Almost two months to the day from when junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in the Auburn game last year, junior offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil suffered the same season-ending injury in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against TCU.
“I knew it was pretty serious when I was on the ground,” Tunsil recalled. “I got rolled up on when Bo (Wallace) got sacked, and I felt a different pain, and I saw my ankle was out of place. They popped it back into place on the field. I knew it was serious when they told me I had to wait for the swelling to go down, and then I had the surgery two weeks later.”
The hardest part, which he said was walking around in a boot, is over.
Now, he shows up to work every day around 2 p.m., puts in 45 minutes to an hour of rehabilitation, which includes running on a treadmill in a whirlpool, going through the same thing every day.
But he’s made progress. He started walking two weeks ago, and he hopes to start running by June.
“I just have to take it one day at a time and come back slow,” Tunsil said. “I think I’ll be full-go by the fall. I think I’ll get back to 100 percent, sooner or later.”
Treadwell and Tunsil, both top recruits when they came to Ole Miss, have leaned on each other during their respective rehabs, only Treadwell is two months ahead of Tunsil in the process.
“We both broke our fibulas and dislocated our ankles,” Tunsil said. “He’s telling me to work on this and work on that, rehab stuff, and trying to keep our minds right because we have bigger things to focus on.”
Tunsil said he misses being out there with his offensive line unit and the rest of the team, but he continues to find ways to contribute, whether that’s speaking up in the meeting room, or taking some of the younger offensive linemen under his wing.
“They’re coming along pretty well,” Tunsil said. “They need a lot more leadership out there, so I have been talking in the meeting room, telling them what they need to work on.”
Junior offensive lineman Jeremy Liggins, who played quarterback and tight end last year, has stepped into Tunsil’s spot at left tackle this spring, and he has impressed coaches and players alike with his athleticism and toughness.
“The game is moving fast for him,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “If the defense would stay in one look, he would do really well, but he’s having to process a lot of different looks at a rapid pace, plus you’re installing something new almost every day, so it’s challenging for him. There’s no question that I think we did the right thing in putting him there. There’s still a chance, depending on our health, that he would be used in other ways, but it’s been helpful to see him get these reps at offensive line.”
“He’s picking up the offense fast, but he has to get used to digesting the game and digesting the defense, being able to see everything and make his calls,” senior offensive lineman Justin Bell said. “He’s always been a skilled player, so he has to get used to banging the trenches. He’s very physical, so that helps him out. He doesn’t mind contact. You could tell when he was at quarterback that he didn’t shy away from running somebody over.”
Not including freshman Javon Patterson, who has similarly impressed everyone around the program, Freeze said redshirt freshman Jordan Sims has jumped out to him and might be the most improved player among the offensive linemen.
“He lost 60 pounds, and that’s the key for him,” Freeze said. “We always knew he had great feet because we saw that from him in camp. Now, he has committed himself to the nutrition program. He did the work and he’s down to a good weight for himself.”
Less than two weeks away from the Grove Bowl on Saturday, April 11, Freeze has been generally pleased with what he has seen from his team in the spring, including a spirited scrimmage in full pads Thursday in the Manning Center.
The Rebels have also gotten some players back from injury in sophomore running backs Eugene Brazley and Jordan Wilkins, as well as sophomore wide receiver Markell Pack and senior wide receiver Cody Core, who both returned to practice Thursday.
“We are improving and we’re getting better,” Freeze said. “There’s a lot of great competition at some spots, which is one of the best thing to improve yourself. When you feel like you’re in the competition every day and you have to bring it in practice and you get judged on your efforts every day, that’s very helpful and has been this spring.”
One of those spots is Rover safety, where senior Mike Hilton will miss the remainder of the spring due to a thumb injury.
Freeze said one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring, the most improved player at that position, has been sophomore defensive back C.J. Hampton. Freeze also mentioned sophomores A.J. and C.J. Moore and senior Chief Brown as players stepping up there.
Another spot is defensive tackle, where the Rebels return four lettermen from last year, including starters Robert Nkemdiche and Issac Gross. The wildcard of the group may be junior college transfer D.J. Jones, who can play both the three-technique and nose tackle.
“There is a play from the last scrimmage where he turns and runs downfield to run down a running back that’s impressive,” said Freeze of Jones. “He needs work on his fundamentals, but he’s getting better every practice.
“He’s probably more of a three technique, if we stay healthy with Issac and Woody (Hamilton) at the nose. But he’s the guy we would look at as being the swing guy who needs to do both, with Breeland (Speaks) and Robert at the three (technique).”
Courtesy of Austin Miller who is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller.