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 Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon 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."
"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.
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."