The Rebels held one of their final practices Wednesday in preparation for their season-opening game against Florida State. Kickoff in Orlando, Fla., is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. CT.
“By the time the third week of camp rolls around,” head coach Hugh Freeze said, “everybody’s itching to do something different than what you’ve been doing every day for a while. I think everybody’s excited about the opportunity that’s ahead of us and ready for it to get here.”
Ole Miss will hold two additional practices this week, each far more scaled back than what has been custom for fall camp this month. Freeze said Thursday and Friday will consist mostly of weight training, stretching and rehab for injured players — the typical Thursday plan for game week, only twice this time around as to adjust for a Monday night game. A walk-through is set for Saturday before the team departs for Orlando Sunday morning.
“We’ve gotten everything covered that we wanted to get covered,” Freeze said. “(The Monday kickoff) is different. It really doesn’t mess you up before it because you can plan. I have to ask people a lot of times, ‘What day is today?’ In my mind, today was a Tuesday. But it’s going to be a challenge next week. You’ve got to give a day off a week, and Tuesday’s going to have to be their off-day. You’ve got three days before you play an offense that you’re not quite used to defending. It will present some challenges after that.”
Ole Miss looking to build off an impressive 10-3 season in 2015 — one that saw the Rebels finish the year in the Sugar Bowl, their second of back-to-back New Year’s Six bow appearances. They dominated Oklahoma State, 48-20.
Ole Miss returns a wealth of talent, led by senior quarterback Chad Kelly, a loaded wide receivers corps and first-round NFL Draft talents in defensive end Marquis Haynes and defensive back Tony Conner.
Not to be forgotten, however, is senior defensive end Fadol Brown. But his status for the game is in question due to his recovery from foot surgery. The good news is Brown returned to practice this week, and he was a full participant on Wednesday.
“We’ll just keep monitoring it day by day,” Freeze said. “He finished practice. Didn’t seem to be in a large amount of pain or anything, watching him move around. I haven’t talked to him, but I think he’ll give it a go. He looked good today. We’ll see how tomorrow feels. That’s usually the real test, but I’m pretty confident he’ll give it a go.”
Freeze said the conditioning of the 6-foot-4, 273-pound Brown is obviously behind considering he’s been limited or out for most of August. But the returning two-year starter ran in the athletic training staff’s pool while he was on the shelf, as well as did some additional conditioning work in an effort to be as ready as possible game one.
“Surely he’s not in as good a shape as some of the others who’ve practiced every day, but he’s not in terrible shape either,” Freeze said. “We’ll limit the number (of snaps). We wouldn’t expect him to go a large amount of plays, but just watching him today, he looked like he could give you 20 to 30 good snaps.”
Florida State sets in motion a brutal September slate. In a 19-day stretch, the Rebels take on Wofford in a shortened week before playing host to reigning national champion Alabama, as well as traditional SEC East powerhouse Georgia.
Freeze said the team is embracing the tough road ahead.
“It’s an extremely difficult stretch, for sure,” he said. “I don’t know what the exact rankings are, but you look at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama, they’re all some of the nation’s best. Some of the best athletes you play against week-in and week-out, and we get them all in a row in one month. It’s a tall task, but we’re looking forward to it. We’ll have to manage our health and how hard we push early on, ‘cause you’ve got to have something in your tank for these games. They’re four-quarter battles.”
Ole Miss will have but three days to prepare for Wofford. The NCAA requires an off day each week, so the Rebels will take off Tuesday.
“In the summer we always (plan for) three games, our first three opponents,” Freeze said. “So we’ve got a shell of a plan. They get to play on a Thursday night this week, so they’ll have a long time to prepare. But we get their first game, and we’ve got a shell of a plan.”
On the injury status of freshman safety Deontay Anderson (hand):
“He’s fine. Got fitted for a splint today, been practicing the last few days. Looked fine.”
On the development of transfer linebacker Rommel Mageo:
“I think he and (Detric) Bing-Dukes are starting to get into the flow of things. It does take time. It’s a process, just like A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Octavious Cooley. I think those are three of the best signees we’ve had in my time here. But it’s still a process. Unfortunately in today’s time with the media and social media, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, they should do it right away.’ Well, it’s not quite that easy. Be patient with those. Those are going to be some phenomenal players. But it does take time.”
On if Rommel ultimately becoming a starter is what’s best for the defense long term:
“Time will tell. It’s hard to say right now. We’re going to need them all. Some of it kind of depends on the team you play, too. But we’ll need them all.”