Grove Bowl Observations

The Blue Team defeated the Red Team 17-7 in The Grove Bowl Saturday. Here were a few of our observations from the spring-ending contest.

* Rover Mike Hilton is very deserving of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award which he received Saturday morning at the annual Chucky Mullins Banquet. He will honor the #38 jersey as well as any recipient and there are no arguments with his selection, but MLB/DE C.J. Johnson and FS Trae Elston would have also been good picks. There is more than one leader on this defense. . .

* OG Jordan Sims, thanks to a 50-60 weight loss since his arrival in Oxford, and FS C.J. Hampton, thanks to learning and grasping the defense effectively, were named the Most Improved Players of spring pregame. Freeze has been mentioning them all spring in pressers, so this was no shock. . .

* Freeze lamented the receivers dropping passes this spring, and in The Grove Bowl. The surprise, however, was who, individually, was doing the dropping. TE Evan Engram misplayed three or four passes that, for him, were very catchable and Derrick Jones, who has had a terrific spring, mishandled a couple as well. That won't happen in the fall. We all know what Engram can do and Jones is going to surprise a lot of people when the lights come on. . .

* Freeze also mentioned that for the totality of spring he might give a minute, razor thin edge to Ryan Buchanan in the ongoing quarterback race. The Grove Bowl, however, illustrated just how tight that race is. Buchanan had the worst stats, but he also had the most dropped passes. Kelly had the most impressive drive on the day capped by a 47-yard TD pass to TE Taz Zettergren, but he cooled off most of the rest of the way. Devante Kincade had two or three impressive runs and several nice passes, but also showed some inconsistency in the passing game at times. Our take? Tossup. . .

* From a defensive line perspective, the standouts through our glasses were Blue DTs Breeland Speaks and DT Issac Gross. They tormented the Red OL all day. The Red tandem of Robert Nkemdiche and D.J. Jones were also formidable. Throw in Woody Hamilton and the Rebs should be excellent at the DT slots. . .

* It was good to see Carlos Davis fielding punts again. Evan though the action was not live, and Carlos looked shaky on the first one - a case of nerves he said, it's obvious why he was considered the top PR guy last summer prior to his knee injury. . .

* CBs Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard, as we have been attesting to all spring, are as physical as any corners the Rebs have had since Stevon Moore. The extra 15 pounds Kendarius Webster has put on has also added to his arsenal. It's not going to be fun for opposing wideouts next season, it says here. . .

* Jordan Wilkins made two or three very physical runs, as did Akeem Judd. The theme this spring was "Dirty Runs," runs that take a physical nature. Both those backs exhibited that quality in The Grove Bowl. That was a missing ingredient, for the most part, last year and it was good to see this spring. . .

* OLB Denzel Nkemdiche appears to be back on track after an injury-shortened 2014. He made a couple of plays that reminded us of his All-SEC year two seasons ago. His knowledge of the defense and that position will be critical. . .

* A.J. Moore, who backs up Husky Tony Conner, flew around the field effectively all day, making three open-field tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage. The heir apparent to Conner is coming along nicely. . .

* Tee and OLB Ray Ray Smith had interceptions on the day. Ray Ray picked off a Buchanan pass that was batted at the LOS and Tee made a move on a Kelly pass and had a big return to end the game. . .

* Kudos to the split up offensive line. We were wrong in our pregame assessment that the defense would dominate the game based on a lack of offensive linemen available, but both the Red OL and Blue OL held their own most of the day. Sorry we doubted you, guys. Nice job. . .

* Six Rebel players were wearing and testing a small tracking device behind their ears. It's called the X-2 and is a g-force monitor. It will monitor every hit a player takes on the head - the exact spot, the force, the effect. The next step is Bluetooth technology which will give trainers instant feedback during games on the severity of hits to the head. New technology to help gauge the effects of head trauma. Cutting edge stuff for the Rebs' safety. . .

* We, the media, did not get to see a lot of spring training, but the biggest surprise in the times we could witness practices was the effectiveness of the offense. Sure, they were inconsistent, and that will have to develop, but they made plays, they drove the ball quite a bit and from what we witnessed, the intention is for the offense to go faster in the tempo game a lot next year. Once all the players who were sidelined return, the offense should be better than originally anticipated. . .


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