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Stories Written by Parrish Alford
If you’d have asked me prior to SEC Media Days who’d have been the most quotable among the Ole Miss players, I’d have voted with defensive end C.J. Johnson.
That would have been the wrong choice.
Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace generated more copy because he had a message. He was upset.
Wallace thought he should have been the No. 2 quarterback on the media’s preseason All-SEC team, not third where he landed.
The fact that he was supplanted on the second team by Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott has further fueled discussion about which of our state’s SEC schools has the better quarterback.
Truth of the matter, it’s like comparing a luxury RV and a four-star room from Hotels.com. Both can get you a good night’s sleep, but that’s where similarities end.
Wallace fully expected to be second on the preseason team and went so far as to say he’d have been there except for a four-turnover game in the Rebels’ loss at MSU last Thanksgiving. He’s right, but Maw Maw Bessie would say, “You made your bed …” and you know the rest.
Wallace’s expectation was backed by several of summer’s previous opinions. Phil Steele’s book has Wallace as its No. 2 SEC quarterback, and so does Athlon.
Wallace is the league’s most experienced at his position but clearly in the eyes of SEC media hasn’t done enough to distance himself from the pack in what is considered a down year for the league’s quarterbacks.
To borrow from Bill Parcells, “You are what the numbers say you are.” Wallace had too many interceptions in a seven-win season in 2012 and faltered at the end in 2013.
There were numerous reasons – inexperience as a sophomore, a weak shoulder and limited team depth – but voters viewed these as background noise. There simply haven’t been enough big wins with Wallace as the shining star.
Nor have there been for Prescott, but Prescott had a couple of important elements in his corner to inspire summertime conversation.
The first is style. He’s a tremendously gifted athlete, and we live in a day where running quarterbacks receive high praise. Prescott’s style of running is also intriguing. He’s more bruiser than water bug.
That athleticism is the biggest driver in his Heisman discussion.
The second is momentum. Prescott’s team won its last three games – and in the process, he came off the bench to defeat in dramatic fashion the guy who wants to be the media’s No. 2 quarterback.
The desire for No. 2 has never generated so much discussion. No. 1 on the media’s preseason team is Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, a better runner than passer.
The biggest thing Marshall did last season was win. It’s what great quarterbacks do, and it’s what will ultimately decide how Wallace and Prescott compare for 2014.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. Read his blog at InsideOleMissSports.com.
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Tis the season for weight gain and faster 40 times.
College football players take pride in their summer measurables, with hopes they’ll provide a competitive advantage when the games begin.
For Ole Miss, that’s the night of Aug. 28 against Boise State in the Georgia Dome. The Rebels officially check in on Friday as they come under the watchful eyes of Hugh Freeze and his assistant coaches.
Issac Gross will celebrate fitness with his teammates, but he’s no longer concerned with the idea of getting bigger. It doesn’t mean he won’t try, but as the clock ticks on his college experience he’s more focused on doing the best he can with what he has.
An All-American defensive lineman at South Panola, Gross was listed at 270 pounds the first time he appeared in an Ole Miss media guide as a freshman signee in 2012. The roster on the school’s website and this year’s media guide list him at 250 pounds.
Both are wrong says Gross, who lists his weight at 240.
“I’ve stopped worrying about my size. I’m doing my workouts the best I can. My body’s growing, but it’s a different shape,” he said. “When I line up I just play off what’s inside me. I might be 300 pounds with my heart. I just go out there and play ball.”
While size has occasionally been an issue for Gross as he bangs with offensive linemen who outweigh him between 50 and 100 pounds, size hasn’t kept him from being productive. He had nine tackles for loss and 31⁄2 sacks last year, 19 tackles for loss and six sacks over two years. He made the freshman All-SEC team in 2012.
Freeze wishes he could have redshirted Gross back then.
“He needed one. Not because he can’t play. He needed time to get bigger and stronger. It would have done him good to eat three meals a day and work out four times a week,” Freeze said. “We couldn’t do that at the time, and I don’t know that we can do that with him now.”
There’s also been weight loss for a newcomer, former Lafayette High School star Jeremy Liggins, whose weight was believed to be north of 300.
Freeze, at SEC Media Days, said Liggins was down to 280. Last week strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson told The Oxford Citizen that Liggins’ weight loss has been around 15 pounds and that he currently weighs in at 290.
Regardless of Liggins’ weight, coaches are pleased with his conditioning.
“He’s done absolutely phenomenal work. I couldn’t be happier with Jeremy Liggins,” Freeze said. “He looks like a million bucks.”
Liggins was used exclusively at quarterback in the spring and will likely become the Rebels’ No. 1 short-yardage option. After spring, Freeze challenged Liggins to work on his conditioning and make that happen.
Liggins’ size, mobility and ball-handling skills make him a versatile athlete, one with no true position right now.
“I don’t know where I’m going to play him yet, but he’s going to help us,” Freeze said.
The buzzword around Ole Miss football right now is depth, but the best way to use depth is not at all.
Everybody wants it, and you have to have it to be successful.
It’s great when you can field a second team that offers little or no talent drop when called upon.
Ideally those reserves come in with fresh legs and spell the starters. However, if the reserves are pressed into starting roles it means the Rebels’ best players aren’t on the field.
As was the case with C.J. Johnson last year.
This time a year ago, Johnson was trying to come back from a springtime broken leg, and his coaches were hoping he’d be healthy. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called Johnson his unit’s best player.
That’s who the Rebels were missing, their best past rusher and defensive MVP, when Johnson’s season ended with ankle surgery after playing in only four games.
Without him, Ole Miss was woefully inadequate in pressuring quarterbacks, the Rebels’ 1.54 sacks per game ranking 12th in the SEC and 96th nationally.
Johnson’s junior year was returned to him with a medical redshirt, and he’s healthy going into this season. A former No. 1 recruit in Mississippi, Johnson said he feels like he hasn’t scratched the surface of his career.
“I’ve had an OK career, it’s still not done. I’ve still got two more years left. I see a lot in the future,” he said.
Without Johnson, there are different pass rush options that weren’t around last year.
Florida International transfer Fadol Brown becomes eligible, and prep school signee Marquis Haynes showed quickness in the spring.
They look the part. They expect success, but right now they’re marked by their potential to produce not by what they’ve already produced.
Robert Nkemdiche goes into his sophomore season after several games at the end of 2013 and a full spring at defensive tackle. He was dominant at the position in the bowl game and should be much more comfortable there this season.
Nkemdiche will do more than tie up blockers at the line of scrimmage. He’ll provide push along the interior which should only enhance the play of his teammates on the edge.
It’s quite possible that an area noticeably weak on a defense that was statistically average – just seventh in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense – could become a noteworthy advantage.
The best chance for this to happen is with a strong, healthy and hungry C.J. Johnson on the field.
He brings a quick first step and explosiveness that helps him make plays in the backfield plus a toughness in attitude that says, “Follow me.”
Depth is a wonderful thing, and Ole Miss has more of it right now than it’s had during Hugh Freeze’s time as head coach.
This defense, though, can be special if Johnson is healthy and becomes one of the top playmakers in the SEC.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@Journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.
By Parrish Alford
HOOVER, Ala. – Hugh Freeze took the podium at SEC Media Days for the third time, ready to answer questions about the buzz around his Ole Miss football team and eager to take something positive from the way the Rebels ran out of gas at the end of last season.
With bowl wins in his first two seasons, six starters returning on offense and nine on defense Ole Miss has been a popular top 25 pick in preseason magazines.
Athlon has Ole Miss at No. 18, Phil Steele at No. 16. More preseason polls are on the way.
“With two successful seasons and the recruiting our coaches have done there’s no question expectations are going to be raised,” Freeze told writers in a crowded hotel ballroom on Thursday.
Expectations were raised on the fly last year after the Rebels won at Texas to start 3-0 and enter the national rankings.
However, they finished just 3-5 in conference play. They lost their last two games, at home against Eastern Division champ Missouri and at rival Mississippi State, before rallying for a Music City Bowl win against Georgia Tech.
In 2013, Freeze relied heavily on freshmen from a top 10 recruiting class. The reality of how much they were needed at so many positions may have contributed to November struggles.
The Texas road win was exciting, so too the opening-night win at Vanderbilt on ESPN, but prime time can have its drawbacks.
“We depended on so many of those young kids, and the way we opened the season, so many road games in a row, and it ended up that every road game was at 7 or 8 at night. We were getting back at 3 or 4 a.m. That was a whole new world for those freshmen, and I do believe it took somewhat of a toll on them,” Freeze said.
Those freshmen got plenty done during the season. Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche were named first-team preseason All-SEC on Thursday, and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell made the second team along with defensive back Tony Conner.
Freeze is hopeful the sophomore class is more conditioned to the demands of the season and that he can handle this year’s batch of freshmen differently.
Not as many will be expected to play right away, but there will be some, most notably Rod Taylor along the offensive line. Another newcomer, junior college transfer Fahn Cooper, will be needed to help up front early as well.
Wide receivers Markell Pack and Dayall Harris will have a chance to play early. Sammie Epps (6-5, 215) is listed as a tight end, but Freeze mentioned him with the receivers.
The mix of old and new and the accumulation of depth have Freeze optimistic what lies ahead in the SEC West.
“I think it’s wide open,” he said. “We’re a better football team, but the others are also.”
HOOVER, Ala. – So nagging had become the shoulder for Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace that he wondered if he’d ever be fully healthy and winced when certain plays were called.
Wallace first injured his shoulder the fourth game of his college career when the Rebels were playing at Tulane in 2012.
The hit knocked him out of the game. It didn’t knock him out of the season, but it remained an issue throughout. Later that year Wallace was pulled from the LSU game at the end because Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, with the Rebels trailing, didn’t think he had the strength to throw it downfield.
Surgery in January of 2013 fixed the problem but kept Wallace out of the strength and conditioning program. Consequently his endurance suffered at the end of last season.
“Last year I was like, ‘Damn, I’ll never be the same again,’” Wallace said Thursday.
Wallace’s weakened shoulder caused him to doubt his ability to get the ball to his top target, Donte Moncrief.
“We’d call something deep, and I was like, ‘Man, if Donte doesn’t beat them off the line, I’m not going to be able to throw it out there.”
A year and a half after surgery – and following a May visit to shoulder specialist Tom House – Wallace proclaims himself 100 percent fit. And he says he has no fears of re-injuring the shoulder.
He’s feeling better, he’s more confident, and his teammates notice the difference.
“Laquon’s (Treadwell) yelling at the running backs, ‘We don’t even need a running back this year. Y’all go home.’ It’s fun to know that you feel it, but they’re also seeing it.”
While depth builds at most positions, Freeze did get some disappointing off-season news when he learned in May that backup Huskie Chief Brown would be lost for the season with an Achilles injury.
Still, the secondary is one of the Rebels’ deepest positions. They return an All-American in Cody Prewitt and a junior in Trae Elston at the safeties, plus Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton at the corners. Sophomore Derrick Jones, at 6-foot-2, gives Ole Miss a bigger, athletic corner to match up against taller wide receivers, and junior college transfer corner Tee Shepard is expected to make a quick contribution.
“The potential is unlimited. I finally feel like we’re a good, experienced secondary,” Prewitt said. “We’re used to playing with each other, and whenever we’re practicing, we make a lot fewer mistakes.”
Ranking the coaches
Freeze says his daughter Ragan, 15, keeps a ranking of the SEC coaches. He didn’t provide the complete poll but says he isn’t included on the list. LSU coach Les Miles is the leader.
“In her book No. 1 is coach Miles. Down in Baton Rouge he spent about 10 minutes with her, and last year, when they came to our place, she was out there talking to him without me,” Freeze said. “I would be her No. 1 I hope. That’s my girl. She lives and dies with this football now.”
Freeze said Ragan is often at mid-field scoping out the opposing coach at Ole Miss home games.
“Her little heart beats 100 miles an hour when you win, and he’s crushed when we lose. The families of our coaches, they probably have it harder than we do. I’m thrilled that I’m still someone she wants to be around.”
Freeze is upbeat about the academic progress of Shepard and believes he’ll be able to report near the start of camp. … Transfer OL Christian Morris is healing well from his Achilles injury, but Freeze sounded less hopeful that Morris will be granted an NCAA waiver that would allow him to play this season. The waiver request process is on-going. … Senior wide receiver Collins Moore recently sustained a knee injury that is expected to keep him out of action for four to six weeks. … The only freshman awaiting academic clearance is Tyrone, Ga., DL Chris Williams. The paper work is in, and Freeze is just waiting on a ruling. … As for off-season arrests, Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche, announced as suspended prior to spring practice, have made continual progress in the terms presented to them to come off suspension. Freeze never used “suspended” to describe Channing Ward or Senquez Golson. “We’re confident that Senquez’s and Channing’s will be cleared up,” he said. At present only Nkemdiche is expected to miss the Aug. 28 opener against Boise State in Atlanta
By Parrish Alford
HOOVER, Ala. – There are a lot of expectations for Ole Miss football this season.
One of them was met with disappointment Thursday as SEC Media Days began to wind down.
Bo Wallace, the most experienced quarterback in the conference, is entering his third season as the Rebels’ starter. He’s already second on the school’s career passing yardage list. He’s helped a program in disarray in 2011 win 15 games, and he’s twice been a bowl game MVP.
He did not expect to be named preseason All-SEC third team.
“I didn’t think I would be first. I thought Nick Marshall would be first, the way he led (Auburn) to the national championship (game) you can’t argue against that,” Wallace told the crowd gathered at his table. “ I didn’t think I was going to be third.”
That only leaves second, and that spot was occupied by Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
Wallace’s passing numbers were better (257.4 ypg, 64.8 percent completions), Prescott’s rushing numbers were better (75.4 ypg, 13 TD).
But Prescott won “the game,” coming off the bench late to lead the Bulldogs past Ole Miss last November. He scored what proved to be the winning touchdown in overtime. Wallace fumbled into the MSU end zone on the game’s final play to seal it for the Bulldogs.
“If we win that game at Mississippi State the voting’s going to be a lot different. The hype is going to be a lot different. That’s why that’s happening,” Wallace said.
Marshall was indeed the first-team choice with 241 points. Prescott (118) and Wallace (94) were closer to one another than they were to Marshall.
In a season where both teams seem well-positioned for possible success against a transition Western Division which Mississippi team has the best SEC quarterback has been a hot topic.
More leadership, consistency
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he’d like to see more leadership and consistency from Wallace.
Now a year removed from shoulder surgery and having spent part of the off-season in southern California with shoulder specialist Tom House, Freeze is optimistic that Wallace will score well in both categories.
“I’m really pleased with the progress he’s made in leading our football team and in going about his business. He graduated, which is good. Now he can spend extra time watching film and studying now that he has his degree,” Freeze said. “He’ll continue to be talked to about understanding you don’t have to make a play every play. That’s not all bad either. He’s got that competitive streak in him that he thinks he can make it.”
That competitive streak showed Thursday with what he perceived as a preseason All-SEC snub, one that he equates directly to his performance against MSU.
Wallace heard about the voting on his way to Hoover.
“I wasn’t happy about it. It puts a chip on my shoulder. I’m ready for the year, and I’m ready for that game,” he said.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze inherited an SEC losing streak that was becoming a monster.
At Arkansas, Bret Bielema inherited a streak that was disappointing, but nobody was jumping off Ozark Mountain cliffs.
It took Freeze three swings in 2012 to break into the SEC win column. Former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt – previously of Arkansas – was forced out in November of 2011. The Rebels were beaten soundly in the last three games, with their finale at Mississippi State the 14th consecutive SEC loss.
Freeze and his first Ole Miss team were painfully close to snapping the streak at 15 before Johnny Manziel led a magical comeback for Texas A&M.
The next week, the Rebels stepped on the throttle in the second half, surging from a 17-17 tie to beat Auburn 41-24 and snap a 16-game conference losing streak.
Two weeks later, the Rebels won an SEC road game with a last-play field goal, 30-27, against Arkansas in Little Rock.
Bielema’s Razorbacks, in their last two games, lost 24-17 in overtime in Little Rock to Mississippi State and 31-27 at No. 15 LSU.
Some games are more lost than won, he says.
“A lot of times you do things that prevent you from winning more so than another team’s execution,” Bielema said. “As coaches we have to take a practical look at what we’re asking kids to do. If they can’t do it, don’t call it.”
The Hogs have lost their last 12 SEC games. They last beat a conference team on Oct. 13, 2012 in Fayetteville, a dominating 49-7 win over Kentucky.
Two weeks later they lost to Freeze and the Rebels.
LSU scored 10 points in the final 4 minutes, 56 seconds, including the game-winning touchdown on a 49-yard pass with 1:15 left to extend the Razorbacks’ misery.
“That was when it really hurt us, after the LSU game. We saw how close we were. We’re doing everything we can to get over the hump and get an SEC win,” defensive end Trey Flowers said.
The next chance is Aug. 30 at Auburn in the season opener, the streaking Hogs against the defending SEC champs. It will be Bielema’s traditional grind-and-pound against Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo.
The streak may reach 13 SEC losses, but Flowers, who had 131⁄2 tackles for loss and five sacks a year ago, turned down a chance to enter the draft because he believes Bielema can turn around things as Freeze did for Ole Miss.
“I see where this program is going. I see the consistency of coach Bielema and the honesty he holds himself to. Him being a winning coach, he knows how to win,” Flowers said. “Seeing how close the program is to turning around, I can do a little bit to help.”
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com
HOOVER, Ala. – The wit and the blunt responses to almost any topic make Steve Spurrier a favorite at SEC Media Days.
The South Carolina coach who won a national championship at Florida kicked things off Tuesday morning, and the topic – one of them – was big-money donors.
Many coaches publicly thank private contributors, but Spurrier stated the obvious with detail more suited for a backyard barbecue rather than in front of more than 1,000 credentialed media.
“Joe Rice is one of our big donors,” Spurrier said. “He took me to the Bahamas on his jet airplane, on his yacht. It was a pretty good trip.”
South Carolina’s “friends of the program” didn’t greet Spurrier with open wallets the day he was hired.
It was four years before recruiting picked up. Wins followed, and so did the money.
Spurrier says there had been one million-dollar donor in South Carolina’s football history before his arrival. Now he estimates 12-13.
“They’re very important. The big donors in college are similar to owners in the NFL. The best part of it is they don’t tell us what to do, what plays to call and so forth,” he said.
Spurrier said he works to maintain relationships with these donors. One way he does that is a dinner hosted by he and his wife in their honor. This year’s is scheduled for Aug. 15.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin threw a redshirt freshman quarterback to the wolves two years ago, and things worked out well.
Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and led the Aggies to 20 wins over two years before being drafted by Cleveland in the first round this spring.
Now, it’s possible Sumlin could name a true freshman as starter. It wasn’t an announcement he made Tuesday, although he indicated that could come a couple of weeks, not days, from the team’s opener at South Carolina.
“In college football every two to three years you’re going to have turnover, and you have to have a plan for that. That’s what’s exciting about college football. I wouldn’t be so excited if I hadn’t recruited the Gatorade player of the year in Texas and the No. 1 quarterback in the country behind him,” Sumlin said.
Kenny Hill, a 6-1 sophomore, was Texas’ Gatorade winner in 2012. Kyle Allen, a pro style passer, was rated the No. 1 quarterback last year.
“They work hard, and they want to win,” senior offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi said. “They’re young, but they’re vocal. It’s impressive to see young guys step up and lead.”
Second-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones is glad to welcome back an upperclassman playmaker to be a voice of experience on a roster he says will be 50 percent brand new.
“There are new opportunities for everyone in our program,” Jones said.
There won’t be much experimentation with Curt Maggit, who is coming back from ACL surgery that forced him out of the 2013 season, though Jones may move him around at linebacker.
Maggit appeared in nine games and had five tackles for loss in 2012.
“He will be a presence. He demands respect, and to be able to have his voice on the field will be critical for us moving forward,” Jones said.
Fourteen members of the Vols’ No. 5-ranked recruiting class were early enrollees, a helpful fact for a team has to replace both interior lines.
The growing pains might be offset by two five-star recruits, running back Jalen Hurd and wide receiver Josh Malone.
“The whole key for us is how do we manage the natural adversity that a college football season brings about,” Jones said.
By Parrish Alford
HOOVER, Ala. – Adam Butler couldn’t unwind, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t enjoy a late-night dessert that often makes all things better.
He and his Vanderbilt teammates had just watched a possible opening-night win disappear in the blink of an eye.
Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott dashed to the corner and instead of running out of bounds to save clock, turned back inside and ran 75 yards for the winning touchdown in the Rebels’ 39-35 victory last season at Vanderbilt Stadium.
With a little more than a minute to play, it’s possible the Rebels would have driven for a game-tying field goal or perhaps a touchdown on another play.
Vanderbilt got the ball back and mounted a drive but couldn’t undo what Scott had done.
“Every time you think about Ole Miss you think about that play. I lost sleep. The game came back on at 2 o’clock, and I was sitting up watching it eating ice cream,” said Butler, who started on the defensive line that night.
Vanderbilt rebounded from that loss to finish 9-4.
The Commodores take on Ole Miss in Nashville on Sept. 13 – this time at downtown at L.P. Field, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and site of the Rebels’ 25-17 Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech in December.
Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are permanent SEC division cross-over opponents. The Commodores will visit Mississippi State on Nov. 22.
For Vanderbilt’s players, the video session that followed was almost as painful as the game itself.
“It was tough. Nobody was saying anything,” said tight end Stephen Scheu, whose 35-yard TD catch put the Commodores ahead with 1:30 remaining. “The coaches were trying to be as upbeat as possible, and that was tough to do. Guys were crushed … crushed.”
Over and over
Replays of the run showed at least one defender giving less than full effort to catch Scott.
“It was disappointing to sit there and watch that again, because they played it about 10 times. They kept re-winding it, going through each player and telling them what they could have done differently,” Butler said.
Trying to make sense of what had just happened players offered their own analysis.
“I heard many excuses like, ‘I thought he was going to go out of bounds,’ and stuff like that,” Butler said.
So it is with a little extra motivation that the Commodores – sporting a spread offense and 3-4 defense under new head coach Derek Mason – will approach the Ole Miss game.
Vanderbilt had taken three straight and five of the last six in the series before Scott’s run lifted the Rebels.
While a lot will be new for the Commodores, some of the emphasis will be the same, but they’ll hope to execute better.
“I was disappointed in the fact that we didn’t pursue to the football and finish which is what we had been practicing all week,” Butler said. “All week all we did was run to the football. We did pursuit drills twice a day at practice for plays like that. I couldn’t believe it when we gave up that long touchdown run.”
With Ole Miss appearing at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Thursday, here are five likely topics that head coach Hugh Freeze will tackle.
While there was no off-season change to the NCAA rule allowing college football teams to put the ball in play as fast as they can the discussion remains.
Some SEC coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’s Bret Bielema, say it’s a discussion of safety.
Tempo offense has been good to Hugh Freeze everywhere he’s been, and he’s been a vocal proponent for the status quo.
He was asked about his offense and the rules change discussion at the SEC spring meetings in May and no doubt will be asked again.
Most in the ballroom will want to know whether Freeze believes having an experienced third-year starter at quarterback gives Ole Miss a chance to climb in the division standings. Freeze will answer something along the lines of “You’d like to think so, but there have been some inexperienced quarterbacks who played pretty well lately.” He’ll point to Johnny Manziel and Nick Marshall.
The bigger question for Wallace right now is how did things go with his trip to California to see shoulder specialist Tom House? What did Freeze think of the video he saw from that visit and how did it go with Freeze’s conversations with House? What did Wallace take from that trip that can help keep his shoulder at peak performance level the entire season?
The Rebels have gotten some Top 25 love in various preseason rankings. Whether Wallace stays healthy and can play at a high level from start to finish will be a big factor in if and where they’re ranked at season’s end.
Two years ago at his first SEC Media Days appearance, Freeze spoke of a journey from the football wilderness for his program.
After obvious growth in the standings and in recruiting he’ll be asked if this is the year Ole Miss takes a notable step forward in the SEC West.
In April, Freeze said he was pleased with the progress of Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche. He was hesitant to offer too much praise, he said, because “the minute I jump out there and become very optimistic we could have a setback,” he said.
Both are suspended because of off-season arrests. Freeze announced before the start of spring practice that Bryant could work his way back into good standing before the season opener with Boise State in Atlanta but that Nkemdiche would be suspended for at least that game.
Now it would seem that Senquez Golson’s status is unclear. On the post-spring depth chart Golson, a senior from Pascagoula, is listed No. 1 at Field Cornerback. He was arrested earlier this summer. Little-used veteran Cliff Coleman and sophomore Kailo Moore, who must moved to corner from running back, are behind Golson on the depth chart.
The status of another Golson is more certain and unfortunate for the Rebels. The surprise departure of Austin Golson subtracts a key recruit from the 2013 class and will be felt at center as well tackle. Robert Conyers, a third-year sophomore, was very much a part of the competition to replace Evan Swindall. Now he’s been moved back to right tackle where he’ll start at No. 1 in August.
There will be hearty competition with junior college transfer Fahn Cooper and possibly UCLA transfer Christian Morris if he’s healthy and gets an NCAA waiver to allow him to play immediately and not sit out the year required of most transfers.
Golson’s move weakens the middle of the line too. If Ben Still doesn’t win the job at center, it’s possible you’ll see guard Justin Bell join that mix. That would mean freshman Rod Taylor would likely be called on to play right away.
It’s a scenario that hurts OL depth, and quality depth up front would be a big bonus for this team.