Effort, energy

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze could question several different things about the Rebel football team this spring, but he can't fuss about the effort and energy his team is giving him. In fact, he praises those attributes almost daily.

The offensive execution has been inconsistent.

The defense is learning some new schemes and needs to get them down pat before spring training ends April 13th.

Too many players are on the injury list.

More depth is needed just about across the board.

The tight end position is in limbo.

There are enough things to put under the heading of "needs improvement" if you are Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze, but the effort and energy he's getting from his troops this spring is not one of them.

Witness an 8 pm. practice session in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Monday night after the Easter break as a prime example.

The Rebels had not practiced since Thursday and you might expect and Easter hangover, so to speak, but instead the squad came out ready to work.

"The energy out here was real good and has been all spring," said Freeze, who has mentioned enthusiasm, spirit, energy and effort after just about every spring workout. "They are giving us what they have to give.

"There are a lot of things we can do better - we are struggling to throw and catch, protect and we are installing some pretty complicated stuff to add to our package on defense - but as long as they will give us this kind of effort, we will get there."

Freeze stepped back a little from his hard evaluation of performance briefly.

"We did have a few big plays on offense tonight - a nice run by Jeff Scott, a good catch by Ja-Mes Logan and a TD catch by TE Matt Brown," he said, "but the bottom line is that we are way too inconsistent offensively.

I'tavius Mathers
File Photo

"Barry Brunetti and Maihkail Miller have been inconsistent throwing the ball. They have good tools, we know that. Miller is young. We just have to keep coaching them and help them find a way to be more consistent."

If there has been a bright spot on the offensive side, it's the stable of running backs at the coaches' disposal, including sophomores Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers.

"We have two good ones there. I'Tavius is gaining weight and becoming a more physical back. He's also got a good burst," said Hugh. "Jaylen has that start-stop speed and good vision. They are progressing nicely. We did not miss on them in recruiting, for sure."

Two high school seniors - RB Mark Dodson and TE Christian Morgan - joined the team in January and are going through their first spring, trials and tribulations and all.

"I'm real pleased with them. They are going to be good players, but they are going through the freshman blues right now. Homesick, the grind, school, tutors, practice, meetings, rinse and repeat," said Freeze. "They are two great kids and they'll get it, but they are very, very young."

Tight end remains an area that needs shoring up, but has a long way to go.

"We are so young there. I can't fault their effort, but there is a lot of work to be done at tight end before fall," Hugh continued. "We need to get those other two signees in here and add to the pool and keep working and developing."

Donte Moncrief
File Photo

Another mid-year player, Slot Receiver Q. Mireles, is also feeling his way.

"He's starting to show up a little, but he doesn't know what he's doing yet, so it makes him play half speed," Freeze added. "He was with the defense in meeting rooms until the second day of spring training, so he has some catching up to do."

QB Bo Wallace is not practicing, but he's watching and taking mental reps.

"The knock on him last year was some of his decision making. Every rep he should be looking at coverages, what to look for, where to go with the ball post snap. Those things are important," Freeze closed. "I think he is doing a good job of that and maturing some."

Random Notes:

* WR Donte Moncrief tweaked his shoulder in last Thursday's scrimmage and was held out of practice Monday night. "It's nothing serious. We just need to rest him and get him well," Freeze stated. "We need him healthy, obviously."

* DT Issac Gross, who has missed a good chunk of spring training so far due to the residual affect of offseason surgery, declared himself fit and ready to go after the Easter break. He was running with the number two DL Monday night and looked, well, fit and ready to go.

* Freeze got the juices flowing after the break with a healthy period of one-on-one. No holds barred contact.

* Morgan tweaked his knee in Thursday's scrimmage, but was back at it Monday night. He made one diving catch in team drills and continues to show good hands when the ball is thrown his way.

* DT Bryon Bennett started off the 2012 season slowly. He wasn't getting much action. Roughly halfway through, the light came on for the then-sophomore and by the end of the year he was starting. He has picked up where he left off in the fall. In team drills, he had a QB sack for a 10-yard loss, shooting through the OL like a bullet and tapping out - no contact on QBs - Miller before he could get his feet set.

* On the first play of team drills (Red Ball), Mathers ripped off a 40-yard run right up the gut by breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage and showing the burst Freeze was referencing earlier.

* Brunetti missed the first half of practice for a night class he is taking. Miller got the first-team reps the whole night.

* Martavius Newby, a member of the hoops team who has come out for football, got a few reps tonight and looked as if he has some potential. He blitzed off the edge from his OLB spot twice and nearly got to the QB both times, forcing one bad pass and rushing another.

* D.T. Shackelford is starting to show flashes of the "old" D.T., not just physically, but mentally as well. He's getting more tuned in to what to do and his "personality" on the field is returning. You can see his leadership starting to surface and his confidence rise. He's playing more relaxed and instinctive now as well. Good first steps for Shack in his comeback bid.

* WR Terrell Grant remains sidelined with a hamstring pull.

* The wide receivers need more depth. Sophomore Cody Core is on a path to relieving some of that. With Moncrief out tonight, Core got reps at his spot and produced one TD catch of 40 yards, making the catch despite tight, good coverage. Like D.T., now that he knows what to do, his play is improving quickly. What does Moncrief think of his protege? Core just needs to play and keep learning.

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