Sluggish Start, Fast Finish

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze said he could have been imagining it, but he thought the Rebels started sluggishly at Wednesday's practice. They did, however, finish with a flurry.

Freeze admits he may have "talked himself into" believing the Rebels were dragging around to start Wednesday morning's practice, but, regardless, they closed strong and left the head man in the pretty decent mood.

"I wasn't thrilled with the early energy. It's that time in spring ball when the tough have got to get going. We are beat up a little bit, but so is everyone else," said Freeze. "Practice picked up as it went on. Maybe it was just me. I have a tendency to talked myself into that kind of stuff sometimes (laughs).

"We did pick it up quite a bit as the practice progressed."

The Rebels closed practice with a 2nd-and-7 "scrimmage" that was productive.

"I thought Jaylen (Walton) made some good plays for first downs and Barry (Brunetti) made some good decisions to move the chains," he commented. "Vincent Sanders made some nice catches for first downs. The offense won its share of the 2nd-and-7 series so that was good to see for a change, some improvement for sure."

Besides the injuries, Hugh was lamenting the depth at certain situations, partly caused by the injuries in spring.

Right now, WR Donte Moncrief (shoulder), OL Aaron Morris (shoulder), QB Bo Wallace (shoulder), OL Patrick Junene (sprained toe), DT Carlton Martin (toe), WR Terrell Grant (hamstring), DE C.J. Johnson (broken fibula), OL D.J. Bailey (knee), TE Taz Zettergren (ankle and Slot Korvic Neat (knee) are out of the lineup.

"We don't have much depth at some positions and it's taking its toll on us now in spring," said Freeze. "We have to be realists. We were so fortunate last year that we played basically with three wideouts and five offensive linemen all year. That's rare.

Pierce Burton
Bruce Newman

"We are seeing now how getting a few injuries can change our team drastically. We are still a couple of recruiting years away from having the kind of depth we really need at some of these spots. Right now, we have to be physical and get after it, but in the fall, we will have to be smart with how we go about things from a physical standpoint."

There has been a lot of talk about the "need" for a big back, a power back. Freeze doesn't see it that way, definitively.

"Of course, we'd like to have all types of backs, but we're not a power team. I am as confident running a zone play with one of our small guys as I would a bigger back. We are who we are and to me it's really more about how comfortable you are in what you are asking your offensive line to do," he explained. "I know this - I'm excited about our backs. Our young ones are good, even though Mark Dodson has struggled a little with a sprained ankle the past couple of days. We don't have to have a big back, so to speak, let's be smart and play to the strengths of the O-Line."

Freeze called the troops up after a couple of periods of practice for a heart-to-heart.

"We talked about the little things and how important it is to do them right, not just on the field but off the field as well," he explained. "Is your locker clean" Are you taking care of your apartment or dorm room?What decisions are you making off the field academically and with their social choices.

"We are going to be consistent with those messages. I felt they needed a reminder this morning."

Random Notes:

* CB Senquez Golson is having a very good spring. What has helped him progress? "He's become more consistent with the little things. He still has work to do in that area, but we have several like that. I like his progress," said Freeze. "I also believe him not playing baseball has helped him on the football field. Let's be clear - if he wants to do both, we will support it, but certainly it helps him at corner to be out here in spring."

* Most Improved on defense thus far through halfway mark of spring? It has to be backup FS Chief Brown. He's playing fast and physical and he knows what to do now. He is pushing Cody Prewitt and Trae Elston (Chief can play Rover as well) for a spot on the defense and has moved up the ladder with a bullet.

Robert Conyers
Bruce Newman

* How about his for a nickname? Sophomore CB Anthony Standifer is known as "Chewy," not after the Star Wars character - he's too young for that. It's just something that stuck when he was in high school.

* From a consistency and depth standpoint, it almost goes without saying the linebackers are leading the way on the defensive side of the ball. Denzel Nkemdiche is quickly earning the tag as "special" with instincts that you can't coach. Right now, he is a "can't lose him" player in the minds of the coaches. . . MLBs Mike Marry and D.T. Shackelford are almost identical in skill set and production. . . MLB Keith Lewis is making his mark as a third-down specialists in coverage. . . Serderius Bryant has gone from a loose cannon to steady and sure. . . Temario Strong shows promise for the future and immediately on special teams.

* Everyone is waiting on DE Channing Ward to "break out" this spring. While he has shown some improvement, he really hasn't turned it loose like was anticipated. The coaches are saying that time is coming, but they are getting antsy to see him come out of the shell of indecisiveness.

* Fans have inquired about the status of OL D.J. Bailey. Although his injury was not as severe as D.T. Shackelford's, he has had two ACL surgeries and is in the early-to-middle stages of rehab from the second one. Don't look for him to be ready until fall camp and even then he may not be 100%.

* In an area that is as thin as Rice paper, JUCO transfer Center Austin Douglas has shown signs of being able to be a steady backup for Evan Swindall. OL Coach Matt Luke has given his nod of approval, so to speak, on Austin's early showing and performance this spring.

* Did you realize Nick Brassell played his freshman year at Ole Miss at 165 pounds. In the 6-0 to 6-1 range height-wise, that's rail thin. Now, he's up to 180 and is more physical, naturally. His goal for fall is 185.

* With Morris and Junen out and McCray in class until the last 30 minutes of morning practices, the number one OL went like this today: LT Pierce Burton, LG Jared Duke, C Swindall, RG Justin Bell, RT Robert Conyers. Two starters available at practice today. The flip side is valuable reps for the backups who are now thrust to first-team status.

* The three-deep personal protectors on the punt team are important cogs. Right now, they are Marry, DT Lavon Hooks and TE Christian Morgan.

* The top candidates for punt return duties are Jeff Scott, Brassell, Q. Mireles and Elston.

* The top candidates for the two outside gunner positions on punt team are speedsters Q. Burdette and Carlos Davis.

* DE Carlos Thompson is finally "turning it loose" on the field and playing with some controlled abandon. "That redshirt year helped me a lot. I'm faster, stronger and more physical," said Carlos. "It also allowed me time to really learn the defense. Mentally, I can react so much quicker now because I know what to do and how to do it. My technique is better. I'm up to 248 pounds now and my goal is to be 255 in fall. I still have work to do, but it's helping me to be getting first-team reps with C.J. out. Off the field, I have also grown up. I am not perfect, but I am more mature. I am more focused now."

* Freeze's comment on the team changing drastically with injuries is not coach speak, it's truth. Today, without Bo Wallace, Moncrief, Morris, Junen and C.J., to name a few, the productivity just isn't as crisp as it is with those guys in the lineup. Duh.

* In the 2nd-and-7 scrimmage, which was live contact, the highlights were as follows: WR Vincent Sanders caught two passes for first downs; LB Serderius Bryant picked off a pass; RB Darryan Ragsdale had a 35-yard run up the gut; WR Ja-Mes Logan caught a couple of passes from Brunetti to move the chains; RB I'tavius Mathers had a 15-yard run; Nkemdiche had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage; DT Lavon Hooks, who is starting to grasp more each day, batted down a pass at the LOS; and Jaylen Walton had two nice runs, including a 25-yarder that ended the scrimmage.

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