Ole Miss strapped on full pads inside the Manning Center Monday afternoon

Ole Miss resumed practices Monday afternoon following a week off for spring break.

But with how his defense performed, head coach Hugh Freeze said one would think some of his players were still on vacation.

The Rebels donned full pads for a workout inside the Manning Center, with the offense taking the day with what Freeze described as a commanding performance. Overall, though, it’s been a back-and-forth spring for the Rebels. Both sides have had dominant days.

“It’s been about even,” Freeze said. “Before we broke for spring it was a dominant practice by the defense. Today was a dominant practice by the offense. I’d love to see some of those 16-play competitions be 9-7 instead of 10-6 or worse in some cases. We’ve had a couple of practices like that. I thought we still looked like we were on spring break a little bit today as far as the conditioning and getting back into it. Hopefully, they’ll meet with (Ole Miss strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Jackson tomorrow, and we’ll get the film knocked out and come back Wednesday and Thursday.”

Freeze said the extremes of practice — an overwhelming win for the offense one day, the defense the next — can be attributed to a number of factors.

“Coaches planning for success some,” he said. “No one likes to get it handed to them. There was no doubt when we left for spring break the offensive coaches felt like it was a non-competitive practice in a lot of situations. I think they spent a lot of time today making sure we were going to get things called that we wanted to get called, some of it. You get momentum going. The defense answered the bell in that last period. The third-down period is the one they won, but it’s the only one they won today. They did answer the bell. Some of it’s us being young at some places, and you’re still installing some stuff. A lot of it is us paying attention to what we want to call in certain things.

A number of players have caught Freeze’s eye through seven practices, from newcomer Myles Hartsfield to redshirt freshman offensive lineman Alex Givens and veterans Marquis Haynes and D.J. Jones.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Van Jefferson “shows up every practice” and has “really looked good,” while redshirt freshman running back Eric Swinney continues to make strides.

“He looked very good today,” Freeze said. “He hasn’t gotten a ton of carries, but today he looked quick, powerful and strong. He finished runs well. I liked what I saw. I think all of our guys, they’re all up over 200 pounds now, and they all have certain things, but he seems to finish runs with a certain amount of authority for sure that we might not have seen so much of in the past. I’ve always felt like if he gets healthy he has a chance to be a special kid.”

Junior wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow hasn’t participated in any drills so far due to an ankle injury. Freeze said he’s feeling better.

“He has the boot off and he’s moving around,” Freeze said. “(The team trainer) said he wasn’t ready to go today. That’s all I know. It’s kind of a weird sprain. They used the term for it, but it’s got a little blood in the bone, and they just want to get it all out before he can go. No question he’s feeling a lot better.”

One group that has shined is the defensive line, despite the losses of starters Robert Nkemdiche and Woodrow Hamilton. Fortunately for Ole Miss, there’s depth up front, led by Jones and Haynes.

“We miss Woody some for sure, and we’ll miss Robert, but I think our d-line has a chance to be good. We need to get some kids healthy. We’re without Fadol (Brown) right now, without Herbert (Moore), without Issac (Gross) in the team stuff. We need those guys to get back and give us the depth we need, but I think we have a chance to be OK there.”

Freeze spent spring break in Haiti wth a handful of players and members of the coaching staff, a trip he said was a rewarding experience.

“That trip never disappoints in the realm of making you grateful and thankful for what we have here,” he said. “It’s a difficult trip for me the older I get, but it’s worth it. We took a lot of families, some kids. We’re well-known in that village. They love to see the Ole Miss group there, and to see them get fresh water and the joy they have from getting that is pretty humbling. We’ve played a big role in that, and we’ve committed now through my foundation to helping them get the funding for the irrigation so they can get some water to an area where they think they can grow food. So it’s a humbling deal. It always ends up impacting us more than probably impacting them. It was a great trip. Other than I don’t sleep and don’t eat a whole lot.”


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