'Halftime' Report

Roughly halfway through spring training, Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack and Co-Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner gave their perspective after the first of three Saturday scrimmages.

After Saturday's rugged scrimmage, Wommack's first thoughts about his defense went immediately to what has quickly become the calling card of the Ole Miss football team in spring training - energy.

"I love the energy of this team," said Wommack. "The competition has been great all seven days thus far. I'm very proud of the effort they're giving."

Is it the competition at just about every spot that is driving the Rebels to a new effort level? Is it leadership developing? Is it the spacing of the practices, basically every other day so players can get their legs back?

"Perhaps a combination of all of those reasons," Wommack continued. "We definitely have more competition, I can see some leadership starting to surface and I think they're coming to practice refreshed every time we suit up - they're in real good shape."

Whatever the cause, Wommack likes the results thus far, to a point.

"We're doing a pretty good job against the run and we're causing some turnovers. The only area I see that we need to up our game is in eliminating the big plays," he stated.

Anthony Alford
Petre Thomas

Saturday's scrimmage, by the unofficial stats kept, had the Rebels getting three interceptions and five quarterback sacks, but also giving up some explosive plays at times to the Rebel offense, proving his statement to be accurate.

"We have a five-day installation package for the spring planned and we have been able to install 2 1/2 days worth to this point, so we're on schedule," he continued. "The guys who have played before in our system are doing a great job with it.

"The new guys like Christian Russell, Fadol Brown, Marquis Haynes, C.J. Hampton and a few others are having to come along a little more slowly. They have time to get it - there's no need to run before you can walk. We're right where we need to be."

In the scrimmage, the Rebel defensive front was able to get some sacks and pressure without Wommack having to manufacture it with blitzes, etc.

"That was nice to see. It shows how much we missed C.J. (Johnson) and Carlos (Thompson) last year. I think it also shows that Robert Nkemdiche has improved and is no longer a freshman and Issac Gross is full go, which I didn't think he ever was last year," Wommack stated. "It's exciting to see them get pressure today - the ball has got to come out fast for the offense so far."

One of the main goals for spring is a solid two-deep, two players at each position the coaches trust in any situation.

"We've got a chance to do that, but we have to stay healthy," he added. "Guys like Herbert Moore and Haynes and John Youngblood and a few others are getting a lot of reps this spring and are getting better. It will only help the team as they develop more and more."

The development of a two-deep has also meant players like senior Keith Lewis, who played all three LB positions last year, can settle in to one position, hopefully.

"Another one of our goals is to settle guys in to one position. When you lack depth and ask a player to play more than one slot, it's tough. Keith is an example of that," Wommack said. "Right now, Keith is the number one stinger and Serderius Bryant is behind him."

Two of the more anticipated players to come into the competition battle this spring are DE Brown and Safety Anthony Alford.

"Those guys are steals. We had them all last fall, the offseason and this spring. Fadol is very athletic for as big as he is. He could play inside or outside, but I think he's going to do a good job taking (Cameron) Whigham's place at Bandit," he noted. "I think Anthony is smart and athletic. He and Trae Elston give us a very good one-two punch there."

Wommack has also seen natural development from Tony Conner, who started at Husky as a true freshman in 2013.

Bo Wallace
Petre Thomas

"The longer you're in a system and the more you know, the better you'll get. He knows what to do now and that's made him better. But I'll tell you this, if Tony gets any bigger, he will be a linebacker next year," Wommack closed with a smile.

Werner has seen, which is normal in spring ball, the offense lag behind the defense most of the time. . .

. . . but they made up ground in Saturday's scrimmage.

"We definitely took a step forward Saturday," Werner said. "I was pleased with the guys. We had a few too many turnovers, but we made a bunch of big plays and I liked the way our running backs ran the ball, the decision-making by the quarterbacks and I'm pleased with where we are in spring to this point."

Werner had a message for the quarterbacks - collectively - after the Saturday workout.

"I told them after the scrimmage that we're so far ahead of where we were two years ago and even last year that it is very, very noticeable," he said. "We're on the right track."

And what of the offensive line, the big question mark - due to multiple graduation losses - heading into spring.

"It looks like they are gelling some," he said. "It's kind of hard to tell in scrimmages where the officials have a quick whistle to protect the quarterbacks and running backs, but I saw some good holes in the run game today and we had a lot of plays where our quarterbacks had enough time to deliver their passes."

At running back, a lot of the attention (carries) is going to redshirt freshmen Jordan Wilkins and Eugene Brazley to get a true understanding of what they can produce. It is already known what Jaylen Walton, I'tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson are capable of so their reps have been somewhat limited.

"Both of them get downhill quickly. Jordan has good power and moves pretty well too," noted Werner. "Brazley has excellent vision and quickness. He will make you miss. He's tough to tackle because you don't get a square hit on him often."

At wideout, there was some shuffling going on and veteran Vincent Sanders has not practiced this spring due to a bum hamstring.

"We moved Laquon Treadwell outside and he has come on strong, like we knew he would. It really doesn't matter where you put him, he is going to perform," said Werner. "He'll get singled up more there and that will be a big advantage for him.

"Collins (Moore) has also stepped up his game after having to sit out from double shoulder separations and surgeries a year ago. He's made a lot of plays for us so far. And I like Quincy (Adeboyejo) in the slot. The more he learns, the better he gets."

The Rebel coaches also made a move prior to spring training - DE Channing Ward to tight end, a need area for the Rebs.

"There's no doubt that is a good move for us and for Channing. We needed a physical tight end and he gives us that," noted Werner. "I think he'll help open up the run game for us because he's a good blocker. He's a good athlete - he can catch the ball.

"We already knew, we knew as soon as he got hurt, but this spring has really shown us how much we missed Evan Engram last year at the end. He's a player. He can do so many things well. We have some things in mind for him in the Red Zone this year to get him singled up on linebackers and we'll take that every play."

At quarterback, Bo Wallace had a good scrimmage and is solidly the starter. The attention this spring is to see who would emerge as number two.

"Both Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan have made good decisions to this point. I'm pleased with both. They both have a lot of work to do, but they are working hard and I think they'll be really good quarterbacks for us some day," he assessed. "Jeremy Liggins also gives us another dimension. He's so big and physical. He would be ideal as our short yardage guy. He'd be tough to stop on third and one or two."

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