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Depth On The Offensive Line

The story with the offensive line continues to be its depth.

Earlier in fall practice, offensive line coach Matt Luke said they should have eight or nine players ready to go this season, and that depth is taking shape on the practice fields, as senior Patrick Junen returned to full-speed practice on Monday.

"Right now, we're probably looking at three tackles and maybe four guards, so seven, then you always have got to have another center ready, so seven or eight is a fair number," Luke said Tuesday of the offensive line rotation.

Ole Miss returns both of its starting tackles from last season, seniors Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton, at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Luke said he expects them to be leaders this season, as they both enter year two as starters.

"For us to be good this year, our seniors have to play like seniors," Luke said. "I expect them to be leaders and role models for those young guys. Laremy (Tunsil) is going to play some, so they have to be able to handle that and help mentor him to be the player that he can be.

With McCray out due to a family issue, Tunsil earned first-team reps at left tackle in Saturday's scrimmage, and head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday that Luke said Tunsil graded out better than any freshman he has ever coached in a scrimmage. Tunsil also drew similar praise from one of his teammates.

"Laremy is a class act," McCray said. "He's definitely a talented kid. He has to keep a level head, learn how to practice harder and play hard when he's tired. As far as the fundamentals, there are little things here and there, but for him to be a freshman and as talented as he is, he will be just fine."

There has been a lot of competition at both guard positions, with junior Aaron Morris, senior Jared Duke, sophomore Justin Bell, senior Patrick Junen and freshman Austin Golson all getting reps there.

At right guard, Junen missed most of the spring and the first two weeks of fall practice due to injury, so Bell got most of the first-team reps there. On Tuesday, Junen got first-team reps due to Bell being held out with a minor back issue.

"He missed most of the spring and sat out," Luke said of Junen. "That's always hard. The good thing is he's played a lot of football. I don't think it will take him long once we get into the flow of the season. Obviously, conditioning is going to be an issue. He's not ready to play a full game yet. Hopefully, by the third or fourth game, he will be."

"Without a doubt," Luke said of Bell making a strong case to be the starting right guard. "He's been there, day in and day out. He's a great kid. He's competing his butt off. It's very, very important to him. I am very comfortable with Justin playing, if we had to start today."

Senior Evan Swindall returns at center, but behind him, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers and sophomore Ben Still have split reps there.

"I have still have got a few days to decide between (Robert) and Ben," Luke said. "They are going back and forth, splitting all those reps. It's a battle. I would say, right now, they're about even. I would feel comfortable with either going in there and fighting and competing. Obviously, we want Evan to get the majority of the reps, but he's always one play away, so they have got to be ready to play."

'Back Into The Swing Of Things'

After missing most of the spring and first two weeks of fall practice due to toe and wrist injuries, senior offensive guard Patrick Junen returned to full-speed practice on Monday.

"It was very frustrating," Junen said of missing practice. "Seeing my fellow seniors out there, guys who I have been here for four years with, going through it and not being out there with them, it's super frustrating. I'm finally getting back into the swing of things and trying to get back on the line."

After losing seasons in 2010 and 2011, then last year's 7-6 season, Junen said there's much more excitement going into this season.

"It's a great feeling seeing Coach Freeze come in and build a program that's winning," Junen said. "It's very exciting to be a part of that and be able to be there at the beginning of the transition and go through it."

Protecting Wallace, Increasing The Tempo

As Ole Miss prepares for Vanderbilt, senior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray said they're not letting the preseason hype and expectations get in their mind at all, especially on the offensive line.

"We gave up too many sacks, and we had a lot of little things that we could have fixed," McCray said. "Toward the middle and end of the season, we honed in on the little things and did them better. We're trying to pick off where we left off and get better from there."

One of those things, McCray said, is protecting junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who underwent offseason clavicle surgery.

"With him coming off the surgery, we're taking it personal already, just because we already kind of feel responsible for last year's injury," McCray said. "You definitely don't want to see your quarterback hurt. And with the quarterback situation that we have, we never know who's next after Bo. We don't know that right now, so we need to keep him healthy as possible."

Another of those things is tempo, which the offensive linemen have talked about throughout fall practice.

"We feel faster," McCray said of the tempo. "We're still getting into tempo shape. It's looking pretty good. We're definitely ahead of schedule, but we're not where we want to be. We had a couple of guys who were out with injuries and surgeries, like (Patrick) Junen and Aaron (Morris) that still got to get in shape. But for the most part, we're moving faster and looking better."

Treadwell Continues To Impress

Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell continues to make plays in the slot. He separates well, runs good routes and has shown an ability to catch the ball in traffic and also gain yards after the catch.


A couple of plays that stood out for him in team drills included a pair of touchdown grabs, one on a corner route throw from freshman quarterback Devante Kincade, the other on a swing pass from junior quarterback Bo Wallace.


"He's just getting more comfortable," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Treadwell. "He starts understanding things more. Quincy, also, made some good plays. I think the more comfortable they get, the faster they feel like they can play. And I think they see now how vital they are to us and how they fit into things. I thought they both had good days."


Kincade himself continues to impress and has gotten a lot of reps with the second-team offense and even a few with the first-team offense during fall practice.


"I'm real excited about him," Freeze said of Kincade. "I think he's going to be a really good player, and he wants to. He studies hard and works hard. He wants to be a leader."


A couple of notable plays from team drills included a long run by sophomore running back Jaylen Walton, then back-to-back completions from Wallace to Treadwell that resulted in a touchdown. 


On the defensive side, junior linebacker Keith Lewis had an interception in a red-zone drill, and junior linebacker Serderius Bryant delivered a big hit on freshman running back Jordan Wilkins.


In the 3-2-6 defensive look similar to yesterday, there were similar changes in personnel. Lewis replaced senior Mike Marry at linebacker, but also sophomore cornerback Anthony Standifer was an extra defensive back on the outside and moved sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette from outside to inside alongside sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton.


"I'm still concerned," Freeze said of the cornerback position. "We're real thin there. We really need to get Senquez and Charles back, and we're working hard toward that. But at the same time, you know you got to have some depth.


"I think we may have to consider moving Cliff (Coleman) back out there a lot more than we have. I think (Anthony) Standifer has had a good week, and I like his length, particularly in the red zone."


Conyers Gets Second-Team Reps At Center


Redshirt freshman Robert Conyers, who has worked primarily at right tackle, got second-team reps at center behind senior Evan Swindall.


"It's a little new, just trying to get used to it," Conyers said of the move. "I went from tackle to center, and just trying to get on the field, whichever way Coach Luke uses me."


Conyers said the move was prompted this past summer by offensive line coach Matt Luke.


"Coming in, Coach Luke told me to be ready to play everything," he said. "And this past summer, Coach Luke told me to start snapping. Back in workouts, I would go with Evan Swindall to get it right. Now, it's time to step up and starting it a little bit. It's just learning how to get the snaps down."


The biggest adjustment, Conyers said, is just the snapping and getting the ball right, adding that blocking responsibilities also changes with the move from tackle to center.


"Dealing with the bigger guys," he said of the adjustment. "Trying to get over and making the calls right. At tackle, you're just seeing the edge pressure and the blitzes. But at center, you got to see everything, and you got to push the tempo of the ball. I think that's where I can help a lot is running up and pushing the tempo of the ball."


NOTABLE


In a punt coverage drill, sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette and senior cornerback Dehendret Collins remained the outside gunners. And freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche remained one of the three personal protectors, alongside senior linebackers Mike Marry and D.T. Shackelford.


Senior Jared Duke got first-team reps at left guard ahead of junior Aaron Morris for the second straight day. Freshman Austin Golson got second-team reps at both right guard and tackle.


Shackelford got reps at defensive end for the second straight day, primarily with the second-team defense.

Replacing Sanders At Receiver

Junior wide receiver Vince Sanders suffered a broken collarbone during one-on-one drills Saturday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Sanders started 12 games last season and finished with 39 catches (3rd on team), 504 receiving yards (2nd on team) and four touchdowns (2nd on team).


"It's certainly a blow," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Sanders' injury. "The guy knew everything we did, and he could do at a fast pace. And he had a great offseason. Hopefully, he only misses three games. We got that opening week early, so maybe he can be back for our fourth game.


"We have some good young kids, and they will get ready to play. Hopefully, we stay healthy and not lose anyone else from that spot."


Freeze said senior Ja-Mes Logan is prepared to play both outside and inside receiver. He also said they have to have four guys ready to play at outside receiver and mentioned Logan, junior Donte Moncrief, sophomore Cody Core and freshman Quincy Adeboyejo as players for that role.


"He is a smart kid out there on the football field," wide receivers coach Grant Heard said of Logan. "He can handle a lot. I can put him in any spot, and he'll know what to do. And he's' the ultimate team player, because it doesn't matter to him. He just wants to get out there and compete."


With Sanders's injury, senior Korvic Neat's role will increase in the slot, and two other receivers who will look to step up are sophomore Cody Core, who played mostly on special teams last season, and junior Collins Moore, who missed most of last season with injuries to both shoulders.


"I need Cody to be more consistent, but he knows what to do, but be more consistent making plays," Heard said. "He can be a guy that can be a big-play threat for us."


"Collins, I'm still trying to figure out and make sure he's good. He's trying to get back into the swing of things from missing spring, but he's out there and looking good. He knows how the offense runs, so he can do some things to help us, too."


The two freshmen, Adeboyejo and freshman Laquon Treadwell, Freeze said have got to get ready to play at outside and inside receiver, respectively.


"They pick things up quick," Freeze said of the freshmen. "They're quick learners. And of course, they have the skill level, which helps. I expect them to be very good players."


"They're freshmen," Heard said. "When things start going fast and get hectic, they make mistakes, but they are picking the offense really quick. And they're making plays out there, which is good to see. I think they're having fun. This offense is easy, but it's different for them. When things get hectic, they have to learn to slow it down in their minds."


NOTABLE:


Sunday was the first practice with shoulder pads.


Senior Pierce Burton was limited, so redshirt freshman Robert Conyers got some first-team reps at right tackle. Conyers is also getting reps at center behind senior Evan Swindall.


With senior Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette got first-team reps at cornerback for the second straight day.


On the defensive line, senior Cameron Whigham and sophomore Channing Ward got first-team reps at defensive end, and junior Bryon Bennett and sophomore Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 


Behind them, freshman Robert Nkemdiche, junior Carlos Thompson and sophomore John Youngblood got second-team reps at defensive end, and juniors Lavon Hooks and Carlton Martin at defensive tackle.


Five newcomers were among those who got reps in the back seven on the second-team defense, with freshman Tony Connor at Huskie, junior Quadarias Mireles and freshman Bobby Hill at cornerback, and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman Derrick Jones at safety.


In a kickoff return drill, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running backs Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore and sophomore safety Trae Elston got reps as the deep men.


QUOTABLE: 


Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace: "We really saved him until the end of practice today, and he seemed to be fine. He wasn't complaining, or anything. We just have to take things slow."


Heard, on flexibility at wide receiver: "The good thing about this offense is once they know it, they can be put in anywhere. Ja-Mes, Donte, Cody, I can move around, and they can go in and fill that spot."

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