Finding a Fit

Five months stand in the way of Ole Miss opening the 2014-15 season against Boise State in Atlanta, Ga.

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Basically, there is more than enough time to prepare for the season-opener. So, really, the spring is for trying things. As in, position changes and meaningful snaps for backups with the first team.

And no player better exemplifies the spring philosophy than Jeremy Liggins.

Liggins, generously listed at 6-foot-3, 297 pounds on the official team roster, signed with Ole Miss in December and enrolled in January. And he did so with his position very much in question. He split time between quarterback and defensive end at Northeast Mississippi Community College last season.

He's worked strictly at quarterback this spring. However, his future under center is no clearer than it was two weeks ago, primarily due to his conditioning.

"A ways away," Freeze said, when asked of Liggins and his development so far. "He made some good throws in the scrimmage the other day and we had some drops. He was running with the threes. But he's so far from being in the shape he would need to be in to be able to play full-time quarterback."

Liggins was 1 for 8 for seven yards and an interception Saturday, the first scrimmage of the spring for the Rebels. A former standout for local Lafayette High School, he was once a coveted three-star prospect, leading the Commodores to 32 consecutive wins and two state championships.

He passed for 1,678 yards and 16 touchdowns in his high school career, while rushing for 953 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Freeze said Liggins' first season at Ole Miss could go any number of ways. He could redshirt with three years to play three, or there's the potential role as a situational, short-yardage quarterback. Of course, a position change might very well be in his future, too.

"We're going to have to have that talk with him," Freeze said. "Not that he can't (play quarterback) sometime. I don't know that he'll ever be able to be a full-time quarterback at the weight he's at right now. I think he can help us somewhere. We've got to wade through all of that."

Hugh Freeze
Petre Thomas

Moving away from Liggins, Freeze had a few days to process Saturday's scrimmage. He was "real pleased" with the results.

"I thought there were a lot of good things on both sides," he said. "Obviously, a lot of mistakes. But I think we're faster, especially defensively. The effort was sure there, them chasing the football. Offensive line, we've got a ways to go, the chemistry you have up there with the different looks that you might get. I thought the protection from the backs, particularly (Mark) Dodson and I'Tavius (Mathers), they seemed to be the ones got the bulk of that when we we'd get some pressures. I thought they picked it up nicely. We had some explosive plays offensively. I was fairly pleased, which is not normal for me in a scrimmage. It's hard to leave there feeling real good, but felt pretty good about it."

Depth is also being built throughout the roster, a stark contrast from when Freeze arrived in Oxford three seasons ago.

"Defensively, we got Lavon (Hooks) back today," Freeze said. "That helped on the d-line, for sure. We're still thin at corner. We definitely have more depth. Kailo (Moore), he had his best day by far today. Had one play on Laquon (Treadwell) on a fade that was a phenomenal play, and he made some big hits, too. I think our corner depth has come on, and I think our linebacker depth has, too. D-line, still not quite where I'd like it to be. Safeties, I feel like we've got four good ones."

Rising sophomore left tackle Laremy Tunsil continues to impress, though Freeze admitted Tunsil has room for improvement.

"He's pretty talented," Freeze said. "He's just so naturally quick and gifted that nothing seems to get him in a hurry, which is a good quality if you're good enough to be able to be patient and make the guy make that second move. A mistake a lot of guys make is you want to get overanxious and go with the first move a defensive end makes, and it gets you off-balance and out of sorts. He feels so naturally in his ability.

"I would say become more of a dominant run blocker. That's probably the next step in his progression. He's not bad at it, but become more dominant at it."

Tunsil's classmate, cornerback Derrick Jones, has garnered praise from Freeze and the rest of the defensive coaching staff since he stepped foot on campus. He's currently penciled in as a starter opposite Senquez Golson/Mike Hilton, and Freeze has seen good things.

"He did some really nice things today," he said. "He's gaining confidence. He still gets beat on some double moves. First play of team today, we got him on a double move. I did that intentionally, ‘cause there was a lot of jawing going on before practice. He got down a little bit, but then he bounced back in one-on-ones and the last few team periods. I love where he's at. I think the guy's long and athletic and can run.

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