Ole Miss Reshuffling with Gross Out

In football, loss oftentimes brings opportunity. Such is the case for Ole Miss true freshman defensive tackle Austrian Robinson.

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Head coach Hugh Freeze said after practice Wednesday Robinson will probably no longer redshirt following the season-ending neck injury to senior defensive tackle Issac Gross. Gross will sit out the year with the intent to return in 2016.

“We’ll probably pull the redshirt off of Austrian to give us some additional depth there because you know you’re going to need it this season,” Freeze said. “I don’t know if we’ll juggle positions too much. D.J. (Jones) and Woody (Hamilton) will probably play the nose, and Breeland (Speaks) and Rob (Nkemdiche) will probably play the three-technique.”

Gross’ injury didn’t occur Saturday against UT-Martin, a 76-3 Rebel win to open the season. Freeze said the Ole Miss training staff had been monitoring a spur in his neck for a year and a half, and a recent trip to the doctor showed the spur had gotten worse and “more into the nerves.” The decision was made to shut him down.

“The great thing is hopefully he bounces back from it and we get to spend a fifth year together,” Freeze said, adding that the injury report is clean and Ole Miss will be full-go for Fresno State.

“He’s a champ. He wants to get well, for sure. He hates to not be with his team and playing this year. When he looks at things, he looks for the positives in them.”

Aside from the loss of Gross, it’s been a positive week of practice for Freeze and the Rebels. The team was forced indoors due to rain on Wednesday - a move Freeze said led to the best session of the week so far.

“I loved the energy,” he said. “We hadn’t been inside in a while. I don’t know if it’s coming inside or what. Maybe it’s the way the noise carries inside, but it was real energetic and a really good practice, I think. I’ll have to watch the film, but seemed like a good practice.”

The Ole Miss offensive line is an area of concern, especially with the up-in-the-air playing status of star left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Freeze had no update on when Tunsil could return to the field, only to say he’s focused on “this game and who we have that’s able to play. You have injuries and stuff, and you always make adjustments. That’s what we’re doing.” Sophomore C.J. Hampton is probably going to be held out one more week.

With Tunsil still sidelined, Ole Miss rotated Fahn Cooper, Christian Morris, Sean Rawlings and starting center Robert Conyers at its tackles. Cooper started in place of Tunsil against UT-Martin, with Rawlings moving up to the first team at right. Conyers started two games at right tackle last season.

Rod Taylor, who is back at practice after sitting out with a torn labrum in his shoulder, was tried at left tackle some this week, but Freeze said that experiment was shelved - at least for now. He’s shifted over to right guard, where he was projected to start prior to injury.

“We’ll look at the film, see how he does this weekend and then kind of move from there,” Freeze said. “(Left tackle) is just so brand new to him. I could see that he was swimming a bit. I didn’t want him to do that when he initially came back, so decided to move him back inside. He looked fine today. We’re not going all out, but looked pretty good.”

Ole Miss hosts Fresno State Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The Bulldogs are 1-0 after a season-opening 34-13 win over Abilene Christian.

“They’re going to spread you from sideline to sideline,” Freeze said. “They have really good tempo, and they have really good skill people that make you miss in space. That five-yard route just became a 30-yard gain. They present a challenge. That’s what they want to do, and that’s who they’ve been. It’s been successful for them. And then defensively they create a lot of negative plays with their movement and stems and the things they do there.”

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