Rebs In Pads

The Rebels, after two shorts and shoulder pads practices, donned the hardware Sunday and did some contact work for the first time in the 2014 season. While most of the contact was not "full/live," there was some leather popping on the Ole Miss practice fields.

Football practices in August can get a little repetitive, sometimes even boring, doing the same things over and over and over in an effort to fine-tune and perfect.

But there is always a different feel in the air the first day of full pads, which, for the Rebels, was Sunday.

"Football is a physical, collision sport," Coach Hugh Freeze stated. "There's only so much you can get done and learn when the guys aren't in pads."

To get the whole contact "thing" going, Freeze had an early Oklahoma drill, mainly focusing on the newcomers, and some interesting matchups ensued with some somewhat surprising "winners" in the one-on-one drill.

For instance, OL Jordan Sims seemed to have no problem defeating highly-touted DT Breeland Speaks, simply overpowering him. . . LB DeMarquis Gates did a number on TE Sammie Epps. . . TE Jeremy Liggins "owned" DE Garrald McDowell. . . Gates also got the best of WR Damore'ea Stringfellow, but the transfer receiver wanted a rematch and got a little payback. . . C.J. Moore manhandled WR Markell Pack.

Two Rebels mix it up in "Bull in the Ring."

. . . and so it begins. . .

Freeze limited the media to four periods - about 20 minutes - of Sunday's practice and was not available after practice, opting to let the press get a shot at Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner instead.

Werner's first impressions?

"We are way ahead of where we have been the last two years in August," Werner began. "Paul Jackson and his staff did a great job of getting the team in shape and they are flying around.

"The weather has been great and we couldn't ask for a better situation. We have enough guys with experience in our system now that we are seeing a lot of retention and kids knowing what to do the first day of practice. That's a ;lot different than the last two years overall."

All eyes are on QB Bo Wallace, his arm/shoulder rehab and the early assessment of his coach.

"He's like two different players he is so far ahead of last year," Dan answered the ever-present query. "Last year, he was barely off rehab. This year, he's done with all of that and is way beyond where he was last year. He has gained some weight, he's excited and his arm is obviously stronger.

"Certainly the key is sustaining all of that throughout the season, but he is off to a great start. It's obvious that the week at USC with Coach Tom House over the summer was very beneficial to him."

Not much has been said about the backup QBs - RS freshmen Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan, but they are important to the cause if anything were to happen to Wallace.

"Their retention from spring in terms of understanding the scheme and timing is good. The big thing for a young quarterback is taking that information and speeding it up," Werner stated. "I think both of them are gradually speeding up."

Ole Miss RB Akeem Judd.

The coaches opted to move Jeremy Liggins from quarterback to tight end. It's early, but Werner already sees positive signs concerning the switch.

"He can be really good there. He has good hands, he is very physical and he is ridiculously athletic for someone who is 280-290 pounds or whatever he is now," Dan said. "The key for him is learning the position. He looks to be a natural. We ask him to block someone, and he knows how to get it done."

The running back position, it is well-documented, is crowded, to say the least. Werner likes it that way.

"When we got here, we had one tailback. Now we have a half dozen," noted Dan. "Every one of them is a good player. It will be a battle every day and they know if they perform they get more time and if they don't, they could drop down."

Werner was asked specifically about I'tavius Mathers, who finished spring on a strong note, and newcomer Akeem Judd.

"Today, he had a big run and he made a block in pass pro that was critical. If he doesn't pick up the block, it's a QB sack. As it was, it was a touchdown," Werner commented. "Akeem made some really nice moves today, but we weren't having live contact in the team drills. I am anxious to see how he does in live drills and see if he will run some defenders over. His movement, for a big guy, is pretty good though. I can tell that already."

Dan believes the young receivers - Dayall Harris, Sammie Epps and Markell Pack - can help the Rebels quickly.

"I don't know how much we will need them. All of that has to be sorted out, but I feel - from the early signs - they will be good enough to help us," he added.

Ole Miss linebacker DeMarquis Gates.

The elephant in the room is the offensive line.

"The whole key is health. We feel we have 6-8 guys who can really play. If one or two go down, we have issues," he assessed. "I like the looks of our newcomers, but the question is how quickly can they be ready? That is what August is for."

Random Notes:

* There was offseason talk of moving Mike Hilton or Cliff Coleman to the Husky slot from cornerback with the summer injury to Chief Brown. As of today's lineup, it looks as if that distinction will go to Coleman and Hilton, even though he has a year of playing Husky, will stay at CB. Of course, Freeze was quick to point out that Hilton could move there "at the drop of a hat" and never miss a beat. . .

* The starting OL Sunday was LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris, Center Ben Still, RG Justin Bell and RT Robert Conyers. . . The twos were LT Davion Johnson, LG Daronte Bouldin, C Craig Frigo, RG Carlton Martin and RT Fahn Cooper.

* With limited access to practice, it's been difficult to see much of Wallace throwing the ball, but what little we have seen verifies what Werner and Freeze have been saying. His arm is definitely in much better shape than it was last year at any time, he is bigger and he is putting more zip on the ball. He seems to be throwing with authority and confidence now rather than just trying to heave it out there and hope it gets there in a timely manner.

* If you look at the current roster, there is one thing that is glaring. Numbers are important to recruits and a big majority of them, regardless of position, are wanting numbers 1-20. The newest trend - single digit numbers denotes something special in kids' minds these days - for now. Next year it could be numbers in the 90s. It's cyclical.

* Monday's practice is completely closed and there will be no interviews afterwards, hence, no practice report or stories from that session.

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