Hugh Freeze

If you talk to any of the Ole Miss tight ends, they have one thing in common - they have a bond with their position coach, Hugh Freeze. Freeze is in his first year as an on-the-field Rebel mentor and the results of his presence are obvious. Read about it inside.

Even if you don't know the finer points of playing a particular position on the football field, any fan can notice productivity.

You may not be able to detect who missed a block away from the play or who ran the wrong route, but at the end of the day you can look at a stat sheet and tell who is and who isn't doing the job.

The Ole Miss tight ends are kind of in that boat.

In the past couple of years, they haven't been used much in the passing game - for whatever reason, it does not really matter.

But when Dan Werner was hired as the new offensive coordinator for the Rebels, the philosophy was clear - Ole Miss will utilize the tight ends in the passing game with one caveat - if they earn it, if they produce, if they show they can handle the responsibility of getting the ball in their hands.

That chore was left to TE Coach Hugh Freeze and the TE candidates.

"Coach Werner and I were blunt with them the first time we ever met. We told them in no uncertain terms that we would call their number in the passing game as much as they deserved it," Freeze said recetnly. "If they showed they could catch the ball, run the right routes, get open - produce - they would get their chances."

Obviously, the tight ends, led by junior Robert Lane, a converted quarterback, and senior Lawrence Lilly, who has been described as an underachiever for most of his career, listened.

"Collectively, they have all produced like we were hoping they would. Consequently, they are getting the ball regularly and are prime, respected targets for the quarterbacks," Freeze continued. "It's been about two things - effort and production.

"Coach Werner has been pleased with their progress and is rewarding them by calling their numbers more often. We have four right now who are catching passes in scrimmages - Robert, Lawrence, Robert Hough and Keith Houston. To this point, they have proven themselves to be reliable and have produced. Coach Werner has noticed and is liberally incorporating them into the offense."

For his part, Werner was hoping he would be able to include the tight ends. He loves using them in the passing game.

"Usually defenses will assign linebackers to cover tight ends. Linebackers, though, have to think run first and then pass. That instant of them thinking about the run should give a good tight end the advantage he needs to get open," Dan explained. "A productive tight end is a very valuable tool - why not use him a lot?"

Lane has repeatedly stepped up in scrimmage situations, making big play after big play.

"Dan and I were concerned before last spring that Robert may not be an every-down tight end because we didn't know if he could handle the blocking part of the position," Freeze continued. "He's handled it very well. He's a tough kid who gives you everything he's got on every snap. He will stick his nose in there and throw a block on anyone. He will mix it up and find a way to get it done. Robert put on some good weight and gained some strength in the offseason so he'd be ready to propel himself to an every-down tight end and it's paid off.

"As far as him catching the ball, he's a natural. He's got soft hands and he can catch it in traffic. When the ball is in the air, he thinks it's his and his only and he'll go get it."

Lilly has been an enigma most of his career. Blessed with a lot of ability and the prototypical size of the modern tight end, one has wondered the past couple of years what has held him back from being a dominant figure in past Rebel offenses.

L.L. made a vow after spring that he would not go unnoticed in his senior year.

"Lawrence changed his body as much as anyone on this team in the offseason. He's in better shape and he's more determined than he was in spring. In our last scrimmage, he made some big plays for us on third down and is headed in the right direction," Freeze said. "We needed Lawrence to step up badly and, to this point, he has done that. Everyone has more confidence in him now. I think Lawrence has also gained confidence in himself. All I know is that he's producing and that it was critical that he step up. He's shown all the signs that he is ready for his senior year to be a good one. We expect big things from him."

Hough is considered "too light" for the position, but he's another one, Freeze said, who gives it his all.

"Sure, we wish Hough was 40 pounds heavier, but he's not. What Robert does is consistently lay it on the line every play for us. He practices hard and can stretch the field with his speed," Hugh continued. "I like what he has done thus far in fall camp."

Keith Houston was moved from TE to WR in spring, but has since moved back with JUCO signee Jason Hawkins no longer being on the team.

"Keith is a guy who can run and catch and will be used in some situations to stretch the field from the tight end slot. He's also one of our better special teams guys. He's valuable to this team," Freeze commented.

Hugh deflects any of the preseason success the tight ends have had away from himself, but the players differ in that opinion.

"They were motivated in the offseason, they are motivated by their value in this offense and they have good ability," Freeze assesses. "They all have their strengths and it's up to us as coaches to put them in the situations that will help the team the most."

Lane gives the praise right back to Freeze.

"Coach Freeze is a guy who is easy to play for. He motivates you to put your best out there every play," Lane said. "I don't know how this season is going to play out, but I know the tight ends feel like we are a big part of this offense thanks to Coach Freeze and Coach Werner. We dont' want to let them down."

Head Coach Ed Orgeron recognizes what he's got in Freeze.

"Hugh is a rising young star in this profession," said Coach O. "He will not only move up quickly on this staff, he is destined to be a head coach on the college level one day. I rely on him for a lot of things and he's a coach I can trust 100%."

There are no gurantees the tight ends will be a "great" unit this fall, but it can be said they have come a long way since spring and they continue to get better. Freeze is a big part of that equation.

What more can be asked?

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