Maybe it had to do with Friday being the last day of two-a-days. Maybe it was the pristine conditions on the practice fields, from the sunny, clear skies to the uncharacteristically easy-to-deal August humidity.
Whatever the reason, head coach Hugh Freeze was pleased.
“It was a good day, one of our better,” he said. “I thought our demeanor coming out was a little less than what I would like. It was our last day of two-a-days I think, and they came out with the mentality of enduring. But they really picked it up, had some good team situations.”
Ole Miss held a walk-through open to the media Wednesday morning. However, a scrimmage later in the day, followed by practice on Thursday, was completely closed.
Lead punt returner and reserve defensive back Carlos Davis tore his ACL Wednesday night in the scrimmage – a big blow for the Rebels in a number of ways, most especially on special teams. Along with punt return, Davis was a reliable contributor on kick return and punt teams.
Freeze said Davis will likely have surgery on Monday. A positive is he hasn’t used his redshirt year.
“Carlos, I believe without a shadow of a doubt, was our best special teams guy. It hurts,” Freeze said. “You try to find a way to handcuff yourself to those kids in the good and bad times and help them to it. It takes your eyes off of the ‘Woe is me.’ I don’t like feeling like, well, how does it affect me? Because it’s not about me and our staff. It’s about our team and our staff. It is a blow to our team, but we’ll help him through it.”
Not all was bad from the scrimmage. Freeze named a few players who stood out.
“Victor Evans had a great scrimmage, Breeland Speaks,” he said. “Big Breeland’s getting batted balls and he’s a space-eater. We held out quite a few kids. I think Rod Taylor’s coming on. I think Robert Conyers continues to do some good things, as does Ben Still. Akeem Judd stood out. Had some really explosive, powerful runs. We had several good kids stand out. DeMarquis Gates keep showing up, as do the Moore twins. They’re probably all going to have to play now.”
The backup quarterbacks, Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade, had their moments, as well.
“Ryan had a good scrimmage,” Freeze said. “Bo (Wallace) did not take many snaps. Devante had some really, really exciting, good plays. He had some on the other end of the spectrum also. We’ve got to keep bringing him along. He definitely adds a different element to us. I think they’ve improved.”
Freeze isn’t ready to name a clear No. 2 quarterback should something happen to Wallace, a three-year starter at the position. It all depends on game situation anyway.
“I’ve said all along, it would kind of depend on what we’re needing at that moment,” Freeze said. “Each have different strengths. We’ll do everything (playbook-wise) with both of them, but it would kind of depend on the scenario to which they go in.”
* Junior defensive tackle Issac Gross wasn’t practicing in the seven periods the media was allowed to view. He’s been out off and on throughout fall camp with a neck strain. “He’s still dealing with the neck,” Freeze said. “He came back out and it kind of flared up again. We’re taking our time to make sure he gets it well. (Team trainer) Pat (Jernigan) and them got a protocol they’re going to take him through. They think they can improve him if we hold him out a few more days.”
* Ole Miss is well into its preparations for its season-opening game against Boise State Aug. 28. But Friday defensive scout-team jerseys were handed out and there were some notable names wearing them, including Speaks, Evans, Garrald McDowell, Herbert Moore and D.K. Buford. Unsurprisingly, Gates was not, neither was C.J. Hampton or the Moore twins.
* With Davis out, Anthony Alford has moved up to first team at punt return, followed by Trae Elston and Markell Pack.
* Speaking of punt return, from left to right, here is how the first team stacks up: Q Burdette, Cliff Coleman, C.J. Hampton, Gates, Temario Strong, Taylor Polk, Jordan Wilkins, David Kamara, Marquis Haynes and Derrick Jones. Gates earned a promotion in today’s practice.
* So much has been written about the offensive line. Ole Miss returns two starters – Laremy Tunsil and Justin Bell – from last season, while Aaron Morris, a former All-SEC selection, is attempting a return from an ACL injury. But despite the perceived question marks, there’s been little drama with the group. For a while now, the starting five has consisted of Tunsil, Morris, Ben Still at center, Bell and Fahn Cooper at right tackle. Really, at this point, all that’s left to be settled is the reserve linemen and where they fit. Like, say, Robert Conyers. And Daronte Bouldin. And Rod Taylor. The trio has been tried all over, and Conyers is still being mentioned as a candidate at center. However, expect to see the aforementioned five as the starters come Boise.
* Though depth at the position remains an issue, Ole Miss has serious talent at wide receiver. Laquon Treadwell is, well, Laquon Treadwell, and players don’t come more reliable than Vince Sanders. Quincy Adeboyejo is the embodiment of potential not yet realized, as are freshmen Pack and Dayall Harris. One name, however, is consistently overlooked - a player who received significant snaps with the first team on Friday: Cody Core. Safe to say the junior, an accomplished special teams player, is being called upon to step up. He’s already a strong blocker, and as a veteran, the time is now for Core to make an impact. There’s currently an opportunity with the injury to Collins Moore and the youngsters not quite ready two weeks before the season. Looks like he’s attempting to capitalize.
“Cody is so important to us because he’s learning both inside and outside,” Freeze said. “He’s got to play both for us to give us some depth and he’s doing it well. Makes very few (missed assignments), he’s physical and he can catch it. He’s very, very important for us.”
* Moore, who injured his knee in July, is doing some rehabilitation exercises in the training pool. The expected recovery time for the injury is 6-8 weeks. “Moving around good,” Freeze said. “Be glad to get him back, for sure. We need a little extra depth there at receiver.”
* Haynes, a prep school transfer, was again with the first team defense opposite C.J. Johnson at defensive end. Fadol Brown entered August practices there, but after an ankle injury put him on the shelf for a week or so, Haynes emerged. He’s holding on to the job, it would appear.