Smooth Landing

Senior E.J. Epperson was a reserve tight end during spring practices in April. He had no future at the position, really. No light at the end of the tunnel.

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Four months later, he's running with the first team defense, having moved to defensive end in a position switch he recommended to first-year head coach Hugh Freeze.

"I couldn't have ever imagined starting in the first game," Epperson said. "I'm grateful, man. I'm blessed."

He's finally found his position after years of searching. For the majority of his career, he wasn't sure if he ever would.

"If a player ever tells you that he doesn't get down, that's just unheard of. I've definitely been down a lot," he said. "I've just continued to pray about it and come out here every day and give coach a great attitude, be humble and give all the effort I can give out here."

If Ole Miss' season-opening game against Central Arkansas were Saturday, Epperson would start. He still has a week to go. But he's getting close. He's held his spot over veteran Cameron Whigham for nearly two weeks now.

"I think about it every night, man. I just continue to pray that I hold my spot," he said. "It's still kind of shocking when I think about how much adversity I've been facing, from fullback to tight end to defensive end. Now, I'm running with the ones.

"I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be an Ole Miss Rebel. It's crazy right now. All the hard work I put in this summer, it's starting to pay off."

Epperson gave credit to fellow defensive ends Jason Jones, Carlos Thompson and Whigham for aiding in the smooth transition to his new position, as well as former Ole Miss defensive end Derrick Burgess, who he's relied on for tips with his technique.

From his stance to his footwork to his hands, everything is new to Epperson. But for what he's lacked in fundamentals, he's made up for with effort. His motor never stops.

Dave Wommack
Chuck Rounsaville

"E.J.'s just one of those blue-collar, hard-core workers," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "He's going to play his rear end off every single snap and give you the best he's got out there. Is he going to be the best player in the SEC? No. But he's going to be tough and do what you tell him to do."

Defensive end isn't completely foreign to Epperson. He played the position in high school, primarily used as a pass rusher.

He's drawn on his experience as an accomplished high school basketball player as well, using similar positioning techniques when matched against opposing offensive tackles or guards.

But he's a work in progress. He'll say as much. He's still learning the nuances of run-block recognition, playing on his toes, etc.

"Fundamentally, as far as pass rushing, I feel I'm pretty much there," he said. "The only thing where I'm lacking is reading my run blocks; taking on those tackles and not stopping my feet."

For the most part, however, the transition has been relatively seamless. So much so, when looking back at his career, Epperson wishes he would have made the move a long time ago.

"I wish I would have made this transition a long time ago, maybe even when I first got here. Sometimes I wish I wouldn't. I could have some bad knees right now. Instead of cutting the guys, now I'm going to be the one getting cut."

Freeze pleased with Thursday's practice:

Ole Miss continued its preparation for Central Arkansas with an energetic full-pad practice Thursday afternoon.

Freeze again praised wide receivers Ja-Mes Logan and Vincent Sanders, as well as quarterbacks Bo Walllace and Barry Brunetti, save for one poor decision by Wallace.

"Quarterbacks took care of the ball, except for one decision Bo made," Freeze said. "Right now, it's about that ball and taking care of the football. Hoping to get through some practices here before we play where we take care of it totally. That was the only mishap today, but it was just a very, very poor decision."

Freeze reiterated his intention to play both Wallace and Brunetti when the team opens its season Sept. 1. As far as how he'll balance the reps, well, he said it depends on the flow of the game.

"It kind of depends on whoever we decide to start the game with. If they start out on fire, obviously he's going to get another shot at it the next series," he said. "If it doesn't go quite as well, the other one's probably going to be quicker to get in there.

"They'll both get in there, but it kind of depends on the flow of the game. But when a quarterback gets hot, you certainly don't want to do anything to stop that momentum."

Collins Moore
Ben Garrett

Sophomore wide receiver Collins Moore returned to practice in full Thursday, while senior cornerback Wesley Pendleton "looked good," according to Freeze, in the drills in which he participated.

"Collins looked good today," he said. "Really looked good. Moved around good, didn't seem to have any pain, caught a couple of balls. Wesley Pendleton looked good working around in his drills. I think Charles (Sawyer) is doing well. Cliff (Coleman) seems to be the slowest of the three right now."

Secondary depth a concern for Wommack:

Of all the positions on the roster, none have been hit harder by injury than secondary.

Pendleton, Sawyer and Coleman have all missed extended time in fall camp due to injury. Pendleton and Sawyer are starters.

Junior college transfer Louis Covington has worked with the first team in place of Pendleton. Sophomore Cody Prewitt and redshirt freshman Chief Brown have been used as the team's primary safeties in Sawyer's absence.

"I'm concerned about it right now because there's three of them that aren't there," Wommack said. "Charles is a very good football player. So is Wesley Pendleton. Cliff's brought a lot to us, too. None of the three have practiced with us, some of them several weeks.

"Certainly we need to get those guys back, ‘cause anytime you're playing real young guys like that, no matter how many practices we've been out here, they're freshmen. They haven't been in enough experiences in the game. So it's a big concern for me if we don't get those guys back."

Ward has a role:

Freshman defensive end Channing Ward didn't receive clearance by the NCAA until late last week. He's behind.

Even so, Wommack envisions a role for the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Ward.

"He looks like they're supposed to look," he said. "He's going to get some playing time. I'm not stupid."

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