So Far, So Good

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze was asked for a brief (almost) halfway assessment of the Rebels in August practice. He was fairly complimentary of what he has seen to this point.

"I love our energy and where we are heading," Freeze said. "Like I said all along, we've got a shot. We are a better football team than we were the last two years.

"Hopefully we can stay relatively healthy through the rest of August practice and get ready to play Boise, but so far I love what I see. I think our leadership is better, we are definitely deeper and we are excited about getting the season underway."

Like all August camps, there have been highs and lows. There was some of that today, in fact, in the morning session.

"You are disappointed with some things and pleased with some things. Elated and frustrated within minutes," he stated. "I love the competitive nature of our team and the way we get after it, but then we make too many mental mistakes. Overall, however, it's been a good camp."

One area on the team where there seems to be enough capable players is running back, as has been stated several times before.

"I'm pleased with them all. We have quality depth there and we are not afraid to play any of them at this point. They are all about tit-for-tat," noted Freeze. "You'd have to give the nod to Jaylen Walton and I'tavius Mathers right now due to experience, but the others are capable too."

Ole Miss cornerback Tee Shepard.

Freeze was asked specifically about Mark Dodson.

"I think he is physical, has great balance and finishes with excellent pad level. He takes care of the ball and he is decent in pass pro," noted Hugh. "He measures up nicely with the rest of them."

Last Saturday, Freeze was not too happy with the overall pass protection of the offensive line.

"We have a lot of room for improvement there. We tried some new combinations today moving Rod Taylor to right tackle and Sean Rawlings to left tackle. We also moved Carlton Martin back to guard after a try at tackle," said Freeze. "Our defensive front can make you look bad at times, especially when you are trying to run specific plays and not checking out of those. We will get into getting into the right plays in a couple of days, then it will look better offensively, I'm sure.

Random Notes:

* On CB Tee Shepard and his toe injury. "I'm always optimistic, but this - a tendon on the bottom of his big toe - is not an injury I am familiar with," noted Freeze. "If it's completely torn, he will need surgery. If not, there have been players with this injury who have played through the year and then gotten it fixed. I just want to wait for the doctors and consultants to tell us what to do and what they think."

* If Shepard is out for an extended period of time, Freeze is not hitting the panic button. "The guys we have back there are better and when you add Kendarius Webster to the mix and Kailo (Moore) is back, we will be OK," he noted. "That is one place where we have some capable guys. I think Kendarius can hold up if we had to put him out there. He is gifted. He is a little behind in understanding our stuff, but if there is one place that is easy to pick up on things, it is corner."

Ole Miss offensive lineman Rod Taylor.

* DE Fadol Brown (ankle) returned to practice today as did CB Kailo Moore (kidney bruise). . . Of course, Shepard is out as well as DT Issac Gross (neck stinger).

* Taylor to tackle comes as no big surprise. The talented freshman has made a good impression and the coaches are giving him an opportunity to break into the lineup early. "He loves to play. He is a gym rat," noted Freeze. "He has a lot of talent. We just have to figure out where and when to utilize that talent."

* The freshmen receivers - Sammie Epps, Dayall Harris and Markell Pack - have caught the attention of the staff, but when will they be ready to contribute? Freeze doesn't have that answer yet. "They are all going to be good players in time. When is that time? I don't know yet," he stated. "That's a good question - when will they be ready?"

* WR Damore'ea Stringfellow and OL Christian Morris are awaiting word from the NCAA on appeals to be immediately eligible. Freeze's take on that? "We have no idea when that will be decided. Two or three days ago, we were told two to three weeks," he said. "What will the final decisions be? I really have no feel on that either way.". . . In the meantime Stringfellow is working with the second team about half the time. He will be ready to help/contribute if his appeal is granted.

* It appears freshman MLB DeMarquis Gates has moved up a notch on the depth chart. He is getting reps now ahead of Temario Strong and behind D.T. Shackelford and Christian Russell. He can also play outside linebacker if needed. . . At OLB, Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant are locked in a tight battle for the starting position. . . The wild card is senior Keith Lewis, a jack-of-all-linebacking-trades who will play situationally inside and outside. Finally, some options at the LB slots.

Ole Miss running back Mark Dodson.

* Wild, but somewhat educated guess - the pecking order at running back is Mathers, Walton and RS frosh Jordan Wilkins, with Dodson, Akeem Judd and Eugene Brazley nipping at their heels. Don't be surprised if a redshirt is not in the offing for one or two of them.

* We keep hearing, repeatedly, the "special" tag being applied to freshman DE Victor Evans. When? That's undetermined right now, but apparently most are sold "special player" is in his destiny somewhere down the line, and it could be sooner rather than later.

* JUCO transfer OL Fahn Cooper has been, until today, exclusively at right tackle. Today, he also took some reps at left tackle behind Laremy Tunsil. . . . Another JUCO transfer, Craig Frigo, who was here in spring training, is getting a lot of praise in OL drills. He is making himself a viable option at left guard.

* In the ongoing center battle, today Ben Still was number one and Robert Conyers was number two. That has see-sawed back and forth all of August.

* Without Gross at practice, senior Bryon Bennett has been elevated to first-team status next to Robert Nkemdiche. When Gross has been healthy, Bennett has backed up Nkemdiche. Logical assumption? Bennett is the third man in the DT rotation.

* For most of spring, freshman DE Marquis Haynes backed up C.J. Johnson. In August, it appears the thinking has changed some. Haynes is now the number one guy on the opposite end. When the Rebs want to go "big," they turn to Fadol Brown and Channing Ward with the wild cards being Carlos Thompson as the third rush-type end and John Youngblood being the third "big" end.

* The Rebs will practice again tonight in a closed session with no post-practice interviews. Tuesday's lone practice is completely closed to media - meaning no interviews.

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