The Rebels, who are 7-3 (4-2 SEC) on the year, played 10-straight weeks before getting a breather, so head coach Hugh Freeze has backed off a bit. Typically his bye weeks consist of practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They’re only going Tuesday and Wednesday this week, with a weight-lifting and running day scheduled for tomorrow.
Ole Miss will return to practice Sunday, in what Freeze described as “an extra Tuesday-like practice” in anticipation for LSU. The Rebels will host the Tigers at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.
“Both days this week we’ve been able to go a lot of (individual drills), and you get everybody in that,” he said. “I thought Jalen Julius stood out in one-on-ones at corner. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
The third-team and scout-team players scrimmaged to close out practice. Along with Julius, Freeze named wide receivers DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson, as well as quarterback Jason Pellerin, as youngsters who stood out.
“Anyone that’s on the scout team can play. It was a dominance by the offensive unit,” Freeze said. “They had some fun, for sure. We probably worked the defensive scouts a little harder in the tempo stuff. They looked a little more gassed, but it was fun to see everybody get to play around.
“We really do that for the enjoyment of competing. Lodge and Van Jefferson, they’re talented. Jason Pellerin and DK Buford really looked good, as did Alex Givens. I thought Austrian (Robinson) played hard on the defensive side, and Shawn Curtis kind of flashed a few times. But that wasn’t so much to look at specific people as it was to let them compete.”
Freeze said the coaching staff has high hopes for the 6-foot-6, 293-pound Givens, especially given that he could compete for playing time next season following the departures of starting tackles Fahn Cooper and Laremy Tunsil.
Though Tunsil is a junior, he’s widely assumed to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. He was recently projected as the top-overall pick by CBS.
“We’re really excited about him,” Freeze said of Givens, a former three-star prospect. “Great kid, gonna play hard, has got a nasty streak in him. His body’s changing. Another year with (strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Jackson and I think he’ll fit in nicely with the guys we have coming back. It’s a big year in recruiting for the offensive line. We need to sign five or six guys, particularly now with Christian (Morris) moving to a medical (redshirt). We’re aiming for six if we can find the six we feel good about.”
Speaking of the draft, Freeze was asked about how he handles the process with his players. Tunsil isn’t the only expected early-entrant likely to leave early. CBS pegged wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche top-10 picks, too.
“We’ve had conversations before the season, and throughout the year when I have my individual meetings with them we’ll talk a little bit,” Freeze said. “My encouragement to everyone is to be sure we gather the facts. I’m for you, whatever’s best for you. I’ve proven that with guys like Donte (Moncrief) and the kids we’ve had. I want them to do what’s best for them and to make wise choices. We’ll help them gather exactly what the facts are when the time comes. Some are no-brainers. When you recruited them you told them this would be the case. Others you need to take the process slow and make sure you make a wise decision for yourself. As much as they’d allow us to be, we’d love to walk them through it.”
Prior to the season, Tony Conner was widely expected to throw his name in the NFL Draft pool. However, he suffered a torn meniscus against Alabama which sidelined him until Arkansas, when he played 30 snaps.
Conner was non-committal on a return when asked Tuesday about his impending decision. Freeze was not.
“Tony and I have talked. I don’t think he’s even thinking in those terms,” Freeze said. “He’s thinking let me get myself well and come have a great senior year, and I think Evan’s kind of thinking the same thing, too. But again, we’ll gather all the facts. For Tony, he’s thinking the wisest thing … he told me that. Unless something changes, which it could, I believe that he’s thinking right now the best decision would be to come back and get himself well.”
* Ole Miss has two games remaining in its schedule: LSU and at Mississippi State. Within the next few months, the program will say goodbye to another senior class, and this season will see 18 Rebels, including such names as Trae Elston, Mike Hilton and C.J. Johnson, move on to other pursuits - some football, some outside of football. “Very much indebted to them,” Freeze said. “They went through the lean times here and didn’t have much to smile about some days. Their buy-in to us asking them to do certain things and their buy-in to certain core values, without that, you don’t the results we’ve gotten in the short amount of time compared to a lot of programs that are trying to rebuild. Just very indebted to those guys for joining us and making competing and winning some games a new normal around here.”
* Freshman running back Eric Swinney underwent season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture prior to the season. Swinney, a former four-star prospect and the only running back signed in the recruiting class of 2015, spent practice on the squat rack in the weight room. Freeze is pleased with his progress. “Good. (Jackson) has been real happy. We go over him probably once a week, and he’s coming along nicely.”
* A lot has been written and said about the Ole Miss defense this season, especially after ugly losses at Memphis and last week against Arkansas, when the Rebels gave up 605 total yards and 53 points. The secondary has been an understandable focus of the criticism, and Freeze was asked if the departures of Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt possibly hit harder than expected. “It’s hard to tell. Some games we’ve played really well, some we haven’t played well. Anytime you lose good players, you’re going to miss them to some extent. But every program does that, and you’ve got to replace them. Hopefully you don’t miss on too many in recruiting and you’re able to coach them and get the most out of them and get them to play with confidence. It’s just a mixture of things. We miss guys like that, but there’s a lot of moving parts to it. It’s really simple for people to say ‘Well, Senquez and Prewitt’, but there’s also linebackers that are involved in carrying receivers to close the windows some that you have to guard where the window’s not quite as big. We kind of got a combination of all the going on when we don’t play well. I wouldn’t say it’s just on those guys.”
* Sophomore defensive tackle Herbert Moore will have his left knee scoped tomorrow, which is the last step towards getting back on track and returning to the field. He should be able to start rehabbing like he needs to a short time after the scope is done, and he’s expected to return to the fold in the spring.
* Swinney was joined in the weight room by Michael Howard, Fadol Brown and others. Brown sported a walking boot on his left foot Tuesday. He rode a stationary bike for much of the afternoon.