Marching Toward Saturday

After Tuesday's not-too-spiffy practice, Coach Hugh freeze was expecting more on Wednesday. The Rebels practiced in The Manning Center in full pads. Was Freeze happier than he was 24 hours prior?

The battle cry from the Rebel coaching staff after Tuesday's lackluster practice was make-up-ground on Wednesday.

After a two-hour workout in The Manning Center, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze addressed the media. Was it better, coach?

"Much better," said Freeze. "We had a good day. I'm sure some of it had to do with being inside, but we had a good meeting today and the kids were locked in. The coaches had a good plan."

After yesterday, Freeze continued his upbeat analysis.

"I like out plan. If we can come out and execute Saturday, days like today will be the reason why," he noted.

One thing that continues to catch Freeze's eye is the play of the scout teams, the guys who give the top units the "look" of the opponent(s) in practice.

"I've asked all the coaches to do a plus-one this year - do your job and find a plus-one out of your comfort zone. Mine is to pay more attention to the scout teamers," Freeze explained. "They have been phenomenal. We have some great young players. Guys like Breeland (Speaks), Victor (Evans), Garrald (McDowell), Dayall Harris, (Demore'ea) Stringfellow and Sammie Epps are giving us some great looks. And it's more than them."

Freeze briefly discussed the ULL defense on Tuesday. Wednesday, he had some tidbits on the ULL offense.

"They are a lot like us on offense. The quarterback is very athletic and he gets rid of the ball on time. He is a danger in their zone read game," Freeze assessed. "He's a senior and has been in all the battles. He won't be awed by coming here to play. Their receivers are really good, their OL is solid and their running backs are good. This is a very good offense."

The Ole Miss football leader expects a tough game when ULL rolls into town, but aren't they all?

"I tell everybody, it's very difficult to win a football game on this level, no matter who you are playing," he continued. "The plan has to be good, your kids have to execute it, you have to take care of the ball and do the little things right. There are very few games where all those things come together. Last week was one of them. We have enough talent to do that some of the time, but it won't happen every single week.

"ULL has done a tremendous job of developing the talent that kind of flies under the radar, which there are plenty of in Louisiana and Mississippi. I'm sure they will have a chip on their shoulder to come in here and play well. Mark (Hudspeth) does a good job of coaching. His kids know how to play the game."

Random Notes

* The Rebels will continue with their seven-man rotation Saturday on the offensive line. The sixth and seventh being do-all Robert Conyers and freshman RG Roderick Taylor. "Craig Frigo has also had a good week," added Freeze. "He is athletic, can move around and is aggressive."

* Each week, Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin grades the game film and gives out an award for the best performance of the players in his room. In the opener against Boise State, it was a pair of defensive ends, C.J. Johnson and John Youngblood. A week later against Vandy, it was DE Fadol Brown and NT Bryon Bennett. On the strength of that performance, Bennett is expected to get his first start of the year against ULL in front of Woodrow Hamilton, who has started the first two contests at NT. To this point, according to Kiffin, Bennett has been the most consistent, play-in-and-play-out of his whole group. Senior experience and a new outlook by Bryon. Last year, when he didn't get a starting nod, he would go into a shell, of sorts. This year, it's made him more determined to win the job.

* OT/C Robert Conyers missed practice yesterday to rest a hip flexor issue. He was back at practice Wednesday in full pads and was working at both tackle slots and center, his usual workload.

* From the needs-to-come-on category, junior Left Guard Aaron Morris is still showing a hangover, so to speak, from having been out of football for a year and from rehabbing a torn ACL. Consequently, he is not as mentally or physically sharp at this point as was hoped for. While not totally unexpected, and understandable to a certain extent, Morris is one of the bell cows of the OL and it's important that he show steady advancement to getting back to his "old self" quickly. From all accounts, he has had a sharper week of practice this week. We should start seeing the old Morris against ULL.

* While it is exciting to see DT Issac Gross and DE Carlos Thompson back in the fold, it is unrealistic to expect them to be at the top of their games right now. Gross, out for most of August practice with a neck issue, is healthy now, but he has some rust to shake off. Thompson, suspended the first two games, has been with the scout team for several weeks and will need a little time to get his rhythm back as well. When they return to form, they will definitely help the Rebs' defensive cause. As one trainer told me, being healthy doesn't mean being ready to produce.

* Perhaps the question of the week will be who will handle the kickoff duties? Nathan Noble did all the kicking off in the Boise game and did an admirable job, but he slumped a bit against Vandy, giving freshman Gary Wunderlich, he with the sonic boom leg, an opening and opportunity. Wunderlich responded with two touchbacks and a kick out of bounds. The touchbacks were impressive and showed his skill set. The kick out of bounds gave Vandy a starting point of their own 45, which is giving up a lot of turf. Which way will the coaches, namely Special Teams Coordinator Tom Allen, go? We shall see.

* RB Coach Derrick Nix had a severe case of gout last week and he is still favoring that foot a little bit, but he is much better this week and seems to be on the road to full recovery.

* In the punt return game, the Rebs opened the season with a two-deep alignment consisting of Anthony Alford and freshman WR Markell Pack. Against Vandy, the coaches settled on a one-deep alignment with Alford handling the return chores. Why the change? Confidence in Alford to field the ball cleanly, a sigh of relief after Carlos Davis went down for the year with an ACL injury in late August.

* OL Tyler Putman was with the scout team today after joining the team off of greyshirt status this week. He got an indoctrination today, going one-on-one with the DTs. He was not pushed around by them, but it's obvious he needs tutoring. Nice looking prospect for the future.

* Christian Morris was taking second team reps Wednesday behind Laremy Tunsil at left tackle. He's raw, but game. It will be interesting to watch his progress in the coming weeks. "He's a little bit away, but we'd love to get him some reps this weekend," Freeze said. "He's long and athletic. He needs to spend some time with Paul (Jackson), but he's a long cat to get around in pass protection. That's his gift right now."

* Jaylen Walton and Mark Dodson are the deep backs on the kickoff return team. They should feel secure in knocking they have some big bodies blocking for them. Immediately in front of them is 300-pounder Carlton Martin. In front of him are Channing Ward, D.T. Shackelford and John Youngblood, three guys who will light you up if given the chance. On the frontline, the freshmen Moore twins, Jordan Wilkins, Keith Lewis and DeMarquis Gates round out the KOR unit. This group should be able to clear a path for Walton/Dodson.

* Thursday's practice is closed to the media and public.


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