Head coach Hugh Freeze said Wednesday senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche is questionable as he deals with what Freeze called “a personal matter.” Nkemdiche wasn’t at practice, and in his place was sophomore Demarquis Gates, whose snaps have increased each week.
The Rebels are 7-3 (4-2 SEC) overall. Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS.
“Denzel is questionable,” Freeze said. “He’s dealing with a personal matter that he and his family are kind of going through, and we’re going to walk through it with him. It’s kind of day-by-day on that. I don’t know if I have the answer exactly on that.
“Gates has been playing the majority of those snaps, and Taylor Polk and Ray Ray Smith and Temario (Strong) would be the other options should we need to go in that direction. It’s just day-by-day. When issues come up that you need to get through that involve one of our players and anything with their family, we just want to support them and help them through it.”
The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Gates has played in all 10 games this season with one start. He ranks third on the team in tackles, including seven in the Rebels’ 53-52 loss against Arkansas, which preceded a much-needed bye week that snapped 10-straight weeks of games.
“He’s played solid,” Freeze said of Gates. “He’s still young and he makes some mistakes, but I think he’s played really solid for us in the number of snaps that he’s gotten, which have continued to increase week-to-week. I think he’s ready for this challenge. It’s a different type of challenge for him, but we’ve worked really hard on getting him in the right spots and the right fits. I’m excited about him getting this opportunity.”
Junior defensive end Fadol Brown has been limited in practices the last two weeks. Freeze said he’s dealing with a fracture in his left foot, and he’s had to wear a walking boot. Brown, who’s started eight games, leads the team with 10 quarterback hurries.
“He’s got a fracture in his foot,” Freeze said. “He’s trying to just manage it, just as we are with several to get through the year. It’ll be a game-time decision also. We’re not real sure (when he suffered the injury) really. Met with all the doctors, and when I say fracture, I don’t know the exact terms. He’s going to have to have surgery on it to put a pin in. But they feel like he’s at no additional risk to try and make it through the year. That just depends on how he feels come game time.”
Junior safety Tony Conner was held out of practice as he continues to play through a torn meniscus. Freeze said Monday Conner was around 60 percent health-wise. He won’t be able to fully recover until after the season when he has major surgery that could sideline him months.
Conner recorded four tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, against Arkansas. It was his first game action since Sept. 19 at Alabama.
“We held him out today, just trying our best to have him in the best possible situation for Saturday,” Freeze said. “The game will dictate how he’s performing, how he’s feeling then. We won’t try him again until then. It’s really unknown. Anything that I would say today would be a total guess, really.”
Outside of the walking wounded, Freeze was pleased with the work accomplished Wednesday.
“It was a good Wednesday practice,” he said. “Kind of lost track of days, honestly. I had to remind myself it was Wednesday. I like what we’re doing. You wish you had everybody at full strength this time of year, but I don’t know of any team that can really say that. Pleased with the plan, and pleased with the effort our kids have put into preparing for it.
“You don’t go as long this time of the year. Wednesday, we typically go about 18-20 periods. We only went 15 today. Given the extra day (on Sunday) kind of helped us back off Tuesday and on Wednesday as far as the length of time that we’re together.”