Rebel eyes on the possible return of junior defensive back

Of course, there are other subplots going on at Ole Miss' practices this week, but a lot of attention is being focused on the possible return of Husky Tony Conner, who has been out since the Alabama game with a knee issue.

On Monday, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze said Husky Tony Conner, out since the Alabama game with a knee injury/surgery/rehab, would try to come back and play against Arkansas if everything went well in practice this week as the Rebels prepare for an important SEC game with Arkansas Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Today (Tuesday) was the first day of practice and the media was allowed to watch four periods, roughly 25 minutes, of the workout. In that time frame, Tony moved around at about 3/4 speed seemingly pain free. His movement seemed fluid. He was not putting a lot of pressure on the knee, which was braced, but he seemed to be effortless and stress free in what he was doing.

Word circulating through the practice was that Conner will play against the Razorbacks, but it's only a guess, by all concerned, how much. The thought process this early in the week is that Tony will have a couple of packages the defensive coaches will install with him in the lineup and limit his playing time, working him in slowly, but that he will dress out and give it a try. If, during the game, he is feeling OK, they will test and tax him more.

"We think he is going to be full go at this point, but we are going to have plan A,B and C. We are not going to overload him," said DC Dave Wommack. "He's done everything everyone else is doing in practice. Conditioning will be the biggest factor for him, in my opinion. We will utilize him, but at this point, we do not know how much." 

Mike Hilton, who has started at Husky since the Florida game, will continue at Husky and will get the bulk of the Husky reps against Arkansas.

"We will probably play them in a package at the same time. Mike will stay at Husky," Dave noted.

With Arkansas' power/play-action offense, the game promises to be a very physical contest. Last year, in Fayetteville, the Hogs routed the mistake-prone Rebs 30-0, but a close look at the stats show they only gained a little over 300 yards on the Rebel defense. 

"You just can't make the number and type of mistakes we made that game and expect to come out on top, or even be in the game," Wommack said. "We are hoping for a different outcome this year and certainly for a cleaner game."

Random Notes:

* The Rebels are as healthy as the November stretch run starts as one could hope. Besides Center Robert Conyers, out for the year with a knee injury, and Issac Gross, out with a neck issue, everyone should be available for action. The Rebs left the Auburn game with some nagging injuries - Robert Nkemdiche (ankle), Fadol Brown (ankle), Woody Hamilton (shoulder), Mike Hilton (shoulder) and C.J. Johnson (sore neck) - but all of them were dressed out and practicing in full pads Tuesday. Johnson was in a green jersey, signifying no contact, but it was more about a chest cold than anything else. He is expected to be fine by Saturday.

* It's pretty cool to watch players get an opportunity to show their stuff and then take advantage of it with good performances. They get a different spring in their steps, they walk a little lighter, they hold their heads higher and their smiles are bigger. Take one Akeem Judd, for instance. The bounce in his gait is distinct and his energy level has increased substantially since he started making a mark on the Rebel offense. Expect more of the same.

* The Rebel offense is not to the pick-your-poison status yet, but it's getting closer. Early in the year, defenses loaded up on the run game, so the Rebs went over the top and were one of the leaders in the nation in passing offense. Then, defenses started loading up on the back end and the Rebs started running the ball effectively. Against Auburn, it was a little of both. The Tigers dropped more in coverage the first half and the run game hurt them. In the second half, they brought safeties down for run support and the Rebel passing game gashed them. Again, it's not a pick-your-poison situation yet - the run game still needs numbers to succeed, but it's much closer than it has been. Obviously, having Laremy Tunsil back is one reason for that, but so is the mindset of the coaches and players, that they will run the ball enough to keep defenses honest.

* In Tuesday's practice, the starting OL was LT Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris, C Ben Still, RG Jordan Sims and RT Fahn Cooper. Freeze said Monday that Still "had his best game as a Rebel" against Auburn, but veteran Justin Bell is ready and waiting in the wings at center as is Rod Taylor at right guard, Javon Patterson at left guard and Sean Rawlings at RT.

* Freshman CB Cameron Ordway reported in the summer at 175 pounds. He is now 186 and on the rise. His goal is "190-195." He says he has maintained his speed with the added weight and feels good about where he is in his first year. . . . Fellow frosh CB Jalen Julius got a shot at one-on-ones the other day with the main players. On his first rep, he had a pick 6. Nice.

* Redshirt Tight End Willie Hibbler reported in the summer at 245 pounds, but he was carrying too much bodhy fat. Now, five months later, Hibbler is a lean, defined 240 pounds with very little body fat and plenty of room for growth. At 6-5, he will probably be in the 250 pound range next year. Double nice.

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