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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.

Rebels Slow Offensive Tempo

With a dominant defense that ranks among the nation's leaders in most statistical categories, head coach Hugh Freeze acknowledged he has changed his offensive philosophy and play-calling to limit negative plays and quick possessions.

Ole Miss averaged the second-most offensive plays (74.0) in the SEC in 2012 and averaged the most offensive plays (78.3) in the SEC in 2013. Through six games this season, the Rebels average a more modest 70.8 plays per game, which ranks ninth in the SEC. 

"You're more concerned now with not putting yourself in the hole because of negative plays, whether they are turnovers or plays of minus-two yards or minus-three yards," Freeze said. "When you go fast, the possibilities increase as defenses catch up to it."

The more deliberate tempo has also helped quarterback Bo Wallace manage the game more and allowed the team to play to its strength on defense.

"When the defense has played like it's playing, you just want to make sure you manage the game from an offensive perspective, where it gives you the best advantage to win," Freeze said.

O-Line Continues to Progress

Fahn Cooper has started every game at right tackle, but he's made great strides of late, as he graded out well and helped Ole Miss play a clean game with only two penalties, two sacks allowed and zero turnovers against Texas A&M.

"He played more, and then we tried to work (Robert) Conyers in at center," said offensive line coach Matt Luke of Cooper. "That plays a factor, too. I have a lot of confidence in Robert, but Fahn has obviously been getting better each and every week."

Another offensive lineman who has made great strides is freshman offensive guard Rod Taylor, who continues to play more snaps as the season progresses, and Luke will look to play him more this week against Tennessee.

"Rod had probably his best week of practice last week and this week," Luke said. "He's just a very, very talented young man. He has got a bright, bright future ahead, and you're going to see him play a little bit more this week. I wrote that down in my notes when he got in there. He was very productive. He needs to be playing more, and he will."

Webster Impresses in First Career Start

With the suspension of Rover safety Trae Elston for the first half against Texas A&M, Mike Hilton slid over from cornerback to Elston's spot, and Kendarius Webster made his first career start at cornerback.

Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said Webster did well, noting his maturity for his age, as helped Ole Miss pitch a first-half shutout against Texas A&M.

"In fall camp and practice, we put him up against Laquon to see how he would hold up, and at times, he held his own," Jones said. "If he continues to work, like I think he will, he's going to end up being a really good player."

Coaches continue to rave about Hilton, who's now started at four positions in the Ole Miss secondary in three seasons. The do-it-all player ranks second on the team with 34 tackles and leads the teams and ranks second in the SEC with six pass breakups.

"Mike is a sharp football player," Jones said. "He understands it. He's played every position in the secondary, almost every position on the dense except for defensive line. He's a coachable young man. 

"Whatever you ask him to do, it's always, 'Yes, sir.' We came in and had to move him to Rover, and he said, 'OK, coach, whatever I need to do to help the team.' That's the attitude he has. He's smart and he can get out there and execute and play fast."


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In this week's edition of Observations from the Best Seat in the House, Metz Camfield and I teamed up to give you our thoughts and opinions of the week that was in Ole Miss athletics. I was able to travel with the football team to College Station, Texas, and it was a great experience. Here's what we have looking back on the previous week:

Austin Miller - The best seat in the house Saturday was among the 110,633 at Texas A&M's Kyle Field, a football record crowd in the state of Texas, an SEC record, and the largest crowd that Ole Miss has ever played in front of. The Rebels silenced the record crowd in a wire-to-wire 35-20 win that never felt as close as the final score indicated. 

AM - Attending Midnight Yell was another big item to check off my bucket list. Seeing and experiencing other schools' traditions is one of the best parts of covering a team, and this was my first time to visit Texas A&M. I watched, more than I participated, but between the clapping, swaying, singing and yelling, it's something else. Here's a quick video.

AM - Texas A&M is in the middle of a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field. Half of the stadium was demolished and rebuilt before the 2014 season, and the other half will be demolished and rebuilt before the 2015 season, bringing an expanded seating capacity of 102,500, making it one of the five largest stadiums in college football.

AM - The press box at Kyle Field is located on the 9th level of 10, and it literally sways during the Aggie War Hymn before the game and before the fourth quarter. It makes for a surreal experience, but it's not a recommended one for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

AM - When you travel with the team, you travel first-class, from the chartered planes and buses, to the hotel accommodations. The game ended before 11:30 p.m., and we arrived back in Oxford shortly before 3:30 a.m. That's traveling in style.

Metz Camfield - Ole Miss' impressive showing in the Lone Star State started from the very beginning. After holding Texas A&M to a three-and-out on the Aggies' opening possession, Ole Miss got its offense in gear by going 69 yards on five plays to take a 7-0 lead and temporarily silence 110,633. I took this as a major sign of maturity with this team coming off a major victory over then-top ranked Alabama to come out strong on the road in a hostile environment. If the Rebels had gotten off to a slow start and allowed Texas A&M to take an early lead - no matter the margin - the entire game could have been different.

MC - It seems senior quarterback Bo Wallace is realizing he doesn't need to be the one to win games for this football team. When you have a defense as talented, as impressive and as overwhelming as the Rebels' is, the quarterback doesn't need to force the issue. Over the last two weeks, Wallace has not committed a single turnover, and while his numbers haven't been as over the top as they have in the past (to be fair, Ole Miss' past two opponents have been two top-15 teams in Alabama and Texas A&M), his performances have been quite possibly his best two of the season.

AM - Wallace may have laid the "Good Bo, Bad Bo" narrative to rest with his performance against Alabama. And against Texas A&M, he may have emerged as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate. There might be more talented players on the team, there might be players with a brighter NFL future on the team, but it's hard to argue there's a more valuable player on the team. And that's sometimes enough, especially if you're the quarterback of a national championship contender.

MC - With this defense, if the Ole Miss offense does not commit a turnover, the Rebels are as difficult a team to beat as there is in the country. Period.

AM - The Ole Miss defense allowed 455 total yards but allowed just 5.2 yards per play against a Texas A&M offense that ranked third nationally in total offense (583.2 ypg) and fifth nationally in yards per play (7.5). The Rebels allowed just 54 rushing yards on 35 carries, a 1.5 yards per carry average.

AM - The Ole Miss defense was not only stingy, but it was also opportunistic, forcing three turnovers and returning two of them for touchdowns. The Rebels have forced at least one turnover for 29 straight games, the second-longest active streak among FBS schools.

AM - You might have missed it among the other big-time players and big-time plays on defense, but sophomore Tony Conner led the Rebels with a career-high 11 tackles, his second straight game with a career high in tackles.

AM - With the first-half suspension of Trae Elston, Mike Hilton slid over from cornerback to Rover safety and Kendarius Webster made his first career start at cornerback, as they helped the Rebels pitch a first-half shutout. Hilton has now started at every position in the secondary, having started at Huskie, cornerback, free safety and now Rover safety.

"Mike is so smart," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Hilton. "I brought him in Sunday last weekend started going through the film and he kept shaking his head. I said, 'How do you know this?' He said, 'Coach I played Huskie so I understand rover too.' He has a great football IQ and he is one of the most valuable players on our defense."

MC - To anybody getting caught up in the polls, worrying about whether Ole Miss is currently projected to be in the College Football Playoffs or what seed it'd be right now, just stop. It doesn't matter right now. First off, there are way too many weeks left in the season. Secondly, if Ole Miss continues winning, everything will take care of itself. Enjoy the ride. It'd be a shame to stress yourself out about those types of things and look back on the year kicking yourself for not enjoying it as much as you could.

AM - Ole Miss is No. 3 in both polls, picking up five first-place votes in the Coaches Poll and three first-place votes in the AP Poll. For fans who are worried about polls and playoff projections, rest assured, if the Rebels keep winning, everything will take care of itself.

"We beat the number one team in the country last week, by some polls, and then we beat a top-15 opponent in their house in front of 110,000 tonight," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'll tell our team tomorrow, 'No one, no poll and no media gets to decide for us how we define ourselves,' and I'll tell them that again tomorrow. 

"It's good for our fans. They like that stuff. We could lose every game left on our schedule with the league we play in, so we better just focus on us. It would be great to be voted wherever they vote us. We would consider that an honor and we'll try to represent and be worthy of that voting. I'll tell our team, 'We don't give credence to it until the end of the year. That's when it really matters.'

"I do think the SEC West deserves two in the playoffs, though."

AM - As of Sunday, Oct. 12, the road to Atlanta goes through Mississippi. As the last two undefeated teams in the SEC West, two of just six remaining unbeaten FBS teams, Ole Miss and Mississippi State control their own destiny. 

AM - With that said, if you haven't already locked up your Egg Bowl tickets, you might want to get on that. Think about the seating capacity of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It might not only be the biggest Egg Bowl ever, it might be the hardest ticket for a regular season college football game ever.

AM - In case you missed it, here's the story of the Ole Miss Landsharks from ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and the latest episode of The Season: Ole Miss Football. You want to watch both, if you haven't already.

MC - Also, don't miss out on Josh McCoy's photo gallery of the football game at Texas A&M.

AM - The Ole Miss volleyball team swept arch-rival Mississippi State 3-0 Sunday to improve to 16-3 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. The Rebels also remained unbeaten at home, improving to 9-0 at the Gillom Center this season.

AM - Former Ole Miss Rebel Lance Lynn gets the start for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. In Game 2 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lynn took a no-decision, as he allowed two runs on seven hits with two walks and eight strikeouts.

For high school football players in Georgia, all roads lead to the Georgia Dome and the state championships. 

For a handful of Rebels, those roads lead home, as Ole Miss opens the 2014 season against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

"It's huge for me," said sophomore tight end Evan Engram, a native of Powder Springs, Georgia. "Playing in the Georgia Dome, our high school career, our state playoffs are in the Georgia Dome. We never really made it to state, so actually getting there and playing in front of a big crowd at home in front of my family, coaches and friends is a big deal for me."

The Ole Miss roster includes nine players from the Atlanta area that will return there for a homecoming of sorts, including three projected starters in Engram, junior cornerback Mike Hilton from Fayetteville, and sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville.

"Any time you can go back home where people who you were raised with can come see you, it adds a little something I'm sure," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We recruit hard there, so hopefully some of those kids can come too. For our kids from that area, it means a lot to them to be able to go back home."

Nkemdiche, the headliner of the group and a first team freshman All-America selection, makes his return to the Dome, where he helped lead Grayson High School to a Class 5A state title as a junior.

"It's a great feeling getting to go back to the Georgia Dome," Nkemdiche said. "I started all four years of my high school (career) there, so it's great to go back and start one more is awesome. I want to try to finish there, too."

Engram was also a part of the Rebels' historic 2013 signing class, along with Nkemdiche, and became one of the first two true freshmen in school history, along with fellow sophomore Laremy Tunsil, to be named All-SEC. He missed part of last season with a high ankle sprain, but he's back to 100 percent and primed for a breakout season.

"Having Evan (Engram) down there and the matchups he creates with linebackers and things like that can be huge for us in the red zone this year," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of Engram. "That's going to be huge for us if we can come away with touchdowns in the red zone."

Hilton, one of the elder statesmen of the group, will make his second trip to his home state in his college career, having played at Georgia as a freshman. He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie throughout his career, starting 16 games, but will likely play cornerback Thursday night.

"Mike Hilton is primarily at corner now," Freeze said. "Some of that would depend on what personnel we're facing. He's prepared to play both, depending on the personnel we get. You'll see him at both before the year is over."

Two freshmen are also expected to see significant action in linebacker DeMarquis Gates, a Hampton native, and cornerback Kendarius Webster, a Stockbridge native. 

Gates has impressed from the start of fall camp and will likely play a role on special teams, while Webster has been pressed into action as the primary backup at field corner with injuries in the secondary.

"He can run, he's physical, he's tough, and he's smart," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Gates. "He didn't play last year, so I really wasn't expecting what we have been getting from him. Each and every day, including today, he has shown up, so that's a good thing for us."

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

Rebel Nation is known for traveling well, and the season opener is no different, especially for the family and friends of the Atlanta area players.

"I had to fight for tickets to get some people in," Engram said. "I have a lot of people buying them and a lot of people sending me 'good luck' texts, saying they'll be watching. Hopefully I see a couple of 'Go Evan' signs. It will be fun."

Relentless is the Word on Defense

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy asked each of the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences to describe their team in one word

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze's word? Relentless.

The same can be said of the Ole Miss defense. 

And it starts up front with the defensive line, headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," defensive line coach Chris 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."

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

Much is expected from Nkemdiche in his sophomore campaign after recording 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in his freshman All-American season. He bounced between defensive end and defensive tackle but has found a home at defensive tackle this season.

"I expect really big things from him," Kiffin said. "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."

"He's definitely found his way in college football," Johnson said. "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."

The defensive line looks to improve the pass rush after experiencing a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, in addition to taking pressure off the secondary. 

The defensive backfield is arguably the deepest and most experienced unit of the defense with a combined 96 starts among the five starters on the depth chart, led by the Southeastern Conference's lone returning All-American in senior safety Cody Prewitt.

"I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years," Wommack said. "I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

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

With the depth, experience and promise of more aggressive play-calling, the sky is the limit for the Ole Miss defense in 2014.


Nkemdiche Headlines Retooled D-Line

The return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes have changed the face of the defensive line, but freshman All-American Robert Nkemdiche remains front and center. 

With a season of experience under his belt, it's been a different experience for the former consensus No. 1 recruit this fall.

"I know the playbook so much better," Nkemdiche said. "I'm so much more chilled out. I'm not freaking out right now. I'm not nervous. My head's on straight, and I'm ready to have a huge game.

"I had a really good camp. I was focused. I'm bringing it every day, 100 percent, no matter what. I'm ready for the season and to have a really dominant season."

Beside Nkemdiche at defensive tackle has been a rotation of senior Bryon Bennett and junior Woodrow Hamilton with junior Issac Gross out due to injury.

"You lose quickness in there," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of missing Gross. "But kudos to Bryon Bennett because I have never seen him play as well as he's playing right now, across the board. He has some size, quickness and been super in there for us. I have been really pleased with him, but it affects your depth.

"Woody's issue has been staying out there on the field. When he stays out on the field, he's a really good football player. He's extremely tough to block. He's not just an anchor. He has some quickness and he can move around. He fits our scheme really well."

With the depth and experience on the defensive side of the ball, Wommack looks to rotate more players and be more aggressive this season. 

On the defensive line, Wommack said, they would like to play 8-10 players and 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.

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Dave Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

"We weren't able to do that last year because of the pass rush we didn't have and we lacked the corner play that we needed," Wommack said. "Boise is going to see some things they haven't seen in the last two years."


Haynes, Freshmen Show Out on Defense

Nkemdiche described Haynes as a physical freak. 

A former high jumper and 100-meter sprinter in high school, Haynes enrolled in January and broke into the two-deep early in the fall camp and has remained there.

"He has a knack for the football," said Nkemdiche of Haynes. "He's a freak. He gets to the football no matter what. If he has a missed assignment, he's still going to get to the ball either way. I like him. He plays 100 percent every down. That's what I like about Marquis. He's going to be really good in the future."

Wommack noted his raw talent, speed and quickness, adding that he's done a good job learning what they have asked him to do. He might not start in the season opener, Wommack said, but in certain packages, he will certainly be at one defensive end spot.

In addition to Haynes, Wommack raved about a trio of freshmen in defensive back A.J. Moore, linebacker DeMarquis Gates and cornerback Kendarius Webster. With the injuries in the secondary, Moore has stepped up as the team's third Huskie and Webster is in the mix as the team's fourth cornerback.

"Both of those freshmen hit a ceiling and then they came back down," said Wommack of Moore and Gates. "Kendarius Webster, too. They pushed forward and have gotten smarter each and every day, and they're going to play for us this year.

"This freshman class was a hit across the board. From top to bottom, it was better than last year's class, if you want to say that. I know there were some stars in that class the year before, but top to bottom, I don't think we missed on anybody. We have some really good football players. Some of them, if we're not going to use them this year, we absolutely don't want to burn them, and we will make that choice later on."


NOTABLE

In individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line featured sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT). Sophomore Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle when Cooper moved from right tackle to left tackle.

When the offense showed sets with two tight ends in team drills, it featured sophomore Evan Engram lined up at a traditional tight end spot and in the slot, with senior Nick Parker also at tight end on the first team. 

Sophomore Matt Brown played a role similar to Engram, with sophomore Jeremy Liggins also at tight end on the second team.

Freeze said he's looking for at least one wide receiver to emerge from a group that includes junior Quintavius Burdette, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshmen Dayall Harris and Markell Pack.

Johnson, Brown and Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with Nkemdiche and Hamilton at defensive tackle.

Brown, along with sophomore John Youngblood, got second-team reps at defensive end, with Bennett and senior Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

Senior Andrew Fletcher, Freeze said, remains in the lead for extra point and field goal duties from 43 yards and in, with redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and freshman Gary Wunderlich in competition to handle longer field goals.

In other special teams work, the first-team kickoff returners were junior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Mark Dodson. 

The second-team kickoff returners were sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore and junior safety Trae Elston. Redshirt freshman running back Eugene Brazley and junior running back I'Tavius Mathers also worked with the kickoff returners.

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

Other notables on the kickoff return units included junior defensive end Channing Ward, redshirt freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, senior linebacker Keith Lewis and sophomore safety Anthony Alford on the first team.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Robert Conyers: "Robert is very, very valuable to us and will play three positions. He may be one of the most valuable pieces of us offensively because he can grasp all three of them and do them well."

Freeze on the center position battle having named Ben Still the starter: "They're pretty even and knowing that we're going to rotate Robert at all three on various possessions, it gives us a little more flexibility, but they're about equal. Robert probably needs to concentrate on both tackle positions between now and then and it gives the ones more reps with Ben."

Freeze on Fahn Cooper's action at left tackle: "He's athletic. It depends on who you're playing and what the matchups are. It's always about matchups. No matter who we put there, there are guys in this league, sometimes you're going to cringe when you get in too many one-on-one's, if you're not able to run the ball some. If they know you're throwing it, I don't care who we put out there. It's difficult, so you have to be balanced. That's been our whole goal since we have been here."

Freeze on Issac Gross, who missed practice with a neck injury: "Issac had the procedure yesterday to get some kind of shot that we think will help speed up the recovery and hopefully cure. We should know Monday if he will be ready to go for Boise."

Robert Nkemdiche on improvement: "Something that can make me stronger as a player is knowing the playbook a lot better. Last year, I feel like I had all the tangibles to be great, but I didn't know the scheme as well. I was out there about 50 percent. I didn't know what else to do. I was trying to go out there and make plays. This year, knowing the playbook a lot better and being more mature as a player and having an SEC season under my belt helps me because I know what to expect now."

Nkemdiche on returning to Atlanta for the season opener against Boise State: "It's a great feeling going back to the Georgia Dome. I started all four years in high school there, so let's go back and start one. We want to try to finish there too."

Dave Wommack on Mike Hilton practicing at both Huskie and cornerback: "Any time you have to double-train somebody, you lose a little something. You can't get totally focused on one thing, but he's a veteran and been here for two years and knows it better. You couldn't do it with a young guy for sure."

Wommack on the secondary: "I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years. I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

Wallace: 'It's My Offense'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do-It-All Hilton Adds Flexibility to Defense


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebels Begin Boise Prep


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTABLE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTABLE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at CB, OL, WR and RB Depth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTABLE

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

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

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

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

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

QUOTABLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Week That Was: Ole Miss Football

Ole Miss continues its preparations for the the 2014 season with the second full week of fall camp starting Monday. Here's a look back at the first full week of fall camp with some observations and takeaways, as well as some linked stories of interest for Ole Miss fans. We will look to do something similar each week on the blog throughout football season.

1. Southeastern Conference coaches talked anonymously about conference foes for the 2014 season, and they had a lot of praise for Ole Miss

"They are probably the second-best team in the West, maybe better," said one anonymous SEC coach.

2. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks compiled a list of the top 25 college football teams with the most NFL talent, and headlined by the sophomore trio of Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss came in at No. 13.

"With the Rebels poised to dominate the NFL draft the next few years, it's time to view Ole Miss as a viable contender in the SEC West," wrote Brooks of Ole Miss.

3. ESPN.com's Travis Haney compiled a list of the top 50 breakout players for the 2014 season, and Nkemdiche came in at No. 10, and if the first week of fall camp is any indication, he's primed for a breakout season. 

"In our gap schemes we can't back block because of him, and that causes us to have to change some things," said Freeze of Nkemdiche. "When you're installing you want to be able to just run your stuff and teach it, but it looks so bad you get frustrated. He's a handful."

4. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called Anthony Alford one of the best two or three athletes on the team. He's pushing junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, he's in the mix as a punt returner, and he's taking snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. He looks the part and he's going to play a significant role this season.

"I love him in a lot of ways," said Freeze of Alford. "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."

5. With the injury to sophomore Tee Shepard - who had an MRI on Saturday and we will learn more from Freeze on Monday - it will be interesting to see where senior Cliff Coleman and junior Mike Hilton gets reps. Both versatile defensive backs can play cornerback, Huskie and free safety.

6. On a related note, with the injury to Shepard, freshman Kendarius Webster may play a bigger role at cornerback. He shed his non-contact green jersey for the first Saturday and made a couple of nice plays, including an interception of sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan.

7. Going back to spring practice, the coaches have raved about freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes. He's run with the first-team defense in place of sophomore Fadol Brown, who's been sidelined with an injury. Look for him to contribute as a rush end opposite junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, if not in a larger role this season.

"He's getting some different looks over there with the tight end and different things that he's not used to, so he makes some mistakes," said Freeze of Haynes. "But one thing I know about him is he makes them 100 miles an hour. We can live with that. We're pleased with where he is and we expect him to get better each day."

8. While the defense dominated on Saturday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace showed off his stronger arm, rolling left and completing a back-shoulder pass to Treadwell for a touchdown, and later throwing another touchdown to sophomore tight end Evan Engram in a red-zone drill.

9. On the offensive line, it appears to be six players competing for five spots, with Tunsil at left tackle, junior Aaron Morris at left guard and junior Justin Bell at right guard the constants throughout fall camp. Concerning the center and right tackle position battles, Freeze said it would probably be another week before deciding on the first-teamers.

"We've been going back and forth this week," Freeze said Saturday. "It will probably be another week before we say, 'This is who we're going with in the first group.' Fahn (Cooper) has been going with the first group (at right tackle) until today I think we made a switch back to look at Robert (Conyers) there and Ben (Still) at center."

10. If you're looking for a walk-on to contribute, junior Craig Frigo, a 6-foot-1, 301-pound offensive lineman from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a prime candidate. He has consistently worked with the second-team offense and has also showed some versatility, moving around from left tackle, to right tackle, to left guard, even taking some snaps at center.

11. With six running backs also competing for playing time, it's hard to notice any separation, but it appears that sophomore Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins have taken a lot of first-team reps and have shown out thus far in fall camp.

12. Without much fanfare, junior Quintavius Burdette moved from cornerback to slot receiver during the spring and entered fall camp as a backup behind sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo. The two-sport athlete, who also competes on the Ole Miss track & field team, has gotten his share of first-team reps with Adeboyejo and sophomore tight end Evan Engram, who has also lined up in the slot.

13. In special teams work, freshman Gary Wunderlich, the No. 1 kicker prospect coming out of high school, has split reps with redshirt freshman Will Gleeson at punter and redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and senior Andrew Fletcher at kicker. Wunderlich has the strongest leg of the group but he must improve his consistency.

14. When asked after practice Thursday, Freeze said Gleeson was in the lead at punter. The Melbourne, Australia, native gives the team some options to do some out-of-the-box stuff, such as the rugby-style punting from his Australian football background. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Tim, who plays for Rutgers, the younger Gleeson has played the American game for about two years.

"I basically had to forget all my instilled knowledge of kicking Australian football on the run low and hard, and basically kick it high and as long as possible in two steps with hang time," Gleeson said.

15. We're 18 days away from the season opener against Boise State, but here's an interesting profile of first-year Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and his stamp on the program after the departure of long-time Broncos coach Chris Petersen for Washington. Prior to his arrival at Boise State, Harsin was the head coach at Arkansas State (2013), where he followed Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn (2012), who followed Freeze (2011).

Building Depth and Staying Healthy

The immediate goals for fall practice, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said, are developing more depth, particularly at key positions, and staying healthy.

"Staying healthy is a quandary in my mind because you need to be fast and physical but you have to stay healthy," Freeze said. "Now, we really feel like we have a team that can be good. Hopefully we can go from good to great. 

"The line that you worry about, particularly with us still having some depth issues, is how do you get done what you need to do and develop depth and create a competitive, juiced practice and still stay as healthy as you can. We have to create some more depth."

On a related note, Freeze also said everyone is academically eligible, and aside from junior defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton possibly being held out of some drills on day one, everyone is also healthy entering fall camp. 

Part of that good news included the clearance of sophomore Tee Shepard, a consensus four-star recruit out of junior college. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder brings an added dimension to a talented cornerback group, led by senior Senquez Golson, sophomore Derrick Jones and junior Mike Hilton.

"I expect Tee to come in and hopefully be a lockdown corner that we may have been missing," Freeze said. "He has the size, strength and speed, and he's physical. I love his demeanor. The guy smiles all the time. He's excited to be here. I like our depth at corner, and that's the first time I can say that. We have some good possibilities there."

"On defense, it's going to take turnovers," said Jones of getting to the next level as a team. "That is the big emphasis we have going into this camp, getting more turnovers, and getting the ball to the offense. We can be one of the top defenses in the country. We have the players and we have great coaches. We have to go out there and play like we know we can play."

One of those key positions as far depth is offensive line, where it starts with sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American, who will anchor the line at left tackle.

"Being a sophomore and being considered that, it's a blessing," said Tunsil of consideration as one of the nation's top offensive tackles. "Last year, I learned about adversity. When the game is not going your way, to try to think about the positive things."

To continue to build depth on the offensive line, Freeze said, sophomore Robert Conyers will work at offensive tackle and center, and freshman Rod Taylor will work at offensive guard and offensive tackle.

"We have to be careful with our offensive line," Freeze said. "We're OK inside depth-wise. On the edges, we're very, very thin. We have a special one in Laremy, and we hope he has a healthy and outstanding year, and we hope Fahn Cooper is exactly what we thought he would be. We have to start getting depth ready behind those guys."

"They showed out this summer," Tunsil said. "They did a pretty good job this summer. They're going to kill it this fall camp."


Passing Game Ready To Take Next Step

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Southeastern Conference's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdown, received the podium treatment at Ole Miss Media Days, and he appeared as healthy and confident as ever.

"I feel as good as I have ever felt, except that first year coming in," Wallace said. "I feel 100 percent. I feel a lot of zip on the ball, and I can push it down the field more. I'm anxious to go out there and start."

"He actually hurt my hand a couple of times playing catch," said sophomore wide receiver Treadwell, smiling and laughing. "But yeah, his arm has gotten very strong. He's making great decisions now. Last year, it was like, 'C'mon, Bo, throw the ball.' Now, he's zipping it and throwing it wherever he wants to put it, in any position."

Treadwell, the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, moves outside to his natural position, where he looks to stretch the field and make more explosive plays in the offense.

"I worked on it last year, but this year I feel like I had to work on it more because I know that's what we're going to do with a healthy Bo and me moving to the outside," said Treadwell of stretching the field. "Quincy (Adeboyejo) is going to help that a lot because he's mismatch, also, because his route are so crisp that a lot of people can't guard him 1-on-1. He's showed that since day one."

"That's his natural position," said Freeze of the sophomore. "He's a physical blocker, which helps us on the edge. We'll continue to move him around but he will primarily an outside guy. Outside guys typically have the chance to make more explosive plays. He's excited to do that."

With his move outside, fellow sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, Treadwell said, is poised for a breakout year in the slot.

"Quincy (Adeboyejo) is going to help that a lot because he's a mismatch, also because his route are so crisp that a lot of people can't guard him 1-on-1. He's showed that since day one."

With Moncrief now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Treadwell has not only moved outside, but he's also taken on a bigger leadership role among the wide receivers and the team in general.

"I stay around my teammates as much as possible because they are going to humble you," Treadwell said. "You can't read your press clippings. I try to keep working hard and leading the team."


Position Changes, Position Battles

After having worked at tight end during spring practice, Channing Ward is switching back to defense, Freeze said. Among the three "athletes" on the roster, freshman D.K. Buford will start at Huskie, freshman D.J. Moore will start at Rover or Huskie, and sophomore Jeremy Liggins will start at tight end.

"Jeremy is one of my favorite kids, even though he ripped my heart out at one point in the recruiting process," Freeze said. "He's such an athletic big guy. He is starting at tight end, but that doesn't mean that's where he will end up. He could play a lot of things. People like that certainly help your football team. We could move him around if we have some depth issues."

The backup quarterback battle continues, and it's in much the same place as it was when Freeze talked to the media at SEC Media Days, with redshirt freshman Ryan Buchanan ahead as a pocket passer and redshirt freshman DeVante Kincade ahead running the entire offense. 

In addition, Liggins and sophomore safety Anthony Alford, Freeze said, may also factor in helping fill Barry Brunetti's role from last season.

Freeze said he's most anxious to see the kickers because he's hasn't seen them all summer, as the Rebels look to replace Tyler Campbell and Andrew Ritter, who both graduated following their senior year last seasons.

"(Will) Gleeson has the edge right now, as far as the punting duties," Freeze said. "The kicking duties are wide open. I expect Andy (Pappanastos) and Gary (Wunderlich) to have a great competition for that. (Andrew) Fletcher, too. Nathan Noble will likely handle kickoff duties."

Another Look At No. 8 Missouri

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

Ole Miss is the only school in the upper half of the SEC statistical rankings in every major offensive and defensive category. This week, the Rebels face one of their toughest tests on both sides of the ball in No. 8 Missouri. 

The Tigers defense ranks second in the SEC and 14th nationally in rushing defense (111.9 ypg). Missouri has held opponents under 150 rushing yards in all but one game (Georgia), while the Ole Miss has been held under 150-yard mark four times this year, including each of their three losses.

"They're one of the best rushing defenses in the nation," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It presents a challenge for us. We're not near as good offensively when we can't run the ball. It puts us a bit in a disadvantage in having to protect against a D-line like this, especially. There's a premium on being able to run it."

"The strength of their team is up front," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "We know that, and that's probably going to be where the game is won and lost."


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

On the defensive line, senior defensive end Michael Sam leads the league and ranks sixth nationally with 10 sacks and also leads the league and ranks fifth nationally with 16 tackles for loss. On the other side, junior defensive end Kony Ealy, ranks fourth in the SEC with 6.5 sacks and leads the team with 13 quarterback hurries.

"They provide probably the biggest challenge we have had all year from top to bottom," Luke said. "They're good in every spot. It's not like they have one guy you can focus on. (Sam) has the most sacks, but the other ends provide their own challenges. One of them is faster; one of them is bigger, and they're two inside guys are good, so you can't slide your line a certain way and protect against one guy."

It's not only the personnel, but also their scheme and movement, which presents a great challenge for the Ole Miss offensive line, both in run blocking and pass protection.

"They do a good job of movement," Luke said. "They're never in the same place. They move about every snap. They're a moving front and don't let you double-team because they're constantly moving, twisting and mixing up the front and making it tough on you. 

"Nothing is ever easy, and you always have to figure something out. You can't just do your assignment; it's always movement, so that's a unique challenge for us."

Jones, Wommack Prepare For Missouri Tall, Speedy Receivers


Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

On Monday, junior cornerback Senquez Golson compared the Missouri group of receivers to playing against three or four Mike Evans from Texas A&M. 

In the Oct. 12 meeting against Texas A&M, the Ole Miss defense, notably Golson, held Evans to a season-low 46 yards on four catches and without a touchdown, but Missouri presents a different challenge this week with all four of its starting receivers listed at 6-foot-2 or taller.

Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham and senior L'Damian Washington (6-foot-2), who each have 500-plus receiving yards and nine touchdowns, are listed at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-2, respectively. For the Rebels, Golson and sophomore cornerback Mike Hilton are listed at 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-8, respectively.

"Most of the time you have one guy who is 6-5 guy, but to have several like they have is unusual," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "All three, they can run and catch the football. It's going to be a good challenge for us."

"We can't make them any taller," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "There's nothing we can do about that. We have to go with what we got and work the fundamentals to try to challenge those guys."


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

Another cornerback in the mix for Ole Miss will be freshman Derrick Jones, who made his college debut at No. 1 Alabama and has started three games since then. At 6-foot-3, he can help the Rebel defense match up against Missouri's tall receivers.

"After recruiting, I hoped he was going to be a safety, but I'm glad to have him as a corner," Wommack said. "I didn't realize he had the kind of hips and speed that he has. A lot of times long guys like him struggle with change of direction, but he's got all those things. He will make a bunch of money someday."

Tough Test In No. 8 Missouri

There's a different air surrounding this week's primetime showdown with No. 8 Missouri, the Rebels' first top-10 test since a 27-24 win over then-No. 6 LSU back on Oct. 19.

"It's a huge week for us," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We get to see how good we are. We had some games that we felt like we didn't play as well in that we could have been in, but this is our redemption game that we can go back and see how good we are."

"In the weight room yesterday, it was crazy," junior linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "No one was talking or doing anything. We're telling each other this a game that no one should have to get you amped for. You should be motivated and feel that urge to do what you can do.

The Rebels (7-3, 3-3 SEC) have won four straight, having eclipsed 500 total offense yards in each of the four games, including a school-record 751 against Troy this past Saturday. They also re-entered the BCS and Associated Press polls at No. 24.

The Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) rank in the top three in the SEC and top 20 in the nation in both scoring offense (41.3 points per game) and scoring defense (20.2). Other than their loss to South Carolina, none of their wins have been decided by less than 15 points.

"I don't know that having to win the game will answer the question, 'Are you really a top-25 team?'" Freeze said. "But if we go out, compete and have a chance to win it, that's what we're asking for right now out of our kids in Year Two. 

"Let's go find out where we stand and how we match up with the elite in the nation right. Hopefully, we'll be in it at the end and see. With the schedule we have played, looking back on it, we have had our share of tests, and this will be another one Saturday night."

When asked about keys to the matchup, Freeze mentioned two specifically: running the ball effectively and eliminating explosive plays in the passing game.

"We're pretty good when we can run it and mix in the play-action pass and the stuff we like to do off our run game," Freeze said. "When we're not running it -- you look at the Alabama and Auburn games -- we're not the same team. 

"(Cornerbacks coach) Jason Jones put together a reel of their explosive receivers play, and it's quite impressive, so we have a tall task there. If we can eliminate those and are able run the ball the ball effectively, that will go a long way in helping us be in this game.

The Challenge On Defense

Senior James Franklin is listed as the starter at quarterback for the Tigers this week, having missed the last four games since suffering a shoulder injury against Georgia on Oct. 12. 

Franklin averages 225.3 passing yards per game and has thrown for 14 touchdowns with just three interceptions. His backup, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, averages 95.1 passing yards per game and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

"There's not much difference in the two quarterbacks, so that's the good thing," Freeze said. "They are going to be who they are. They have done the exact same things with their second guy that they do with their first guy, so it's not like you're preparing for two different schemes. They have confidence in both of them and have good reason to."

The Tigers also have a talented group of receivers, led by sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham and senior L'Damian Washington who each have 500-plus receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Each of their four starting receivers are listed at 6-foot-2 or taller, with Green-Beckham at 6-foot-6 and Washington at 6-foot-4. 

Ole Miss junior cornerback Senquez Golson compared it to playing against three or four Mike Evans from Texas A&M. Both he and sophomore cornerback Mike Hilton said it's about playing physical with the tall, speedy receivers from Missouri.

"That's a physics problem that we can't solve," said Freeze of their height. "It's a concern for sure because there are times where their guys are more able to make a play on the ball than some defensive backs they have faced. That is a great concern and something that we have to try to figure out what the best answers are when those cases arise."

The Challenge On Offense

One of the keys to the game, Freeze said, is Missouri's ability to stop the run. The Tigers rank second in the league and 14th nationally in rushing defense (111.9 ypg). In earlier losses to Alabama and Auburn, Ole Miss rushed for 46 and 124 yards, respectively. 

In recent games, the Rebels have run the ball better, including a season-high 382 yards against Troy, and Freeze credited the offensive line progressing and being more multiple, while senior offensive linemen Pierce Burton and Emmanuel McCray credited continuity and working better with double teams.

"Very few people have been able to line up and just run the ball effectively on them to keep you off balance, and then they get you one-dimension and those ends are quick and cause trouble in the backfield for you," Freeze said. "We have to try to find a way to run the ball effective enough so that we can be who we are and want to be and keep them thinking we're balanced, which we have been as of late."

Missouri also does a great job of generating pressure and forcing turnovers, and it starts with their defensive line. 

The Tigers lead the league in sacks and rank third nationally with 34 sacks, as well as lead the league and rank seventh nationally with 17 interceptions. It's a great challenge for junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who after throwing 17 interceptions last year, has only been picked off five times through 10 games this season.

"Sometimes the pressure is causing some of it, but they do a great job also of mixing up their coverages and causing you to want to be greedy," Freeze said. "If you're not patient against them, because they're going to make you go 8, 10, 12-play drives to get points and they're very good in the red zone. In most of their games, they're ahead and forcing you to throw a lot, and they're stopping the run, so the sacks are coming because when they get you in a position where they know you have to throw, their guys are very good at that."

"I have to be sharp every week, no matter who we play," Wallace said. "We play in probably the best conference in America. Every week, we're going to play against guys who can go get the ball and great defensive backs. There are great defenses in this league, so it's the same every week."

Their defensive line is led by a talented duo at the ends. Senior Michael Sam leads the league and ranks sixth nationally with 10 sacks and also leads the league and ranks fifth nationally with 16 tackles for loss. On the other side, junior Kony Ealy, ranks fourth in the SEC with 6.5 sacks and leads the team with 13 quarterback hurries.

"They do a lot of movement, so it will be a unique challenge for us," Burton said. "It's not just like I'm watching a defensive end every time. The defensive end is going to be slanting. They're doing run-game twists on first down. We haven't seen that all year except for SEMO. That's a really unique thing to see."

"They are very talented," McCray said. "They are slated as one of the best in the SEC. They play pretty hard and all have pretty good motors. It's not just about outstanding ability, they all play as a good unit."

Rebels Not Overlooking Arkansas

As excited as they were about the open week, head coach Hugh Freeze said they're equally as excited to get back to playing this week against Arkansas. It's the fourth of six straight home games and will be the Rebels' first game of the year with a kickoff earlier than 5:30 p.m.

"To be at home again is always nice," Freeze said, as before the open date there were three straight home games and after the open date there will be three straight home games. "We're looking forward to getting an early kickoff. That's something we haven't had this year," Freeze said. "We've enjoyed the ones we've had, but it's always nice to get a variety." 

"I'm so glad that we have an early kickoff," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We wake up and go play, instead of having to sit in the hotel room all day and watch games, so yeah I'm excited about these morning kickoffs."

Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC) had won back-to-back games over then-No. 6 LSU and Idaho entering the bye week, while Arkansas (3-6, 0-5 SEC) won their first three games, but have lost six straight, including most recently a 35-17 loss to No. 8 Auburn.

"The off week came at a good time, and hopefully we won't be very rusty at all, but we'll continue to improve, as I thought we had the last couple of weeks," Freeze said. We're playing a very scary football team to me. If they ever convert drives, they'd be very, very dangerous. They control the time of possession, and they run the football extremely well." 

"They're a lot better than a lot people think they are," Wallace said. "They're close to coming through and win some games, and they're still playing hard. If you watched the Auburn game, you could tell they're still playing hard. They'll be a tough test."

Offensively, Arkansas is led by a dynamic running back duo of freshman Alex Collins (98.8 ypg) and sophomore Jonathan Williams (79.6), who rank fourth and seventh in the SEC, respectively. 

As a team, the Razorbacks have 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. Arkansas also ranks fifth in the SEC in time of possession (30:51), including 34:14 time of possession against Auburn.

"They are closer than people realize, and they scare you," Freeze said. "If you have one or two turnovers, you may not see the ball again. Last week, Auburn, which is somewhat similar to us in a tempo offense, only had 21 snaps in the first half."

"That's frustrating for me when I have to sit over there for so long, and they're just running the ball," Wallace said. "You just have to stay on the phone with Coach Werner and get what him and Coach Freeze are thinking about and keep all the guys up on the sideline."

More Depth, Flexibility On Defense


Ole Miss has been hit hard with injuries this year, with three starters out for the year in junior offensive lineman Aaron Morris (ACL), junior defensive end C.J. Johnson (ankle) and freshman tight end Evan Engram (ankle). Several other key players missed either LSU or Idaho game, or both. 

Entering this week, however, Freeze said they're as healthy as they've been in a while, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

"Still questionable are Charles Sawyer and Jeff Scott," Freeze said. "I think everyone else will be ready, except for those out for the year, like C.J. Johnson, Aaron Morris, and Evan Engram. Carlos Thompson is still on the doubtful list. The off week came at a good time. Hopefully we won't be very rusty at all and will continue to improve as I thought we had the last couple of weeks." 

Among those expected to return are three defensive starters in freshman defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and sophomore cornerback Mike Hilton. 

"All of the people who played and contributed whenever everyone was gone, it helps them and help us as a defense because it gives them confidence when they come into the game," junior linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "They give us more depth on defense."

Their expected return, Freeze said, gives them not only more depth but also more flexibility on defense. 

"Robert gives us better depth and some flexibility to move people around up front," Freeze said. "Denzel was our leading tackler last year and hopefully to have him healthy for a stretch of games will pay great dividends. Hilton, I thought was maybe the most-improved player on our defense. We do a lot of things with him. He can play our nickel, our corner and anywhere in six-defensive back formation. All those guys give us some flexibility." 

Bowl Implications For Both Teams

A win over Arkansas would make Ole Miss bowl eligible for the second straight year under Hugh Freeze. 

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

"It's exciting," Wallace said. "We were 5-3 at this same point, so the first step is being bowl eligible, and then building on that. Any time you can get that sixth win, it's a big game and a big week."

On the other sideline, for Arkansas, it has to win out in its final three games at Ole Miss, at home against Mississippi State and at LSU to become bowl eligible. 

"They have to win these last three games to get into a bowl game, and they feel like we were in the Mississippi State game last year," Bryant said. "They're going to bring it and do everything in their will to win this game."


 

Containing Johnny Manziel


The first two questions of head coach Hugh Freeze's weekly press conference centered on Texas A&M quarterback and last year's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.


In last year's game, Manziel accounted for 320 yards of total offense, 191 through the air and 129 on the ground, and two total touchdowns, one each through the air and on the ground, as Texas A&M erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 30-27 in Oxford.


Through five games this year, Manziel leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in total offense, averaging 360.6 yards/game. He also averages 9.59 yards/play, which ranks second in the league and ninth nationally, and 36.1 percent of his offensive plays have resulted in a gain of 10 or more yards.


"You have to be multiple," Freeze said of defending Manziel. "You can't just give him one thing. There are no bad coaches in this league, and they have tremendous players, so they will make adjustments, if they get a beat on what exactly you're doing. We did have a good plan and we contained him for the better part of three quarters, but the fourth quarter, he showed why he won the Heisman Trophy.


"We will look at last year very closely and use what we think was very good and try to mix in some new stuff. We were able to create some turnovers last year, which I think was big, so hopefully we can have a repeat of that performance and contain him a bit. You're not to going to stop him but hopefully contain him and give us a chance to be in it late in the game."


A large part of the defensive game plan last year involved sophomore Mike Hilton, who made his first career start against Texas A&M last year. From his dimeback position, he spent most of the game spying Manziel and had three solo tackles, including two sacks and a forced fumble.


"We're going to have someone spy Manziel this game," junior linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "Mike Hilton did a great job with that last year. Hopefully, we're going to put him back on him this year. Our corners and defensive backs are going to have to step up this week because they're going to throw the ball to Mike Evans a lot. He's a great, very tall receiver, so we're going to have to make some plays on Mike Evans."


"The coaches are going to think of a different type of scheme this year," Hilton said. "We have a whole year under our belt watching him, so we're going to have more defensive packages set for him."



One of those packages might include a 3-3-5 defensive look the Ole Miss defense showed some against Auburn, with Bryant and sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche on the field at the same time, along with senior linebacker Mike Marry. 


Bryant has started the last four games at Stinger linebacker and leads the SEC and ranks ninth nationally with 10.8 tackles/game, while Nkemdiche returned from injury against Alabama and led the Rebels with nine tackles and recovered a fumble last week against Auburn.


"That package went pretty well," Bryant said. "The coaches told us they were going to put something else in this week that we're going to run. They want to try to get me and Denzel on the field at the same time. We're both playmakers, and we're both fast and have speed. They want to try to get to playmakers on the field at the same time.


"When me and Denzel are on the field together, Denzel takes on blocks better than me, so he plays down close to the line, and I'm free to roam back at Stinger linebacker about six yards off the line and read the ball, and wherever it goes, I go to the ball."


Along with scheme, players said it's as much, if not more, about winning 1-on-1 battles and just making plays when defending Manziel and the Texas A&M offense.


"Don't overdo anything," Hilton said. "Play your game. If you get a chance to get him on the ground, make sure you get him on the ground because he can make plays. Everybody knows it. You got to make a play when it happens."


"It's physically, you got to make a play," sophomore safety Trae Elston said. "If you play athlete on athlete, the best athlete is going to make the tackle, so that's what he have to do against him."



Both Freeze and Hilton noted that Manziel has played a lot more in the pocket this year compared to last year. And his passing numbers are up, from yards per game, to completion percentage, to pass efficiency.


Through five games this year, Manziel ranks second in the SEC and 14th nationally in passing offense (297.8). He also leads the SEC and ranks eight nationally in completion percentage (71.4) and ranks second in the SEC and fifth nationally in passer rating (188.06).


"You notice that he doesn't mind standing in the pocket longer," Freeze said. "I thought he was a good thrower last year, too. We were hoping he wasn't, but when you faced him live, you realized he was. He certainly does not mind standing in the pocket longer this year. They have worked on that to minimize some of the hits that he takes and him developing as more of a complete quarterback. You can tell work has been put in on him doing that."


"You have to let it come to you," Hilton said. "You have to be conservative. Everybody knows how he plays. He has actually played a lot more in the pocket this year. He still has the ability to escape and make plays happen. We have to sit back and let him come to us and make a play when it happens."


Manziel's favorite target in last year's game and again so far this season is 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore Mike Evans. The two connected for a 32-yard gain on 3rd-and-19 from the Texas A&M 3-yard line, as the Aggies rallied to win last year in Oxford.


A Freshman All-SEC selection last year, Evans leads the SEC and ranks third nationally in receiving yards (138.2 ypg). He also leads the SEC and ranks second nationally in yards per reception (24.7). He has also accounted for 10 plays of 30 or more yards, which leads the nation, including four plays of 40 or more yards.


"Everybody wanted us to copy Alabama's plan against A&M, and I wanted to show them on tape where 270 yards came from," Freeze said of Evans. "It was a guy going up and just making a play, which he's very good at. We saw that on 3rd-and-19 last year at our place. Senquez had perfect coverage on him, and he just went up over him. 


"We have got to think through that. We have thought about a lot of crazy things, trying to think out of the box a little bit on who we might put on him in some situations that can compete for a jump ball with him, so we're thinking along those lines. Certainly, even if you have him covered, there's no guarantee that he's not going to make the play." 


Who might the Rebels put on Evans? The Rebels' two starting cornerbacks, Hilton and junior Senquez Golson, are listed at 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-9, respectively. 


Senior Charles Sawyer, who also plays a lot at cornerback, is listed at 5-foot-11. Freshman Derrick Jones, at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, who switched from wide receiver to cornerback earlier this season, might also figure is some situations.


"You have to be physical with him right before he gets up in the air because he uses his body a lot, so you have to get your body into him before he does," Hilton said. "And if you know you can't get a pick, separate his hands, so he won't catch it."


D. Nkemdiche Nears Return From Injury

Head coach Hugh Freeze meets with the media after Wednesday's practice.


Doctors told sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche that a return for Saturday's game at No. 1 Alabama was possible. From there, it was rehabbing two or three times a day and doing everything possible to be back after suffering a torn meniscus during the season opener against Vanderbilt.


As early as Monday, when Nkemdiche did drills with linebackers coach Tom Allen, he realized it was possible. When he came into the training room on Tuesday morning, it wasn't swelling, then after practice on Tuesday, he came back this morning, and there was no swelling. 


After practice on Wednesday, both he and head coach Hugh Freeze were confident that he will make the trip to Tuscaloosa.


"I felt good," Nkemdiche said. "I felt better than I did yesterday, and it looked great this morning. it's exciting because I feel like tomorrow morning, it's going to feel better than it did today."


"He looked good" Freeze said. "He didn't have much swelling today. If that is the case tomorrow morning, we will put him on the travel squad."

Nkemdiche, an All-SEC performer last season, led the team with 82 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions, and it's not just that production, but the overall depth at the linebacker position, where the Rebels have missed him this season.


"We have missed him a lot," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "In some spots, we don't have much depth. When that happened, we had to move a guy that was playing Mike linebacker over to Stinger linebacker. D.T. (Shackelford) had to catch up on all the things that we got a thousand reps on."


In Nkemdiche's absence, Bryant has started the last two games at Stinger linebacker and leads the team with 26 tackles and four tackles for loss.


"We knew all along that through fall camp that was one of our strongest two-deep positions with those two guys there," Wommack said. "We actually created some defensive packages so they would both be on the field at the same time because Serderius has come so far. Having them both back would be huge for us."


Last season, led by Nkemdiche, Ole Miss ranked second in the SEC, tied for 11th in the nation, with 38 sacks. Through three games, the Rebels have just four sacks, which is a by-product of defensive scheme. 


Wommack said they have played a lot more zone coverage and haven't pressured as much as in the past. As a result, they haven't given up as many big plays, an area of emphasis this season. 


Through three games, Ole Miss has allowed 32 plays of 10+ yards, which is the second fewest in the SEC and tied for 14th fewest in the nation, and just 9 plays of 20+ yards, which is tied for the second fewest in the SEC, tied for 20th fewest in the nation.


Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack meets with the media after Tuesday's practice.


Sawyer Adds Depth At Corner


After missing games against Southeast Missouri and Texas, senior cornerback Charles Sawyer is back and will play Saturday. He adds depth and will split time at boundary corner with sophomore Mike Hilton. He also gives them more versatility and will help in nickel and dime situations.


"Charles is doing good," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "He's back and flying around, making plays in practice. We're looking forward to having him back. He gives us that much depth there at the cornerback position.

"In the Texas game, Mike (Hilton) and Senquez (Golson) played pretty much every snap. At times, they got winded, but with Charles being back, you can put him in the game, and you can rest either Senquez and Mike and try to keep fresh guys on the field."

Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones meets with the media after Wednesday's practice.


Hooks, Jones Progress At New Positions 


Freeze and his staff introduced two position changes last week, with junior Lavon Hooks now splitting reps between his original position, defensive tackle, and his new position, tight end, and moving from freshman Derrick Jones from wide receiver to cornerback.


Hooks is listed as a third-team defensive tackle behind juniors Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett and has also gotten reps at tight end, where the 6-foot-4, 302-pounder played some in high school.


"He is learning," Freeze said. "He is swimming a bit at TE, so we kind of scaled back for this week, but we do have one package for him. He understands that and gives us a different look. 

"This year, he will work on both offense and defense unless something changes. In spring, we'll make a call one way or the other."

Jones is listed as a co-backup at boundary corner with senior Dehendret Collins behind sophomore Mike Hilton, with senior Charles Sawyer also in the mix at both field and boundary corner. Freeze said Jones has been looking really good, and defensive backs coach Jason Jones likes his size at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds.


"The size and speed that he has, that's what you want at corner," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "We made the move a couple of weeks ago. The bye week, we had a chance to throw him in there and give him a ton of reps. He's coming along and doing a great job. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there and see what he can do."

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner meets with the media after Wednesday's practice.


Alabama's Blitzes


In Monday's press conference, Freeze said Alabama head coach has been on the cutting edge of defense, from new wrinkles every game, to multiple defenses, to the exotic blitzes that he likes to draw up on certain downs.


Offensive coordinator Dan Werner talked more about those blitzes and how tempo on offense can help counter them. 

"You can tell that they're communicating every play," Werner said. "As soon as a guy motions, they're going to change their coverage because they want to be in a certain look for every single formation and every single personnel group, so there's a lot of stuff going on with what they do. 

"The thing that we want to do is obviously play fast because it makes them think about those checks a lot faster."


Preparing For Texas


Head coach Hugh Freeze discusses what he expects with new Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who replaced Manny Diaz after their loss to BYU, 40-21, in Provo, Utah. Robinson was a co-defensive coordinator for the Longhorns in 2004, which ended with an 11-1 record and the Longhorns' first BCS Bowl and Rose Bowl win over Michigan. 


That season, Texas held its opponents to 320.1 yards per game (23rd in the nation) and 17.9 points per game (18th in the national). He most recently served as the defensive coordinator at Michigan from 2009-10 after four years as the head coach at Syracuse from 2005-08.


Wallace 'Overwhelmed' Last Year Against Texas


Through two games, junior Bo Wallace has completed 39 of 62 passes for 471 yards with two touchdown and no interceptions. Last Saturday against SEMO, Ole Miss scored on all four of Wallace's drives -- three touchdowns and a field goal -- before he rested the rest of the game. 


"I don't think we're at all where we need to be," Wallace said. "This week is a huge test for us. We're focused in. Everybody is excited about it, especially being in the rankings. We have a huge test, so we have a lot of work to do this week."


This week, the test is Texas, coming off a 40-21 loss to BYU, and Wallace said Texas probably feels like their backs are against the wall with the media scrutiny surrounding the team.


"It's frustrating," Wallace said of the change in defensive coordinator. "We were in meetings when we found out yesterday. We talked about it then, and the coaches are going to get a plan together of what they want me to look at and things like that."


In last year's 66-31 loss to Texas, Wallace completed 13 of 24 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions, and he described the feeling as "overwhelming."


"It was my first game against a big-time college football team," Wallace said. "I have played in big games now, and I know what to expect. I'm excited about it."


After last Saturday's win over SEMO, offensive coordinator Dan Werner said Wallace is light years ahead of where he was entering last year's game against Texas. On Monday, Wallace and Freeze said more of the same.


"I am way more prepared, and I have been in big games," Wallace said. "I have played against the great athletes like we're going to play against Saturday. I feel much more comfortable with it."


"Bo has played in some pretty big games at good places in this league in the year and a half since Texas last year, so all that experience has got to better prepare him for Saturday at Texas," Freeze said. "And that's the same for the rest of our team. I feel confident that we're better prepared. Does that mean the results will follow? I don't know. I'm confident we're better prepared mentally and physically."



Added Motivation For Both Teams



On the Ole Miss side, it's the motivation from last year's 66-31 loss to Texas.


"It was quite embarrassing to be honest," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "They pretty much came in and beat us like a drum. We had a lot of missed assignments. We weren't as physical, and we didn't play real well in the first half. It was just a bad game. We played a bad game."


"It's a huge motivator, just like playing Vanderbilt, who we lost by one to last year, and we really wanted to beat them," senior offensive tackle Pierce Burton said. "Now, we have turned our focus to Texas. Any team that we lost to last year, we have a real chip on our shoulder when we play them this year."


For Texas, it's last week's 40-21 loss to BYU. Defensively, Texas allowed 550 rushing yards on 72 attempts, a 7.6 yards per carry average, and four rushing touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Texas offense converted just 5 of 17 third-down attempts and 0 of 3 fourth-down attempts.


"We know we're going into a hostile environment, and those guys are going to be playing with a chip on their shoulder to play better from last week, so we have to be prepared," Johnson said.


"I expect them to be very emotional in front of their home crowd," Freeze said. "They will raise their game, and I expect to see the best that they can be. It won't be hard to get our guys up. They understand. We challenge them after the game the other night, and they will be anxious to get ready for this game and give them their best shot."


Other Notes & Quotes


Defensively against SEMO, Ole Miss allowed 13 points and 252 yards. Freeze was generally pleased with the defense, and the game plan entering Saturday's game against Texas centers on not allowing easy scores and stopping the run.


"We've got to quit allowing the easy scores. We allowed two that resonate on my mind. We had one of those the other night. Hopefully we can stop the run, that'll be our goal going in. We were not able to do that last year against them. We've got to be able to stop the run and not give up the easy score. They have some weapons and a lot of speed. They can also certainly throw it over the top of you any time. Hopefully we get a couple turnovers and we don't give up the easy play."


Sophomore Mike Hilton moved from Huskie to boundary corner, where he started last week against SEMO. This week, he is again listed as the starter there, opposite junior Senquez Golson at field corner. 


"Hilton played a good game the other night except for one play," Freeze said. "His eyes got bad, and he didn't get a read route on a kid, but he practiced at corner all of about three days. He had a solid game other than that one play."


Sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers returned from an ankle injury last week against SEMO, and he rushed for 56 yards on four carries, including a 10-yard touchdown run.


"He gives us more of a physical back," Freeze said. "He made some good runs the other night. He's still not healthy. You can see that, when he tried to really make a cut. He's still not 100 percent, but hopefully he will be better this Saturday night than he was this past Saturday night. Certainly, we like his style. It's a little different and more physical. He's tough to bring down. He's a good complement to Jeff (Scott) and Jaylen (Walton)."


One of the position battles both head coach Hugh Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack discussed after Saturday's scrimmage is Rover safety, where Freeze said sophomore Chief Brown is pushing sophomore Trae Elston.

"Chief will have a much bigger role than he had last year," Wommack said after Saturday's scrimmage. I see Chief as a starter who can play both either Rover or free safety. I really haven't decided who will start yet. Chief might be a starter in the first game."

Elston started nine game at Rover last season and finished fifth on the team with 61 tackles, along with six pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery.

"He's done well," Wommack said of Elston. "He knows the defense, inside and out. He's a physical guy. I kind of worry about the targeting rule with him, but he's just got to play smart in that area. I like Trae Elston. He's a good football player." 

Elsewhere in the secondary, at cornerback, senior Charles Sawyer has practiced, including some team drills, but has not participated in live contact drills. Injuries to Sawyer (shoulder) and junior Senquez Golson have given opportunities to other players at the position.

"I don't think we have been able to totally fix that because the injuries (Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson) to the two guys who have the most experience," Wommack said. "It was good situation for us that Bobby Hill and Anthony Standifer and some others got more reps than they would have gotten. We have to get those other guys back to have better depth in the secondary"

Sophomore Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins continue to run with the first-team defense, and Wommack has been pleased with the play of both.

"Burdette has tried to go against #12 (Donte Moncrief) every time out here, and you get better every day that you do that," Wommack said. "He's had some rough days because of that, Donte is one of the best players in the nation at wide receiver. Burdette is a competitor. He's grown up, and I don't see him put his head down like he used to last year. I'm excited about him. 

"Collins has been very solid to me. I wish we could have played him at corner last year. We didn't have enough guys, and we were trying to get speed on the field. I think we absolutely have him in the right spot now. He's tough, he's physical, and he's a competitor. He does everything we need that corner to do." 

Earlier in fall practice, sophomore Mike Hilton, who has gotten first-team reps at Huskie, also got some reps at corner, but Wommack said on Saturday they are training him, at this time, to play corner. Behind Hilton at Huskie, freshman Antonio Conner has gotten reps, including some first-team reps alongside Hilton in passing situations.

"He's going to play a lot," Wommack said of Conner. "He'll play in the first game. He has been exceptional, especially for a freshman, assignment-wise," Dave continued. "He has a physical nature and is a natural playmaker."

Up front, freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross both practiced Saturday, and junior defensive end C.J. Johnson is expected to practice Monday. Wommack said he feels good about the depth there, when everyone is healthy, and sees a big role for Nkemdiche.

"He is going to play a lot," Wommack said of Nkemdiche. "We are going to keep those guys fresh by rotating them. I see him absolutely in the two-deep."

Developing Depth At RB, Offensive Line

Compared to last season, offensive coordinator Dan Werner feels better about the depth at both running back and offensive line.

It's a crowded backfield, led by senior Jeff Scott, who rushed 846 yards last season, and bolstered by a trio of freshmen in Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. When asked on Saturday, Freeze said sophomore Jaylen Walton, right now, holds the No. 2 running back spot behind Scott.

On the injury front, Moore returned from concussion symptoms earlier this week, while sophomore I'Tavius Mathers (ankle) is out of his boot, and while he may not practice Monday, Freeze said he is close.

"Last year at this time, we had to move Randall Mackey to be the backup tailback," Werner said after Saturday's scrimmage. "This year, we have six or seven guys there. During the scrimmages, we're rolling them in and out. A guy knows if he doesn't make a right read or doesn't make a hard run, he's probably coming out and there's somebody else going in with a smile on his face." 

There has been a lot of competition on the offensive line in fall practice, notably at left guard, where both junior Aaron Morris and senior Jared Duke have gotten first-team reps. 

At other guard position, sophomore Justin Bell and senior Patrick Junen were listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. With Junen out, Bell has gotten most of the first-team reps, but Junen is expected to practice Monday. 

Earlier in fall practice, offensive line coach Matt Luke said they should have eight or nine players ready to go this season, and Werner shared the same sentiment on Saturday.

"Last year at this time, we had five, maybe six guys that could play," Werner said. "This year, we've got about eight or nine, with Patrick Junen out right now. But from what I hear, he'll be back next week. Any time you have that many guys playing, it's just human nature you're going to play a little bit harder. You've got somebody behind you." 

In the previous Saturday scrimmage, junior quarterback Wallace completed 6 of 11 passes for 125 yards with an interception. Throughout this past week, the coaches said they were pleased with Wallace, and it continued on Saturday.

"All of the quarterbacks looked better," Werner said. "I thought we protected the football better. We still have some issues with that, which has been kind of our camp motto - protect the ball. I thought for the most part (Bo) made good decisions, and we scored a lot of touchdowns. He completed a lot of balls, so I was pleased." 

As for the freshmen, along with the three running backs, Laquon Treadwell continues to impress at slot receiver, where he has gotten most of the first-team reps, and drew praise from Freeze after Saturday's scrimmage. 

Quincy Adeboyejo is in the rotation at outside receiver, along with junior Donte Moncrief, senior Ja-Mes Logan and sophomore Cody Core.

"He's a guy that was a big-time recruit but not as high as a couple of (others)," Werner said of Adeboyejo. "But, man, he came out right away and showed he's really fast, he's really explosive. He understands how to get into zones and make plays. He's another guy that will play a bunch." 

On the offensive line, Laremy Tunsil has gotten most of the second-team reps at left tackle and earned first-team reps in Saturday's scrimmage with senior Emmanuel McCray out due to a family issue. Austin Golson has gotten second-team reps at both right guard and right tackle.

At tight end, Evan Engram, tights ends coach Maurice Harris said earlier this week, has separated himself some as a pass-catcher. Also at the position, Christian Morgan, who enrolled at Ole Miss in January, is expected to practice on Monday, as he recovers from a knee injury.

"If he goes through the next two weeks and feels like he can function," Freeze said of Morgan playing this season. "We're missing a lot of body types like his, if nothing else for short-yardage and special teams. I would like to see him play."

Looking at WR, CB and RB

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Stable Of Backs


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


NOTABLE:


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


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


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


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


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


QUOTABLE:


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


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


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


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


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


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

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