Ole Miss DBs coach Wesley McGriff (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

Beleaguered Rebel defense under Crime Dog is making a move

The Rebel coaches "put the ball down" toward the end of practice today in some Red Zone and goalline periods. During the scripted portions, the defense gained a decided edge. When the session went unscripted, the offense redeemed themselves a little.

"I was proud of the energy and effectiveness of the defense today, especially at the end of practice when we went live," said Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze. "They were flying around and making plays. They bowed their necks and played very physical. They dominated our run game for the most part. I liked the way they swarmed the ball too. We held the offense to field goals or caused a turnover or two.

"Offensively, I thought we could have done some things better. We have to take care of the ball better and we have a lot of things to clean up from the tight Red Zone part of the field. I thought the defense was very physical and the offense needed to be more physical, but, again, when we went unscripted, the offense made some plays and scored a time or two."

Freeze has been very pleased with the progress of the defense under new DC Wesley McGriff, but, as always, it starts up front and one of the main players in that area, a player who has to come through for the Rebs to be a good defense, is DT Breeland Speaks.

"Breeland's motor this spring has been unbelievable," Freeze continued. "He is playing at a level energy wise and tempo wise that I could not ask for any more. He needs to work some on his techniques and he will because (Coach) Freddie (Roach) is demanding that and he will get it out of them. I cannot question Breeland's heart or anything right now.

"We talk all the time. He wants to be great. He just had an off year last year. It happens. An athlete like him, now that he has matured some, will be hard to deal with. He had some disappointments last year, but he has overcome those things. He's had a heckuva spring so far."

Jordan Wilkins, it comes as no surprise, is the main running back, but Freeze believes the Rebs can get productivity from others on the roster as well.

Ole Miss RB D'Vaughn Pennamon (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

"D'Vaughn Pennamon looks to be doing some good things in the Red Zone and in short yardage. Eugene (Brazley) fits this offense in regards to having more space to work in and D.K. Buford has made some plays, but Jordan is the top guy as I see it right now," Hugh noted. "Eric (Swinney) will not have any contact this spring and needs to lose a few pounds, but we are excited to get him back full speed in the summer."

Freeze is also pleased with the wideouts.

"Markell Pack has become a different kid, a leader in that room. He's doing some nice things this spring. Van (Jefferson) is experienced now and even though he's just a sophomore, he's on of the older guys in the room. A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, D.K. Metcalf and Tre' Nixon have all done really good things this spring. I like that room," he stated. "I think those guys in this offense with Shea Patterson at quarterback should be a good match and productive."

The LBs were ostracized last year for lack of production. Freeze believes they are getting better this spring.

"I want to watch today's film, but I know they were more physical and I know the defense got better today, so you have to assume the linebackers were a big part of that. Donta Evans being back out there from a minor injury helped because he's a big body. Brenden Williams forced a fumble and recovered it, which was good to see," Freeze said. "I believe in Coach (Bradley Dale) Peveto. They will get better."

Hugh acknowledged that Evan Engram will be difficult to replace, but he likes what he has seen at tight end thus far.

"Dawson Knox, Octavious Cooley, Ty Quick and Jason Pellerin, if we continue down that road, are all quality players. We will be fine there, I believe," he added. "Jason just wants to be in the field and help the team. He is unselfish, He is a giver and he is a very good athlete who will help this team. I like him in the slot. He is a matchup problem there with his size and speed."

Random Notes

* CB Jalen Jones, who fractured his forearm earlier in spring, was dressed in green today. That signifies no contact, but he can go through individual drills. By the way, Julius played at 170 pounds last year, soaking wet. He is 185 now.

* DT Austrian Robinson was starting to make some headway this spring, as in pushing to be in the rotation, but he fractured his ankle today. He will most likely miss the rest of spring training. 

* Redshirt freshman LG Jack DeFoor was 250 when he reported to Ole Miss last summer. He is 270-ish now and it is showing, He is starting to hold his own in one-on-one drills with DL backups. Good sign for the future. Hard-nosed kid.

* Blue Pennamon is now toting 233 pounds around and showing some instincts with the ball in his hand, especially in tight quarters, but his goal is to get to 225, maintain his strength and power and gain some speed. What does RB Coach Derrick Nix like about hiim" "He breaks tackles." Simple enough.

* TB Eric Swinney cannot have contact this spring, but that doesn't mean he can't go through drills and show improvement, which he has. "He is looking better every day with his movement," noted Nix. "By August, he will be ready to roll and I'm excited to get him back."

Ole Miss DB C.J. Moore (Photo credit: Petre Thomas)

* The question mark about TE Dawson Knox has been if he is physical enough. He makes plays in the passing game daily, as we have written before a couple of times. TE Coach Maurice Harris said Knox has impressed him by being more physical than he anticipated. "He'll get in your grill. I like how far he has come in being more physical," Mo stated. "Cooley also has all the tools, he just needs to get his assignments down pat. TE is hard to play in this system because you have to learn FB, TE and slot responsibilities against different fronts and coveragesand know how to react instantly against all of them. Octavious is coming around. We have a nice rotation going there with them and Ty Quick."

* Chad Kelly was at practice today for the first time. He is awaiting next week's Pro Day (April 3). Former Ole Miss QB David Morris, who runs QB Country, an organization based in Mobile that develops quarterbacks, has been working with Chad and said that Kelly "looks great throwing the ball, better than ever. He can't move around real well yet due to the knee injury and rehab, but he is really spinning it." Morris will run the passing part of Pro Day, which he does at many schools.

* We asked Kelly what he thought of the Rebel QBs as he was observing them. "I think Shea and Jordan (Ta'amu) have very good arms, they read things well and they will benefit from this offense," he said. "This offense gives them more space to work in and bigger lanes to throw in. It will be real good for them."

* Qaadir Sheppard is alternating with Victor Evans at number one strong side defensive end and is pushing Evans hard for the number one spot, but Evans is not giving in without a scuffle. Evans, who came to Ole Miss three years ago as a 205-pounder, is now 250 pounds and looks every bit the part.

* We reported last week that C.J. Moore appeared to have passed Deontay Anderson as the number one strong safety. That still held true today. Moore was one and Anderson was with the two defense.

* Senquez Golson, who tore ligaments in his foot last year and had to have screws put in to hold things together, got the screws taken out Monday and is now about to start full speed workouts getting ready for training camp with the Steelers. He said he is excited to finally be healthy, which he has not been since he left Ole Miss two years ago.

* JUCO DE Markell Winters has torn his labrum and will miss the rest of spring training. He will go under the knife Friday.

* Center Sean Rawlings said the Rebel offensive line is still learning the nuances of the new offense, terminology and all, but he can definitely tell that group has been together a full year. "We are more mature in our communication skills now. We almost know what the guy next to us is thinking now. We were on the same page last year, but we had times when we were guessing how the guy next to us would react against different looks. There is no guessing now. We know exactly what the guys flanking us are going to do and we have seen all the looks. We rarely get surprised," he stated. 

* The media will have no more practice access this week. The Rebels will practice Thursday and Saturday to round out this week and then four times next week culminating in the Saturday, April 8, 11 a.m. Grove Bowl.

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