Fortunately for Ole Miss, Laremy Tunsil is no ordinary player.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Tunsil, a junior, was named to preseason All-American and All-SEC teams by a number of national magazines, including Sporting News and Athlon. He was an All-American second team selection last season, and he’s allowed all of two sacks in 23 starts over the last two seasons at left tackle for the Rebels. He’s widely considered a top-5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
So there’s little or no concern from his teammates and coaches about whether Tunsil will be his normal self next week against Texas A&M, his first game back following a suspension by the NCAA for impermissible benefits Tunsil was ruled to have received over his career.
“I don’t think it’ll be difficult at all,” senior right tackle Fahn Cooper said. “No one plays as fast as he does. I think it’ll be difficult for them to match his speed. He’s going to be out there ready to play.”
Tunsil won’t have much time to settle in. He’ll draw a tough first assignment in star Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, who has 7.5 sacks in five games this season. Garrett was a second-team All-SEC pick as a true freshman last season after totaling 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
“He gets the live reps against our defense when we go one-on-one with our defensive line,” offensive line coach Matt Luke said. “You hope that can keep him sharp. We won’t know until he gets out there. He is a special player, so hopefully he can overcome some of that.”
Bottom line, Ole Miss is just happy to have its best player back.
“I’m glad to have closure and to know the situation,” Luke said. “That we can kind of plan and move forward. Being in limbo for a while has been tough, but he’s been out there the whole time. It’s been status quo this week. He’s been great helping out on the look teams and helping the younger players out. I’m pleased with how he handled it.”
“To me, it wasn’t about a football standpoint,” Cooper said. “That’s a big deal, but that came second to the fact that I know my friend, my buddy is dealing with a situation like that, and it was going on for a long time. I’m more relieved for him, and I’m glad he has one less thing to worry about. That’s something you worry about, how it impacts your season, how it impacts your future and all of those different things. I know it was a frustrating situation, and I’m just glad it’s over for him and now he can just worry about playing football and getting better and winning these games with us.”
TREADWELL MESSAGES CHUBB
Ole Miss is 5-1 (2-1 SEC) on the season, and junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is a big reason why.
Treadwell, who entered the year with 120 receptions, 1,240 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, is tied for No. 24 nationally in both catches (35) and yards (510). He’s averaging 85 yards per game, and he’s totaled three touchdowns so far.
Basically, he’s been himself. But he still gets asked about the gruesome injury he suffered in the Rebels’ last-minute loss to Auburn last November - a broken fibula and dislocated ankle which sidelined him for the season.
“I’m back. I don’t have a problem going out onto the field and playing,” he said. “Maybe I’m doing a lot more thinking than I did. It’ll come with more reps. Just being out there and playing, it’ll come.”
He said he never thinks about the injury. But the questions come anyway, especially when similar injuries happen across college football. Georgia running back Nick Chubb fell victim to a knee ligament injury in the Bulldogs’ loss to Tennessee last week.
“I already messaged him, right after our game once I found out,” Treadwell said. “I got a mention on Twitter he’d hurt his leg. I messaged him on Twitter, and he said he appreciated it. I just wanted to let him know that we are supporting him.”
A support system is important, as Treadwell can attest. Rehab can be a lonely, arduous process. ?
However, Treadwell, projected as a first-round NFL Draft talent, is the poster child for bouncing back. He’s shown no limitations in games, and he even recovers like his old self, too. Sundays are normal for him.
“I don’t get too sore,” he said. “We run, I’ll be out front with the guys who didn’t even play that week. I’m a competitor. I just want to win. If I lead by example, I’m sure my teammates will follow.”
'DREAM COME TRUE'
Ole Miss running back Jaylen Walton could have played last week in the Rebels’ 52-3 win over New Mexico State. Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze opted to hold him out for precautionary reasons.
“I’m ready. I feel good,” he said. “I could have played last week if I’d needed to. I actually went out in pads Tuesday for practice. Coach Freeze came up to me saying, ‘Go ahead, take them off, go inside and just make sure you’re 100 percent healthy for these last six games.’ I took some of his advice and took the week off and came back feeling even better than I did before.”
Good news for Walton, who leads the team in rushing yards. He will finally get an opportunity to play in the Liberty Bowl and against his hometown Tigers Saturday. Walton is a Memphis product by way of Ridgeway High School.
Walton is one of 11 players on the Ole Miss roster who hail from the greater Memphis area.
“This is my homecoming,” said Walton, ranked third in school history with 3,907 career all-purpose yards. “It’s a dream come true to go back and play in front of thousands of fans who watched me develop from my beginning career playing football in middle school. It’s going to mean a lot to me, and I plan on showing up and showing out on Saturday.”
Ole Miss has struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks this season. ?
The Rebels are tied for No. 83 nationally with 9.0 sacks on the year, though they are averaging 8.0 tackles for loss per game, good for fifth-best among SEC teams and tied for 15th in the country.
Sophomore defensive end Marquis Haynes, a freshman All-American and All-SEC selection, leads the team with 3.5 sacks. He said the team’s pass-rush problems boil down to overrushing.
“Just going straight up,” he said. “We just want to rush. We’re not really going to the level with the quarterback, getting in position where the whole team can get a sack. We’ve been leaving gaps wide open that he can run through.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that Ole Miss has worked technique hard in practices over the last few weeks, including a change in stance for Haynes. He said his stance has been too wide to “get up off the ball.” So he’s closed it a little bit, and he feels faster.
“I noticed a real difference in how fast I was getting off,” the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Haynes, who is tied with Patrick Willis for 10th in school history with 11.0 sacks, said. “When I got the first sack, I was like, did I just get back here that fast? It’s like, wow.”
The stance change was first discussed with defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. Haynes also had a few passing conversations with former Ole Miss and NFL defensive end Derrick Burgess.
“He was just saying this is why you can’t really turn the corner, because of your stance,” Haynes said. “My stance, I was always going up. I follow my foot, but now we’ve worked on that. My foot is like where my hands be, so I’m good.”