‘Like I never left'

The Ole Miss defense was full of energy Tuesday afternoon. With good reason.

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Defensive backs Charles Sawyer, Wesley Pendleton and Cliff Coleman all returned to practice. Sawyer and Pendleton were immediately inserted into the starting lineup at safety and cornerback, respectively.

"I thought Charles looked really good," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I thought Wesley was 80 percent. Cliff was close to 80, probably. I thought Charles was the farthest along, looked like to me."

Sawyer, who sat out most of August practices due to a quad injury, said he feels like his old self. Sawyer suffered the same injury in the summer, so he had an idea of how to attack the rehabilitation process.

"I knew I was going to be back," he said. "I had this injury before, early in the summer. Got good, and then it happened again. Everything happens for a reason. I went over film while I was out. You can't complain about it.

"It was fine, just got to get back in the groove of things. But I still know the plays and stuff like that. It was fun. I'm happy to be back."

Sawyer, a preseason All-SEC third team selection by Athlon and Phil Steele, started all 12 games last season.

He finished third in the Southeastern Conference with 13 passes defended, and tied for 23rd in the nation and sixth in the conference with four interceptions. He ranked second on the team with 70 tackles.

Ole Miss finished 2-10 a year ago, which Sawyer said was a driving force in his quicker-than-expected return for the Rebels' season-opening game against Central Arkansas Saturday at 6 p.m.

"It's been a while. After that (final) game (of 2011), you know you're not going to a bowl," he said. "It's a long process from there to where we are now. I'm just anxious to get out there and play with these guys and play for these new coaches."

Charles Sawyer
Ben Garrett

Freeze is anxious, too.

The first-year head coach praised his defense following practice Tuesday. However, he felt the offense went through the motions.

"Defensively, excellent. Their energy was great," he said. "I thought their attention to detail was super. They were very coachable.

"Offensively, I don't know. We didn't have any pizzazz, no energy, no bounce in our step like it's game week. That was a little disappointing. I'm sure they'll bounce back tomorrow."

Junior running back Jeff Scott has been dealing with a nagging back injury for three weeks. An x-ray showed nothing of significance.

"He tried to go today," Freeze said. "I was proud of him for that. But he's not himself. We'll just see how the week goes on. But if we had to play tomorrow, I don't know if he'd be a factor in it."

Unlike in spring practices, when depth at running back was a concern, Freeze can find comfort in senior Randall Mackey, freshmen Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers and veterans Nick Parker and Devin Thomas.

"We'll miss his home run threat. A healthy Jeff Scott can really run," Freeze said. "I think we're a lot better off (with depth). But until we play in a game and see how those young guys do, you really don't know.

"I certainly feel like they've had good enough camps to where they'll go in and compete. I don't know how they're going to perform in front of 60,000. I certainly feel a lot better now than I would have in April."

Random Notes:

* Running back isn't the only position that would take a hit if Scott were to miss Saturday. The junior, who led Ole Miss in rushing last season, is also one of the team's primary kickoff and punt returners. Freeze said should Scott miss the season-opener, CB Senquez Golson, DB Trae Elston, WR Philander Moore and WR Korvic Neat are the obvious candidates to fill in. RB Jaylen Walton was mentioned as an option as kick returner.

* Freeze still intends to name a starting quarterback following practice Wednesday. Who takes the first snaps is of little significance, however. Both will play, as has been often repeated by Freeze. "It's time to say who's going to take the first snap," Freeze said. "I'll be careful not to say he's the starter. Y'all can say that."

* There's plenty of competition at defensive tackle, with a six-man rotation of freshmen Issac Gross and Woodrow Hamilton, sophomores Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin and seniors Uriah Grant and Gilbert Pena.

Trae Elston
Ben Garrett

Of note, Bennett and Martin were rotating with the first team at one starting spot Tuesday. Gross was manning the other, followed by Pena. Grant is slowly working his way back from shoulder surgery.

* Sawyer said he felt no ill-effects from his quad injury during practice. Helping matters, the training staff has kept a stationary bike on the sidelines at practices to keep him warm, should he need it. "Any time I feel like I'm getting cold, I just warm it up with the bike. I didn't feel it at all today."

* While he was out, Sawyer said he watched lots of film. Central Arkansas runs a spread offense. But unlike Freeze's offense, which, put simply, is a constant two-minute drill, Sawyer sees a rather basic variation in the Bears.

"Spread. They're pretty basic. In the skill positions, they have good receivers. They have a good running back, they have a good quarterback. He can run. They don't go fast like Coach Freeze, so that's a plus on our end. We'll be in shape for it."

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