Real Football

You know the football season is near when you hear pads popping on the practice fields. Today was the first day of full pads for the Ole Miss football team. Read about it inside.

If you are looking for sugarcoating, don't ask Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze a direct question.

You're going to get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Take his comments after Tuesday's practice, the first day of fall camp in full pads, for example.

Asked his first impressions as he was walking off the field, Freeze didn't pull any punches.

"We don't know how to take care of the ball and we are struggling at quarterback to get some consistency," Freeze began. "I thought our offense did a good job in our install period that we do every day, but when we got down to the team stuff, the defense dominated again.

"We just don't take care of the ball. Some of it is protection issues, some of it is decision-making on our quarterbacks' part. Some of them have been absolute awful decisions. I'm not surprised we are inconsistent, but you can be inconsistent without making decisions that kill your football team. Bad, bad decisions. I think a lot of it has to do with those live bullets being thrown at them. They are under a lot of pressure and I think they are losing their composure. They are struggling right now."

Those bad decisions resulted in several interceptions by the Rebel defense, which did get high praise from Freeze.

"Our defense played with a lot of energy and made plays. It wasn't a wash for offense - in one-on-one Red Zone, our receivers were fantastic. We haven't shown that in our team setting yet, but I think we will get to that point," he continued. "Defensively, though, I think our secondary continues to play with swagger and a chip on their shoulder. They continue to show up in team drills.

"We knew all along most of our experience was on the defensive side of the ball and hopefully they will carry us some until we can catch up offensively. If the defense can force turnovers like they do in practice, we will be alright."

There has also been an apparent issue with the backup centers in getting the shotgun snaps back to the QB. RG A.J. Hawkins was used at center some today and had difficulty with the snaps.

"I'm absolutely concerned. Evan (Swindall) seems to be fine with it, but the rest are having problems. We tried A.J. there today. I know he can do it because he has done it before, but he was rusty today. High and hard is not good for a snap and it didn't set a great tone for the offense early on," Freeze commented.

Barry Brunetti
File Photo

Freeze was anxious prior to fall drills to see what Cornerback Senquez Golson could do since he missed spring training. He has not been disappointed.

"Senquez is going to be good. He's playing with passion and he has the athletic ability to play at this level. We need him and I think he will be good," said Freeze.

Random Notes:

* Injury Update: RG Aaron Morris had to leave practice with a strained Achilles tendon and is day-to-day. WR Donte Moncrief (deep bruise on leg) did not practice again today, but he showed improvement today and is expected back soon. Rover Charles Sawyer (quad tear) and WR Collins Moore (torn labrum) are out for a while.

* Still no word from the NCAA Clearinghouse or ACT people on the status of signees Channing Ward or Temario Strong. Those decisions should be coming down the chute soon. "You would think any day now," said Freeze. (After practice, it was learned Strong has been cleared.)

* For what it's worth, it was disco day for the music of choice at practice. Gap Band, Ohio Players, etc.

* The battle for the number one right tackle slot on the offensive line seems to be ongoing, but today Pierce Burton took most of the reps with the number one offense over Patrick Junen, who is pushing the JUCO transfer hard.

* You separate the men from the boys in the Oklahoma drill, which the team got a taste of Tuesday. Standouts? It's hard to say in that tight-quarter scrum and pile of bodies, but TEs Jamal Mosley and John Youngblood got swarmed by the coaches the most enthusiastically after some crushing blocks on defenders. TB Randall Mackey also showed he can be an effective inside runner as well as a wide threat. He's a lot tougher than his frame would indicate.

* Freeze mentioned the secondary playing with a swagger, but he didn't mention some of the moving parts. Players who are creating a buzz and pushing for playing time are FS Tanner Burns, FS Cody Prewitt and the two rookies rovers, Quintavius Burdette and Trae Elston. Prewitt has definitely improved since spring and Burns has been super steady. Neither are number ones right now, but they are quickly gaining the confidence of the coaches to be viable options.

* It's not like the offense didn't make any plays. Barry Brunetti hit Terrell Grant for a 70-yard TD early on in team drills, Mackey ripped off a 20-yard run, Jeff Scott ripped off another chunk immediately following, but then the defense sort of settled in and created havoc with the offense.

Nick Parker
File Photo

* Cornerback Wesley Pendleton intercepted two passes Tuesday in team drills, one thrown by Bo Wallace, the other by Brunetti.

* Denzel Nkemdiche is currently backing up Aaron Garbutt at Stringer LB. Today, he made his presence known a little more with a QB sack on a blitz. He definitely figures into this year's plans.

* The move of Ralph Williams from OLB to DE has suited him well. He seems to have a natural knack there. Why? That's where he played in high school, so he knows the basics of the position.

* Burdette and Elston both got reps at Rover with the number one defense Tuesday. Both are filling in for injured Sawyer. Burdette probably has a slight edge at this time due to being at Ole Miss all summer and studying the playbook longer. Elston, however, is some kind of smooth athlete.

* We must include a caveat to Freeze's comments about the offense. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack is relentless in practice. The offense is getting the kitchen sink thrown at them. The offense isn't playing against much base defense, let's put it that way. Wommack sends extra people on most downs from a lot of different angles and positions, which is confusing the offense, for now, a lot.

* Perhaps the most talented "combo" LB on the team is Keith Lewis. By combo LB, we mean blessed with speed and size/strength. The problem right now is Keith missed all of spring with shoulder surgery and is in catch-up mode. When he gets it all down pat, expect him to make a depth chart move.

* Hit Of The Day: TB Nick Parker caught a short flat pass and headed up field. LB Serderius "Bird" Bryant laid the lumber, sending the big back flying. No doubt, the loudest pop of the practice. Crush.

* Highlight Of The Day: Freshman TB Jaylen Walton took an inside handoff and wriggled into the second level of the defense, where the show began. He put paralyzing moves on two defenders, broke two tackles and squirmed his way through traffic for a gain of about 40 yards, all on his own, all with great "shake." Eye-opening.

* Center Evan Swindall was the pseudo-spokesman for the OL today after practice. "We are getting there. We are starting to get it together more and more. It is frustrating against this defense because Coach Wommack throws so much stuff at you and you have to pick up so much real quickly," said Swindall. "It's just a matter of continuing to work hard and get in better condition. In Red Ball, we are not where we want to be yet, but we are getting better. We are in better shape now than we were in spring, for sure. We can go more plays without getting tired. It's coming, we just have to be patient and keep working."

* The Rebs will practice a little earlier tomorrow (Wednesday). Practice starts at 9:15 a.m. instead of 9:45.

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