Hump Day

A couple of key players were missing from Tuesday's practice, but they were back in the fold Wednesday as the preparations for Saturday's Ole Miss-Arkansas game ramped up a bit. Read about it inside.

Once a team gets somewhat established halfway through the season, it has a certain look to it.

Recognizable. All its own. Distinct.

The Rebel defense did not have that look Tuesday when junior Cornerback Charles Sawyer (ankle) and freshman Rover Trae Elston (knee) were sidelined and unable to practice.

The look returned Wednesday.

Both Sawyer and Elston were at their familiar spots and all was well with the Rebel defense, except CB Senquez Golson was out sick, but should be back Thursday.

"Those two guys are important to us, obviously," said Coach Hugh Freeze, who wasn't sweating their absence Tuesday but was relieved to see them back Wednesday. "They understand what we are trying to do, they have seven games of experience this year in our system and they are good athletes, productive players."

Freeze said Tuesday the Rebels started sluggish and ended OK, but today the squad showed more energy.

Ferbia Allen
File Photo

"Today was much better. No question. Obviously, Wednesday is not as much of a grind as Tuesday, but today everything was better from start to finish," Freeze noted.

Freeze said the ball is now in the coaches' court.

"We have to evaluate our plan tonight. When you have two weeks off, sometimes you come up with so much stuff that is good on the board, you forget the last two weeks we have played pretty decent not doing a whole lot," he explained. "We have to get some stuff out of the plan.

"What we did today was not drastic, but we nut to cut loose about five or six things that looked pretty good to us during the open week. We don't want to overload the guys."

Freeze was asked about the Hog defense.

"They have shown steady improvement despite losing two starting linebackers who were two of their leaders. They rallied around each other during those losses," Hugh noted. "There's little doubt they have improved the last few weeks."

Random Notes:

Trae Elston
File Photo

* What offensive numbers mean the most to Freeze? "Besides points, first down production, third down percentage conversions and our percentages in the Red Zone," he said. "If you study us, we have been good on first down. We were leading the conference in third down conversions despite dropping off to around 50% the past two weeks. We have to make sure our third down plan is good and will look at that real closely in the morning. First down production is huge for us because then we can get into our tempo stuff if we are productive on first down. We had 41 first downs against Auburn so that means you are moving the chains."

* We had an oversight in yesterday's practice report, omitting an injured player who has returned to action. OG Justin Bell, who is in the offensive line rotation and missed practice last week during the open week, returned to practice Tuesday. Our bad.

* A veteran player who is getting a lot of praise for steady improvement lately is one Ferbia Allen, a senior tight end who splits time with senior running mate Jamal Mosley. While Jamal has more catches (10 to Ferb's 6), Allen has gained the confidence of the coaches in terms of being a technician in the run game with his blocking. Good to see Ferbia, who has seen the good and bad of Ole Miss football during his career, go out on a good note, so far.

* We get asked a lot how the rehab of LB D.T. Shackelford is going. We made a note last week about how he believes he could play right now and is very pleased with his progress, but what we did not mention was his non-stop pursuit of getting back not only to where he used to be, but better than the two ACL surgeries he has had in the last two years. There are three practice fields. The team uses two of them for a practice. On the third one, every day - sweating to exhaustion - is D.T. and a member of the strength and conditioning staff going through different running drills to continue to strengthen the knee and comeback better than he ever was. His dedication is something pretty special.

* Some may have had the opinion the scout team scrimmage last Thursday during the open week was a time-killer and just an opportunity to rest the guys playing in the games and give the younger guys an opportunity to let out some pent up contact. Not so. It was graded and evaluated in detail by the coaching staff and one player will be rewarded this week with some playing time due to his effort. Freshman RB Carlos Davis, who has speed to burn, will be on the kickoff team against Arkansas. Good job by the young man.

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