So Far. . .

August practice - thus far - has shown good improvement for the Ole Miss football team, according to a straw poll among the Rebel coaches. Here are some thoughts based mostly on those conversations and personal observations.

Sunday, after 18 straight days of August camp and a rare deep breath to dissect it all, it's apparent the Ole Miss football team has made progress as the season opener against Vanderbilt rockets toward the Rebels.

Improvement, being the obvious number one goal of any preseason camp, has been steady, but sometimes hampered by missed time by the injured.

Despite not having both (all) of the cornerbacks with game experience; DT Issac Gross for a while; DE C.J. Johnson on a limited basis; DE Robert Nkemdiche with a strained groin; S Brishen Mathews with a pulled hammy; LB/DE D.T. Shackelford missing some time; and two players - DEs Carlos Thompson and Cameron Whigham - missing time with concussions, the Rebel defense has grown.

Most position battles have been decided and rotations are getting real close to being defined and locked in.

Due to the experience from a strong group of returning players, the Rebel defense is playing faster and Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack has been able to expand the defensive package.

At DE, Whigham, Thompson, Nkemdiche, Johnson and Channing Ward seem to be the top guys, but D.T. and John Youngblood are also pushing for playing time. DL Coach Chris Kiffin prefers having five - if available - ready. It looks as if his wish for a quintet of capables will come through this season.

At defensive tackle, Woody Hamilton, Bryon Bennett, Gross, Carlton Martin and Lavon Hooks will anchor those two spots and have pleased both Kiffin and Wommack thus far.

At linebacker, the position(s) Wommack feels is the Rebs' defensive strength, look for Denzel Nkemdiche and Mike Marry to be the mainstays, but Kieth Lewis and Serderius Bryant will get plenty of work. D.T. will also factor in and Temario Strong, who will definitely factor in to special teams play, is also waiting in the wings, close to being ready to contribute as well.

At safety, three are definites - Cody Prewitt, Chief Brown and Trae Elston, all considered starters by Wommack. Freshman Derrick Jones may also help this year and Mathews was making a mark prior to his hamstring issues.

At Husky, Mike Hilton knows everything and does everything correctly, inside and out, but freshman Tony Connor is pushing hard and will have a big role. Veteran Cliff Coleman is also viable if either one of them goes down.

Denzel Nkemdiche
File Photo

At cornerback, the picture isn't as clear. Dehendret Collins has had a real good camp and Q. Burdette is on a fast learning curve. Bobby Hill is being mentioned as a possible and lately Anthony Standifer has shown improvement. How will this unfold when Charles Sawyer, off the injury list now, and Senquez Golson, still recovering from a hamstring pull that has caused him to miss all but one day of camp, change things when they come back full speed? Great question. TBD.

While the defense started strong and got better, the offense took a different route.

They started slowly, but have built some momentum of late.

A lot of that had to do with QB Bo Wallace, who took a week or so to knock off the rust of missing spring training and overcoming arm soreness.

His decision-making was sketchy, at times schizophrenic, but little by little, Bo's arm started feeling better and he started making better decisions. Translation: He started taking care of the football. Consequently, the offense started moving the chains and making more plays.

The big issue at QB has been the play of the backups. Candidly, Barry Brunetti hasn't had a great camp and Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan, two pups, are learning the ropes, as one would expect.

The offense took an early hit when WR Vincent Sanders, a very experienced and savvy player with good chemistry with the QBs, broke his collarbone, but other receivers have stepped up besides stalwarts Donte Moncrief, one of the best in the nation, and Ja-Mes Logan, steady as they come.

Freshmen Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo, sophomore Cody Core and senior Jordan Holder have taken up the slack nicely. Collins Moore and Korvic Neat, when healthy, are also viable options.

Done Moncrief
File Photo

At running back, the coaches are so confident with improved depth from Jaylen Walton, I'tavius Mathers, Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore, they are willing to put Jeff Scott, the main TB, at punt return. RB Coach Derrick Nix only has one problem - sorting out who gets the call and when.

Up front, it would be beneficial to get Patrick Junen back, but lately the experience of C Evan Swindall, RT Pierce Burton, LT Emmanuel McCray and LG Aaron Morris is starting to show. Justin Bell at right guard has also done a solid job and Jared Duke has gotten better. Freshmen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson have been more than impressive, for frosh. They will be special, maybe sooner rather than later.

One glitch on the OL was the sudden transfer of backup Center Austin Douglas. Robert Conyers and Ben Still are scrambling to fill that role, but they are a work in progress.

The puzzler? The same one the coaches have been lamenting all along - TE. Apparently, that position will be manned by committee. Freshman Evan Engram has looked good in the passing game, but nothing else really stands out at this point. Work in progress.

On special teams, there seems to be more body types - LBs/TE/S/speed guys - on the team than a year ago. The influx of new talent capable of those tasks will help the "starters" stay fresh if their special teams' duties are limited.

The placekicking operation with DS Will Denny and Holder Chris Conley has been spot on. There is also plenty of "meat" to put up front to protect. PK Andrew Ritter has been more consistent in August than he was in spring. His charted numbers have been solid.

Punter Tyler Campbell - as Freeze said - hits it 40 yards when he misses it. Nice problem to have. He's also better with his pooch punting and directional kicks. Tyler should have a banner final season.

There are still some issues to resolve in this final 10 days of preparation, but the Rebs are on a steady course of addressing those.

The countdown continues.

So far, so good, but improvement to this point is obvious, and that's what it is all about. \

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