There are several recognizable numbers on the Ole Miss roster, but none more than numbers 5 and 12 on defense.
Those have been missing on the Ole Miss defense lately, but No. 5, Robert Nkemdiche, and No. 12, Tony Conner, were in the fold at practice Tuesday.
"I think Robert will be ready. He has not had any concussion symptoms for a couple of days now and he dressed out today," said Rebel Coach Hugh Freeze. "We are going to check Tony out carefully and not rush anything, but if he can go, we will play him. We'll see. It's a long way until Saturday."
While the media was allowed to watch briefly, Nkemdiche did all mock drills with the number one defense, alternating with Breeland Speaks, who has played a lot in the last two games in Rob's absence. There was no contact while the media was out there, but Freeze indicated Robert was cleared to resume playing.
Conner floated from drill to drill behind Mike Hilton, who has emerged as Tony's replacement while he has been out. Tony had his right knee braced and was not asked, while the media was allowed to watch, to do any cutting or quick movement, but Freeze believes he's close to being able to contribute, if not this week against Auburn, soon.
"It's been tough without them at times. We didn't realize, I don't think, how much we were going to miss Tony and Issac Gross, two emotional leaders and outstanding football players, and then when you throw Robert into that mix, well, it's just hard to overcome," he noted. "We were able to beat A&M without them, but we need them (Robert and Tony) back for these last four games, for sure, if we can get them."
There is light at the end of the tunnel now. Hopefully, the end of the tunnel is near.
* Defensive Tackle Breeland Speaks has become one of the "darlings" of the team in Nkemdiche's absence, and rightly so. It didn't seem like the defensive line has missed a beat with him in the lineup, but what about the big redshirt freshman's upside/future? We asked a member of the strength staff and the answer was "high ceiling." Breeland, we were told, has good strength for his age, but he's kind of middle of the pack strength-wise right now amongst linemen, which is fine. He obviously loves the game of football because he plays with a high motor and he has excellent movement because he played middle linebacker in high school and runs well. Bottom line: When he gets a little stronger and trims a little more body fat off his frame, our guy in the weight room said "look out - beast."
* Freshman Cornerback Cameron Ordway had the redshirt taken off of him a couple of weeks ago when Tee Sheperd defected from the team and he has made the most of his limited opportunity. Against the Aggies, Cam got 20 snaps and graded out 89%. He put himself in position for an interception and a pass breakup and he is coming on strong with his technique. Like all freshmen, he needs more strength, but that will come quickly because "he's an outstanding kid who really works hard."
* Redshirt CB Jalen Julius was returning kickoffs and playing the Wildcat quarterback for the scout team Tuesday. The true freshman, to put it in common vernacular, can fly, and he's smooth doing it. Jalen came to Ole Miss weighing in at 171 pounds. He is 182 pounds now and seems to be even faster. He has never played defense before, but the word form the inside is that he is catching on quickly with corner technique and don't be shocked if he's the punt return and kickoff return man next year.
* DT Woodrow Hamilton has a shoulder stinger, but he was dressed out Tuesday. He was limited in contact work but is anticipated to play against Auburn. . . . WR Markell Pack was in a green jersey signifying no contact Tuesday due to a shoulder stinger. If he cannot go against Auburn, look for Cody Core to move inside to the slot position, where he has played before.
* Redshirt freshman DE Victor Evans got a few reps against A&M and made a tackle. The comment from DL Coach Chris Kiffin - "pretty good for his age. He will get there."
* Redshirt Middle Linebacker Shawn Curtis reported to Ole Miss at 255 pounds. He has trimmed down to 245 and the word around camp is that his speed has increased and he's making more of an impression on the scout team. The goal? 235-240.
* Obviously, Offensive Tackle Christian Morris, who sustained a neck contusion (bruise of the the spinal cord) in the A&M game, was not at practice. He is said to be doing OK. In his absence, Talbot Buys is backing up Laremy Tunsil at left tackle.
* Freshman RB Eric Swinney had his knee repaired in the summer and is out this year, but we are hearing his rehab is coming along beautifully. He reported at 182 pounds and is now a muscular 210. His rehab is on track. The goal is for him to get down to 200-205, which will be easy, but it was indicated his weight gain has been "real good weight."
* At Tuesday's practice, the first team line was LT Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris, C Ben Still, RG Rod Taylor and RT Fahn Cooper. The number two line was: LT Buys, LG Javon Patterson, C Justin Bell, RG Jordan Sims and RT Sean Rawlings.