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Maurice Harris Talks Tight Ends

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


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


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


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


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


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


Injury Updates


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


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


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



Wrapping Up Rebel Media Day

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Wallace Continues Recovery


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


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


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


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


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


One Goal For Nkemdiche


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


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


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


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


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


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


Close-Knit Offensive Line


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


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


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


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


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


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


Other Quotables:


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


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


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


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


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


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

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