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As the Rebels approach their final four games of the season, they were greeted with some good news as they hit the practice fields Tuesday. Some players who have been injured appear to be returning to action.

As Cornerback Mike Hilton - who has missed the past 2 1/2 games due to a pulled hamstring - came up the stairs from the Ole Miss locker room and up the stairs leading to the practice fields, one of his teammates did a little harmless cajoling.

"I thought you quit," said the teammate.

"I came out of retirement," Hilton quipped without missing a beat. "It's good to be back."

And that was the theme of Tuesday's practice as the Rebels prepared for their next challenge - the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday morning at 11:20 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. . .

. . . Some key players returning to practice.

Defensive End Robert Nkemdiche (hamstring) and OLB Denzel Nkemdiche (ankle) also returned to practice. Big Rob has also been MIA since the Texas A&M battle and Denzel injured his ankle against LSU and sat out of practices during the open week.

Safety Cody Prewitt, DT Issac Gross and Punter Tyler Campbell, who also took a little time off last week due to nagging minor injuries, were also in the fold at practice.

"It's really good to have those guys back as we head into the stretch run of the season," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "We need everyone healthy and ready to go and we are probably as healthy as we have been in some time."

But even with some of the wounded now healthy, there's more to the equation, according to Freeze.

"We were sluggish today," said Freeze. "The scout team took it to our defense pretty good today. There were people running open on play passes and we just weren't sharp. Maybe that's a normal Tuesday, but I felt, since we had a couple of days jump start, that we would look better. We have to get some things cleaned up."

The perception of playing the Hogs is stop the run and win the game.

"The run game is definitely what they rely on," said Freeze," but they can throw it. Their tight end (Hunter Henry) is going to be really special and their wideouts have done a real good job lately.

"There's no question though that they know who they want to be. What has slowed them don is not finishing drives in the Red Zone. Had they done that, some of these games they have lost would have been different. They control the clock so much. Last week, Auburn had 21 plays in the first half. If you have a turnover or two, it's s scary game. They want to run and you have to commit people to stop the run, but then that opens up some passing lanes. You have to defense the whole field."


Mike Hilton
File Photo

From an offensive standpoint, Freeze feels this is the first game this year that he and his staff can get somewhat of a bead on where the Hog defenders are going to be.

"What Auburn does and what we do is similar. It may bite me when I say this, but I feel like we will know where they are going to line up more than the other people we have played. That doesn't mean we can block them - their front four is extremely talented with two NFL DEs and Darius Philon is a load at DT," said Freeze. "I'm sure they will tweak some things, but them having Auburn before us gives us a better gauge than we've had in previous weeks."

Freeze was asked - 1 2/3 years into his coaching tenure in the SEC - what he has learned about the SEC.

"If you don't play well, you get beat. If you don't take care of the ball, you get beat," he said bluntly. "If you don't come out and get ready to play, this league will humble you quickly."

Random Notes:

* Two players who did not return to practice were Tailback Jeff Scott (bruised thigh) and Cornerback Charles Sawyer (torn quad muscle). Scott has also been out, for all intents and purposes, since the A&M game also. Last week, he tried to practice some but he it was apparent he was favoring the injured leg and was not improving. . . Sawyer felt the quad pop during the Idaho game. At the very least, he will miss the Arkansas game.

* DE Carlos Thompson (shoulder stinger with some nerve damage) is still on the shelf from his injury.

* In the early going of Tuesday's practice, RB Coach Derick Nix was working all four running backs - I'tavius Mathers, Jaylen Walton, Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore - extensively in skelly drills. It looks as if all four will get a shot against the Hogs.

* With freshman Evan Engram out of action for the rest of the year, what is TE Coach Maurice Harris' formula for continued success at that position? "From a run game standpoint, it doesn't change anything," said Harris. "The guys we have can do the same things Evan could do in the run game. From a passing game perspective, we will have to change things up because Evan had a different skill set in that area, more like a wide receiver than a typical tight end. Nick Parker is the starter right now, but we do have different packages for Justin Bigham and Jack Nuismer that they can handle and will contribute to our offensive production. Nick has a great understanding of the offense and he has become a really physical run blocker. He can also catch the ball well, but deep routes down the middle of the field are not his bread and butter. I'm pleased with his progress though, particularly blocking. At the end of the Idaho game, he was racking some people up. We just need him to be more consistent with it."

* QB Bo Wallace missed practices last week due to a case of pink eye. He was back at practice Tuesday with no lingering issues.


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