This time of year for coaches and players, it’s all about the fit. Who fits where? What role will they play? Who’s healthy? With the countdown to the season opener ticking toward this Ole Miss team’s destiny, those are the most important questions being asked and answered right now.
The Ole Miss coaches have met endlessly and evaluated everything from A to Z, now, less than two weeks away from the season opener in Nashville against Vanderbilt, it’s time for them to cross their i’s and dot their t’s.
“We are making personnel and strategical decisions daily,” said Rebel Coach Hugh Freeze. “Now we are at the point where we have to put a finer point on some things. We are grading the film from today and tomorrow. Monday morning we will look at the production of each player and making some judgment calls.”
Freeze said this year is different than most because the Rebs open with an SEC opponent.
“Normally, with a non-conference foe, you can dress 85 and give some people some looks who are on the edge, so to speak,” he noted. “With a conference game, we have to define that 70 roster and make sure we know who can do what. There’s no experimenting in a conference game.”
Freeze said the coaches are also at the point of fine-tuning what they feel will work and won’t work from a scheme standpoint.
“We’ll start on Vandy as a coaching staff this afternoon. We will try to define what will be successful against them and then part two is what can we do personnel-wise,” he explained.
Throughout camp, perhaps the biggest hang up is who will be available from a health perspective and how far along will they be when they do return, all of which has to be factored into any personnel decisions in planning for the opener/season.
“We feel pretty good about most of them being ready for the opener. We still have a couple of question marks, but things are looking up from a couple of weeks ago, overall,” said Freeze.
As for Friday morning’s practice, Freeze was pleased with the outcome, if not the start.
“We had to fight a little with them to get them going, but once we got going, they really competed,” he noted. “This is 18 straight practice and to have the energy and competitive spirit they had this morning, I was pleased.”
Through 18 practices, how does Hugh feel?
“We have gotten better. How much we won’t know until we play a game. We need to get full depth (healthy), that would be nice,” he said. “There’s no question, overall we have gotten better since the start of camp.”
* Surprise, surprise! Freshman TE Christian Morgan has been added to the 105 roster and is currently in his acclimation period to rejoin the active roster. It was believed ever since spring training and a subsequent knee surgery that Morgan would take a redshirt year. Now, his doctors are indicating he can give it a go this year. The thought is that he will be limited, and may have some flare ups with the knee from time to time, but the knee is as sound as it’s going to be. Christian is all for giving playing this season a shot.
* The return game? “Jeff Scott will return punts. He is solid, but last year we could not make him the regular back there due to depth issues at tailback,” Hugh stated. “Now we can because we have more tailbacks we are confident in. That allows us to get Jeff more touches as well. Kickoff return, we like Jaylen Walton, Kailo Moore, Trae Elston, Mark Dodson and I’Tavius Mathers. Jaylen was pretty good last year there and there is no reason to believe he won’t be this year.”
* DE/MLB D.T. Shackelford returned to practice today after sitting out a couple of days with soreness. Currently, he is working with the defensive ends more than the linebackers.
* CB Charles Sawyer, who is still in a white jersey signifying no contact, did a little more today and actually broke up a pass intended for Donte Moncrief in the opening Red Ball drill. Charles has been cleared for a full return, contact and all, Monday.
* DEs C.J. Johnson (Achilles tightness) and Robert Nkemdiche (groin strain) were out of action again today. They are in the mode of could-play-if-the-game-was-tomorrow, but the coaches want them as healthy as possible when the season starts. Rest is the best plan of action to meet that end. . . . TB I’Tavius Mathers (ankle sprain) also sat out Friday’s workout.
* OG Patrick Junen seems to be a step closer to a full return. He’s doing a little more each day, but when he does return, where will he be on the pecking order? “He’s missed so much work, and Justin (Bell) has been pretty steady, that it would be hard for Patrick to step right in and take over,” said Freeze. “The bottom line is we will need them both, so it will be a bonus when Junen comes back.”
* Freshman DT Herbert Moore, whose shoulder popped out in a bag drill and was “put back in” that day, is expected to return to action in tomorrow’s scrimmage.
* Safety Brishen Mathews, who has suffered with a hamstring pull for over a week, returned to practice today.
* CB Senquez Golson has spent a lot of time during practice running on the upper field to get back in the swing of things after missing a lot of time with a hamstring pull. There is optimism he will be back some time next week.
* With Nkemdiche and Johnson out, the number one defensive ends are Carlos Thompson and Cameron Whigham. DC Dave Wommack likes both, citing Carlos as one in a group he would consider most improved on the defensive side of the ball and Cameron as “steady as they come.”
* On the freshman watch front, Husky Tony Connor seems to be getting more and more opportunities to get himself ready for action in the opener. Mike Hilton is still considered the “starter,” but it’s already been declared Tony will play and there may even be times in certain situations when they are on the field at the same time.
* Tomorrow morning’s scrimmage prior to Meet The Rebels in the IPF, is closed to the public and media because, as Freeze said, “it’s time to shut it down. The opener is right around the corner. We want to install some more things we want to see, but it will be very similar to last Saturday – live (contact) and getting some good tape to evaluate.” Freeze said these preseason scrimmages are very important. “We put a lot of weight on our scrimmage evals,” said Freeze. “The coaches are off the field and they have to adjust to every call, formation, coverage, etc. We get to find out who is making MAs (missed assignments), because the reality is we are at the point where they better know what to do, even if they don’t know how to do it perfectly. The next two weeks, we will be less in the ‘how-to’ world and more in making sure they know what to do.”
* There were no major “fireworks” in the portion of Red Ball the media was allowed to watch, but TB Jeff Scott did give the offense a bit of a spark early with an 11-yard run and a short reception he turned into a 12-yard gain. . . QB Bo Wallace also had a couple of double-digit runs, but perhaps the most exciting play of the period was Bo trying to go deep to Moncrief and CB Dehendret Collins breaking up the pass at the last instant. Real nice defensive play.
— Chuck Rounsaville, OMSpirit.com, Publisher