Offense Steps Up

A motivated Ole Miss offense came to practice this morning and gave the defense a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call. They were there to play. Read about it inside.

There was something different Thursday morning about the Ole Miss offense as they took the field in the indoor practice facility.

The offensive coaches were all dressed in red.

In the offensive team meeting prior to practice, Offensive Line Coach Matt Luke told Coach Hugh Freeze to "put the ball down and let's go."

It's like this - the Rebel defense has been "the bully" all spring. Finally, finally, the offense had had enough.

Like the bull in the pasture, if you keep on antagonizing him, sooner or later, he's going to charge, and when he does, you better jump the fence.

"The offense won the day," said Freeze.

And while Freeze would not go as far to say they won it big, it was obvious to all early-morning onlookers, the Rebel offense made a giant leap forward.

"I don't know if turn the corner is the right phrase, but the offense certainly challenged the defense today," Freeze noted. "The defense really took it to the offense the last practice and we challenged the offensive guys. Are you going to respond? I thought they did - they played with great energy.

"Some of our installs today helped the offensive cause as well. We moved the pocket around some and that helps - the QBs weren't sitting ducks and we have some athletic quarterbacks. We had some players who made some plays today and that was very encouraging. Our offensive staff takes it personally when they don't do well and they got some things corrected and get some things done. It was good to see."

The Rebels were able to open things up and go vertically with the passing game more. Barry Brunetti hit WR Ja-Mes Logan twice for long TDs and then found Slot Korvic Neat over the middle for a 40-yard score.

"We had Done (Moncrief) open for another one but overthrew him," noted Freeze. "We are just now getting some of that in where we feel we can get it protected. We'd like to go four or five vertical, but we have some protection issues right now that has slowed that down. Today, we felt we could get a few vertical routes protected and we did.

Ja-Mes Logan
File Photo

"We want to do that three times a quarter - that's kind of who we are. We want to go vertical and see what happens. It was good to see some receivers make some plays and QBs make some good throws. Ja-Mes was really good in the vertical game."

One of the problems in the early going of spring was the sporadic, sometimes plain ineffective, production of the offensive line. Thursday, they got better.

"They had more intensity and seemed to know a little bit more what was going on around them. They seemed to be a little bit better with the tempo," Freeze explained. "Also, we got into our play-action stuff a little today and that helps them some. If you make it look and sound like run, the defense doesn't rush as hard. This is the first day we've gotten into that. The OL being tuned in better and the stuff we ran combined to make for a better day for them.

"We have so much we can do to help them, but we are going to stop what we are installing now and just get better at what we have already stalled. One thing I can say without looking at the film - the guys up front played with more passion today."

Random Notes:

* TB Jeff Scott returned to practice Thursday after having missed two practices with a high fever. His presence was felt. One play, in particular, stood out. LB Denzel Nkemdiche came on a blitz and Scott literally decleated him, causing a roar throughout the IPF. "Jeff is special to us in this offense. He's the guy right now. He gives us a spark and made some nice runs early that ignited us," Freeze allowed. "The block on the blitz was a thing of beauty and fired everyone up."

* Nicholas Brassell played cornerback for the first time Thursday after two days on offense. Freeze likes what he saw. "He's an NFL corner," Freeze said without hesitation. "We need to have a package for him on offense, get him touches, but he's so talented at corner. I think he just wants some touches - he's not against playing corner, but I told him we can use him on both sides of the ball."

Nick Brassell
File Photo

* DE C.J. Johnson got his bell rung Tuesday when his helmet came off in the middle of a play and he took an unprotected hit to the head. He sat out Thursday's practice, but is expected to be back for the next workout, Monday.

* The "theme" for the offense today was "Bombs Over Baghdad." The them for the defense was "Sharks In The Water." The bombers took home the trophy this time out. The sharks circled, and made some plays, but there was not blood in the water as there has been in previous practices this spring.

* Redshirt freshman Chief Brown is currently the number one free safety and had - along with Scott's block on Nkemdiche - the hit of the day. He absolutely smoked Neat on a short pass, the loudest pad popping of the day. "The defensive staff is high on Chief," Freeze said. "He's a Mississippi kid who takes a lot of pride in his school and this opportunity. He's a great kid, a winner. I will say this - he gets too aggressive at times and we are going to have to pull him in a bit, but I'd rather have him that way than tentative."

* DT Bryon Bennett (ankle) did not practice again today, but at least he is now out of his walking boot. . . QB Zack Stoudt (lower back) remains sidelined. . . OLB Rudy Wilson (ankle) also missed today. . . WR Tyler Baker (foot) was also out of his walking boot, but he didn't practice either.

* Tobias Singleton remained at tailback Thursday and had a couple of shining moments, once on a nifty 10-yard run, once on a great block of a blitzing corner in pass pro. Tobias has a lot of physical tools - harnessing them at TB is the challenge now.

* Thursday, at Striker (OLB), sophomore Serderius Bryant was working with the first team and Joel Kight was with the second team. We'll see how that battle shapes up as spring progresses. Aaron Garbutt and Nkemdiche are also in that mix, especially on blitzing downs.

* Tuesday, RT Pierce Burton had been demoted to second team. Thursday, he was back at number one at right tackle. Apparently, the temporary demotion motivated him. The OL was LT Emmanuel McCray, LG Aaron Morris, C Evan Swindall, RG A.J. Hawkins and RT Burton.

* Another depth chart change on defense was at defensive end. Jason Jones has manned the number one spot the first eight practices of spring, but today Cameron Whigham ran with the ones. . . Also, Bandit DE Gerald Rivers, after missing the last three practices at his Grandmother's funeral, returned to workouts and was the number one Bandit in drills.

* The offensive line has been taking a beating, by the defense and a little bit by the media who covers the Rebels on a daily basis. Today showed it's not as bad as it's sometimes portrayed. A new system, a new coach, a new tempo, the defense throwing everything at them from the jump, new personnel - all those factors take time to mesh. Thursday was the first sign that better days are on the way.

* It appears as if sophomore Collins Moore has jumped up the depth chart ladder as well. He's currently splitting time with Philander Moore and Korvic Neat in the slot, but another player who is quietly making plays is Jordan Holder. That positions has started to become more and more productive, it seems.

* QB Barry Brunetti had a big day vertically with the one offense. His long passes were on time and on target and resulted in three TDs. Bo Wallace also made some good throws, including a TD Terrell Grant, and Randall Mackey, as he does almost every practice, broke off a long run on a QB read play. Overall, the QBs were productive Thursday. "We gave them more time to operate and they made plays," said Hugh simply.

* While today's praise goes to the offense due to their improvement and making some plays, the defense was not idle. They did register a couple of QB sacks, they did knock down a few passes and CB Wesley Pendleton continues to make plays.

* The Rebs will take Easter off and resume practice Monday.

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