Donte's Peak

Donte Moncrief has always made plays on the football field. Dazzling plays. Turn-of-the-head plays.

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Such an ability is the reason Moncrief was rated a four-star recruit by Such an ability -- the ability to turn small gains into big ones -- is why Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt recruited Moncrief to Ole Miss.

Saturday, Moncrief showed off his play-making ability in front of some 4,000 fans inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The freshman wide receiver scored twice in the full-contact, 100-play scrimmage, including a nifty 35-yard scamper on an end-around run.

His second came through the air. Moncrief, running what he described as an in-and-out route, beat his defender and broke free. When he saw the defender bite on the fake, "I was like ‘It's over.' I knew it," he said.

He hauled in the nicely thrown pass from quarterback Randall Mackey and headed for a 57-yard score.

Moncrief's 35-yard touchdown run
Chuck Rounsaville

"He's a special guy, man," Nutt said of Moncrief. "We've been talking about our receivers since day one, the freshmen. Tobias Singleton, Nick Brassell, T.J. Worthy, Collins Moore, Donte Moncrief, every one of these guys is very, very good. Good hands, they compete. They're explosive.

"They're play-makers."

None more than the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Moncrief, who was inserted into the starting lineup this week.

Moncrief, of Raleigh, Miss., said he is playing faster now; a credit to the work he put in during the summer with quarterbacks Mackey, Barry Brunneti and Zack Stoudt, as well as senior leader Brandon Bolden and others.

"I'm playing a little faster, getting used to the speed, basically. I'm just getting used to how college football's played," Moncrief said. "Just learning, trying to learn from the older guys and get a role. I'm just playing hard and playing fast and trying to be physical."

Injuries proving problematic for Ole Miss defense:

Saturday was a good day for the Ole Miss offense. Not so much for the defense.

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix's bunch surrendered a total of five touchdowns on the day, most notably the two explosion plays to Moncrief.

However, it should be noted, the group is thin due to a number of injuries. Safety Damien Jackson and linebackers Joel Kight and Ralph Williams were a few of the names held out with various injuries, while defensive tackles Gilbert Pena (hand) and Uriah Grant (groin) played, but were far from 100 percent.

"It's tough, but it's also good in a way," sophomore linebacker Mike Marry, who had two tackles in the scrimmage, said. "It lets the younger guys get more reps than they usually would if the starters were all in. They play hard and fast. They might not know what they're doing sometimes, but they always play hard and fast."

Freshman linebacker Keith Lewis stepped in in place of Kight earlier this week when Kight suffered a hamstring injury. After a strong week, Lewis opened with the first team Saturday.

C.J. Johnson, fresh off his best week of practice thus far, rotated between the first and second team at middle linebacker, totaling a team-high 5 ½ tackles.

Mike Marry sacks QB Zack Stoudt during Saturday's scrimmage
Chuck Rounsaville

"It makes it harder to find out the true identity of the defense," Nix said of the injuries. "But as far as evaluating, we still evaluate the young men that are out there, and some guys like a Keith Lewis, a Serderius Bryant gets a new amount of reps, where normally they wouldn't get as many reps.

"I like all three of them. Sure do. I think they all have their special things about them. I think C.J. Johnson's only getting better and better. I think Keith Lewis is a kid that can play inside or outside, and Serderius Bryant is a guy that always shows up making plays. It's good to see those guys go out and compete on a high level."

Lewis, who had three tackles in the scrimmage, has impressed through two weeks of practices, and is pushing for a starting job come the team's season opener against BYU Sept. 3. However, Lewis isn't taking his current position on the depth chart for granted.

"Hard work and dedication," Lewis said. "I mean, I know I'm still not there yet. Just got to keep working and keep improving. I can't say I'm there yet, I can't say I'm the best linebacker. I just came in and things happened. I took a step forward and I'm in the first spot right now. But I've got to keep going. I've got (the starting job) now, but I can lose it another day."

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Lewis -- who was rated a three-star recruit and the No. 47 outside linebacker in the nation by prior to signing with Ole Miss -- said all three freshmen linebackers are coming along well.

"The game has slowed down a lot since the first week of camp," he said. "Finishing strong. Me, Serderius and C.J., we've gotten to know the system. We love it here at Ole Miss. I feel like we've improved from when we first started. We've gotten to know the playbook with the help of the older guys and Coach Nix."

Banged up or not, Lewis said the defense has to push forward.

"Even though they're injured, they're still there. Their presence is still known, just not on the field. D.T. (Shackelford), he's hurt but he's still there encouraging us," Lewis said. "Even though we may be a little thin in depth, we're in shape enough to keep going. When they come back, they'll just flow back in. There's no change."

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