Plowing Ahead

After Tuesday's "cleaning up the little things" practice, the Rebels went full bore Wednesday in preparation for the Idaho Vandals with long scout team sessions on both sides of the ball.

As he did last year about this time, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze has started scaling back practices, both from a contact and length standpoint.

One, the grind to this point has been grueling and legs need rejuvenating.

Two, there are players who are practicing who are nicked up and need an opportunity to heal.

But, as much as the Rebels need a break, which they will get next week, there is yet another game to play Saturday, against the Idaho Vandals, and that's where Ole Miss' attention was turned in Wednesday's workout.

For the second day in a row, Freeze did not like the focus on the offensive side of the ball, but he addressed the Vandal defense before delving into his point of contention.

"They like to bring a lot of field pressures, which we have seen. About 32% of the time, they will bring it," Freeze began. "They also mix in enough boundary to keep you guessing.

"I know I have said this before, but it's difficult to accurately portray how they will treat us because you don't see many people running exactly what we do. We'll figure out how they are playing us early in the game and go from there. They are a very active defense and they are in the right places."

Freeze is optimistic about the rebels being able to make plays against Idaho, but. . .

"Our focus was so bad today on offense, I don't know if we will make plays against anybody if that doesn't change," he added. "I'm disappointed, but this is not totally unexpected, I guess is the best way to put it.

Serderius Bryant
Chuck Rounsaville

"The defense did a good job today. I got so frustrated, I left the offense and watched the defense some and they were doing a good job."

Random Notes:

* Without TE Evan Engram available, as we reported yesterday, the tight end duties will fall to Nick Parker, Justin Bigham, Jack Nuismer and Matt Brown, recently elevated from the scout team. "That was a big hit, but we'll make it work," said Freeze. "Every kid is different and we will play to their strengths. Evan was a guy who could do quite a few things. We'll try to get it done using different people."

* LB Serderius Bryant practiced Tuesday, but was limited a little bit during contact periods. Wednesday, he was given the green light to come back completely from the concussion he received in the Texas A&M game. Bird was all smiles when he hit the practice field. Kid loves the game. "He's ready to go. He looked good yesterday and today," Hugh noted.

* The punt return question continues to pop up. It looks as if TB Jeff Scott, although he dressed out Tuesday and Wednesday, might be held out of the Idaho game to give his deep thigh bruise a little more time to heal before the final stretch run of the season. With that being a possibility, it appears as if senior WRs Ja-Mes Logan and Jordan Holder have moved up as the top candidates to handle those chores. Both had moments of struggling yesterday during the punt period, but both seemed more at ease Wednesday. "If Jeff progresses any this week, we may still let him catch punts and not play any tailback, but if not, it's Jordan or Ja-Mes," noted Hugh.

* Against LSU, Chief Brown got the start at safety ahead of Trae Elston. Chief performed well with an interception and only two minus plays in the grading system. Why did Chief get the start? He outperformed Trae during the week in practice. The battle for playing time at that position is that close. It has motivated both. It's why coaches love depth and love competition within each position. Neither are guaranteed anything from day to day. Nice problem to have. If every position were like that one, the team would definitely be stronger and get where the program is headed more quickly.

* Looking ahead, with Center Evan Swindall, RT Pierce Burton, LG Jared Duke, OG/OT Emmanuel McCray and OG/OT Patrick Junen graduating off the offensive line after this season, what is the thinking moving forward into next season? Tackle appears to be the biggest concern. Of course, the left side is handled with Laremy Tunsil, who pro scouts are already drooling over when they come to Ole Miss and watch game tape, but right tackle is more of an issue. Right now, the coaches feel Aaron Morris can move outside and be effective, if he gets his weight down in the 320 range. Since his ACL operation, he has dropped 25 pounds and is around the 330 mark now. There is also a belief that redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin can be a tackle even though he may be best suited for guard. Jackson Callaway commitment Roderick Taylor is also a player the coaches feel can play either guard or tackle. And, of course, they are hard after JUCO Avery Gennesy, who would instantly add some maturity to the position much as Burton did last year coming from the JUCO ranks. When you look at the situation closely, Gennesy is an extremely important get in recruiting . . . At center, it looks as if in spring it will be a battle between Robert Conyers, Ben Still and Justin Bell, who has recently started learning how to snap in the shotgun formation. "Ben and Robert were better with the timing of things today, but they are struggling with some stuff due to inexperience," added Hugh.

* CB Mike Hilton, C Evan Swindall, DE Carlos Thompson, DE Robert Nkemdiche and DE Cameron Whigham did not practice Wednesday. Hilton and Nkemdiche are still recovering from hamstring pulls, Thompson has a shoulder issue and Whigham has a neck problem. . . . Also, LB Denzel Nkemdiche did not pratice Wednesday due to the ankle injury he got against LSU flaring up. "He worked inside and came out here late. I think he will dress," Freeze allowed.

* With all the DEs out, it looks as if converted DT Bryon Bennett, Channing Ward, John Youngblood and converted LB Temario Strong will have to haul the water against the Vandals at the defensive end slots.

* Anthony Alford, who is having to sit out this year due to transfer rules, continues to show in practice why the coaches are excited about him being eligible the next three years. Simple put, he's one of the best athletes on the team and projects to either safety position or Husky on defense and possibly some duty in the slot on offense if push came to shove.

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