore, who has been held out with knee injury: "He's moving around well. He's starting to do things in the pool. We will be glad to get him back for sure. We need a little extra depth there at receiver."

Freeze on other players who stood out from Wednesday's closed scrimmage: "Victor Evans had a great scrimmage. Breeland Speaks, too. He's batting balls. He's a space-eater and he's tough. Those young kids stood out. Rod Taylor is coming on. Robert Conyers continues to do some good things and come on, as does Ben Still. Akeem Judd stood out. He made some really explosive, powerful runs. We had several kids stand out. DeMarquis Gates keeps showing up, as did the Moore twins. They're probably all going to have to play now."

Freeze on Cody Core: "Cody is so important to us because he's learning both inside and outside. He has to play for us to give us some depth, and he's doing it well. He makes very few missed assignments. He's physical and can catch it. He's very important to us."

Freeze on Quincy Adeboyejo: "He's still inconsistent in ball-catching, particularly in traffic. We have to continue to improve that. We love his skill-set and we love him as a kid. We have to continue to improve his consistency in ball-catching."

Ryan Buchanan on what he looks to improve: "We go tempo, we get into the red zone, and then sometimes you have to slow it down and be smart with it. Make smart decisions. Making completions are the biggest thing in the red zone."

Buchanan on understanding of the playbook: "I feel pretty good on paper. It's different trying to go full-speed, when you have blitzes to pick up and be able to know in that split second."

Buchanan on the offensive line: "They have improved since week one. With our defense, they like to send a lot of different blitzes, so they're really getting a tough look. They're picking up on it, and they're trying to improve each practice."

C.J. Johnson on the defense: "The defense has progressed well. We have really gotten after the quarterback a lot. I hate that we lost Tee and Carlos. Those are big hits for the defense, especially with the secondary, where we thought we had a lot of depth, but some young guys are going to have to step up and play now."

Johnson on Marquis Haynes: "He's done a really good job learning our defense and learning what to do and being coachable. He's come a long way and he's going to help us a lot."

Johnson on Robert Nkemdiche: "He's definitely found his way in college football. His get-off is probably second to none. He's going to acquire a lot of attention, and everybody knows that. It makes us raise our level of play because we know what they're going to give him. We're going to have to step and pick up the slack a little bit."

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."

The Rebels practiced in full pads and held their first live session of fall camp on Tuesday. 

The defense had dominated the previous competitions, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said, but the offense got the better of the defense in the live session, as sophomore tight end Evan Engram made a big-time catch on the last play to win it.

On a related note, freshman Sammie Epps has moved from tight end to the slot to add some size and physicality to the position. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder joins sophomore Quincy Adebojeyjo, who moved inside to the slot in the spring, and freshman Markell Pack, who has mostly worked in the slot during fall camp.

"We have said all along that O-line, receiver and tight end are our depth issues, and as we get more into practice, you notice that we're a little thin in the slot, particularly with a bigger body that can do some of the things Laquon (Treadwell) did in our run game and screen game," Freeze said. "We decided for (Sammie's) freshman year to move him there. I don't know if he will remain there throughout his career. We'll see how his body develops."

"(Sammie) seems to be really trying to learn it," Adeboyejo said. "He's staying after and he's trying to get it. He's coming along. He will be pretty good. He's a big, strong guy, so he can make a lot of mismatches."

With Epps' move to the slot, senior Nick Parker and junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins are the primary backups at tight end. Parker saw action in 11 games with three starts at tight end, catching two passes for 11 yards and a touchdown, while Liggins has moved to tight end from quarterback.

"He's coming along nicely," said Freeze of Liggins. "He still makes mistakes mentally. Physically, he mixes it up a lot better than I anticipated. He's a physical blocker, which is something we really need. He's a threat doing other things when he's on the field for us too. We ran a little quarterback stuff with him yesterday, and he looked pretty good at that."

Adeboyejo Transitions to the Slot

Sophomore Quincy Adeboyjo moved from outside receiver, where he rotated with Donte Moncrief and Vince Sanders, among others, to the slot, where he looks to replace sophomore Laquon Treadwell, who moved to outside receiver.

From the slot position, Treadwell led the team with 72 catches and was second on the team with 608 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Adeboyejo caught just seven passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, but coaches and players have said he is poised for a breakout year and a similar uptick in production.

"He gives us a threat there who can do things with the ball in his hands that are a little different than what we have had," Freeze said. "He's quick-twitched and he can run. He has to continue to improve his ball-catching. He still has too many that are not natural catches for him that he should make. We'll continue to work at that."

The transition has gone well, Adeboyejo said, having also worked in the slot during spring practice. Coaches and players have also praised his route-running and ability to stretch the field vertically.

"Going from outside to inside, I know both of them," Adeboyejo said. "I still know most of the outside stuff. When I'm in there learning, just because I play slot, I don't just look at the slot. I try to look at all of the routes, so if I have to go outside one day, I would still know what I have to do."

"His route-running is really good," Freeze said. "He's one of our better ones at getting in and out of breaks and any kind of double moves. He's a strider too. If he gets in the open field, he's a guy who is tough to corral. We're excited about him."

Alford Ready to Contribute in Variety of Ways


Sophomore Anthony Alford does a little bit of everything.

When SiriusXM College Sports Nation Camp Tour visited Ole Miss on Monday, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called Alford one of the best two or three athletes on the team.

A two-sport standout out of Petal High School, Alford was selected in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays and signed a contract with the organization in June 2012 that allowed him to also keep playing football.

He started his college football career at Southern Miss, where he played in nine games with five starts at quarterback, as he led the Golden Eagles with 664 passing yards and rushed for 329 yards with eight total touchdowns.

After sitting out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules, during which time he played a key role on the scout team imitating the likes of Johnny Manziel and Nick Marshall at quarterback, he entered fall camp as the backup Rover safety behind junior Trae Elston, in addition to taking snaps at quarterback and returning punts in special teams drills.

"I love him in a lot of ways," Freeze said. "He took some snaps (at quarterback) yesterday too. He looked explosive. He looked good at punt return this morning. Defensively, he's getting better and better."

"I think I can help with my athletic ability and my quarterback background," Alford said. "I know what's going on on that side of the ball. By playing on both sides of the ball, it helps me a lot with playing quarterback."

This past summer, he played summer ball in the Blue Jays organization, splitting time between the Bluefield Blue Jays (Rookie Ball) and Lansing Lugnuts (Class A). He hit a career-best .320 in 25 at-bats for the Lugnuts, before rejoining the Ole Miss football team.

"I had to get back in the groove because I fell behind a little bit being gone playing baseball during the summer, but I'm feeling good," Alford said.

Alford, who was ranked No. 6 among Blue Jays prospects by MLB.com entering the 2013 season, has three years remaining of football eligibility, and he's in no hurry to decide between the two sports.

"I feel like I haven't truly given football a shot," Alford said. "I don't truly know what I can do in football, so I won't know that for a year or two."

NOTABLE:

In the individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line consisted of sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), sophomore Robert Conyers (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT).

Conyers also worked with the second-team offensive line at right tackle. He was joined on the team by redshirt freshman Davion Johnson (LT), junior Craig Frigo (LG), junior Ben Still (C) and redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin (RG).

Junior Channing Ward, who switched back to defensive end from tight end, ran with the first-team defense in the team drill. He was joined by junior C.J. Johnson at the other defensive end spot and sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and junior Woodrow Hamilton at the defensive tackle spots.

At linebacker, senior Deterrian Shackelford and junior Denzel Nkemdiche ran with the first team, with junior Christian Russell and senior Keith Lewis the second team. Sophomore Tony Conner ran with the first team at Huskie, with junior Mike Hilton on the second team.

Among the freshman defensive backs, other than Kendarius Webster who continues to work with the cornerbacks, C.J. Moore worked with the safeties, while A.J. Moore and D.K. Buford worked with the Huskies. Senior Cliff Coleman, who has played both cornerback and Huskie, worked with the safeties.

Junior cornerback Carlos Davis, who Freeze earlier said was the leader at punt returner, fielded punts in special teams work, as did junior safety Trae Elston and Alford. In the same drill, A.J. Moore got a piece of a punt.

QUOTABLE:

Freeze, on Denzel Nkemdiche: "I couldn't be more pleased with him and his attitude and leadership out there in practice thus far. He's always positive. He's kind of accepted what his punishment is, and he's gone through it very nicely."

Freeze, on the backup quarterbacks: "I'm disappointed, to be candid. They're not taking care of the ball well enough. Our timing is off. They seemed a little bit confused. I told (co-offensive coordinator) Dan (Werner) we have to get it cleared up mentally with them and get them playing faster. That's the way I feel after today's practice."

Alford, on being eligible to play after sitting out last season: "It's a lot different because it gives you something to look forward to. It makes me work harder because I'm actually motivated now than I was just going through the motions last year."

Alford, on missing playing quarterback: "I miss having the ball in my hand every play more than anything."

Alford, on the secondary: "I feel really confident. Like coach said, it's probably our first year having a true two-deep in the secondary at Huskie, Rover, free safety and corner. I'm really confident in knowing if one person goes down, we can bounce back and put someone else out there."

Adeboyejo, on Bo Wallace and adjusting to his stronger arm: "His arm is a lot stronger. Some balls we used to wait longer on, but now it's zipping in there. We have to get used to it. We do routes on air a lot. During the offseason, we did a lot of routes on air and we did a lot of 7-on-7. As we throw around with him a lot, it's getting easier and easier to get used to his balls zipping in a little faster than they had been."

Adeboyejo, on freshman wide receivers Markell Pack and Dayall Harris: "They're going to be really good. Markell is pretty fast. A lot of people say he's kind of like me. We both have dreads, so a lot of people think we look alike and run alike. Markell is going to be really good. Dayall, he's in the meeting room and he's asking coach question after question. He's really trying to learn it. That's a good thing coming in as a freshman trying to learn it off the bat."

Before taking his turn at the podium in the main room at SEC Media Days on Thursday, head coach Hugh Freeze met with members of the Ole Miss local media and addressed a wide variety of topics. Here are some of the highlights:

On Tee Shepard:

"I saw his update yesterday. It looked good. When his classes end on July 25, we will start getting the grades from the junior college to the (NCAA) clearinghouse. You're never sure of the time frame of those things, but we feel very confident, today, that he has what he needs to qualify. Hopefully he will be there right around the beginning of the camp, provided he finishes the way he's doing right now."

On the health of Bo Wallace:

"He feels really good. He's really confident. He looks better and has put on about 15 pounds. He's excited about the way he feels and the works that's taking place in the offseason, not only with Paul Jackson, but with some specialists who have looked at him. It's as confident as I have seen him." 

On Bo Wallace working with quarterback specialist Tom House:

"We have talked about it and watched videos together. Everything is giving him confidence. We're excited. Hopefully, the arm strength that he has right now will be sustained throughout the year because of a full offseason of rehab work and strengthening and working with specialists."

On Fahn Cooper:

"(Paul Jackson) is excited about Fahn. He was ahead of where he thought he would be when he got here. He's a hard worker. He's an athletic kid. We're excited that he's exactly who we thought he would be."

On Aaron Morris and Christian Morris returning from injury, and the team's overall health:

"Aaron is doing everything now. It seems to be good. He's still working on his weight. He should be ready to go day one. Christian Morris is working out now. I'm not sure if he will be released to go day one for everything.

"Losing Chief Brown was difficult. He is a wonderful kid and we needed him. You finally get your secondary where you think it's a really solid two-deep. We lose Collins Moore this week for a period of time. He has a knee that will hold him out 4-to-6 weeks. That's part of the game. That's why you have to go recruit depth. We feel better because we have better depth at most places than we have had the last two years."

On incoming freshmen:

"Rod Taylor is a good player. How good will he be as a freshman, I don't know. We will need some of those young kids to play on the offensive line. Him and Fahn Cooper are the first two who jump off the page. We're really excited about Breeland Speaks and Garrald McDowell. We're going to need one of those receivers -- Dayall (Harris), Markell (Pack), Sammie (Epps) -- one of those guys to give us some depth at receiver. We're really excited about those guys. 

"We're really excited about the whole class. Top to bottom, it is a very solid class. The ones who jump out are the ones where we have needs: offensive line and wide receiver depth."

On Jeremy Liggins:

"He's done absolutely phenomenal work. I couldn't be happier with Jeremy Liggins. He looks like a million bucks. He's running around. He's down to about 280 pounds. I don't know where I'm going to play him, but he's going to help us."

On backup quarterback:

"If we were playing today, it would totally depend upon the situation. If we were able to run the entire offense that we have, it would probably be (DeVante) Kincade. If we had to stand in the pocket and make a drive throwing the ball down the field, it would probably be (Ryan) Buchanan."


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