Five sub-plots to the off-season for Ole Miss football …
Denzel Nkemdiche suspension: It’s been an interesting two years on the field for the older Nkemdiche. His career actually extends back to Houston Nutt, but Nkemdiche was redshirted as a true freshman.
His signing was pivotal in the eventual signing of his brother, Robert Nkemdiche, so Nutt in that regard is having a long-lasting effect, mostly positive, on the program.
Denzel has been a two-time AP All-SEC linebacker, a playmaker when healthy, but has also generated some off-the-field news.
At his pre-spring presser on March 4 Freeze said that Nkemdiche is currently suspended for at least the opener against Boise State and possibly another game. It was later, during spring break, that the video surfaced of Nkemdiche’s profanity-laced tirade at an opposing team’s fans on the beach. After spring break Freeze said that video would be included in the totality of the decision on Nkemdiche’s status.
Nkemdiche was slowed by injuries as a sophomore, and his production was down. As a redshirt freshman he led the team with 82 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. When big plays were made on defense he was usually nearby.
Serderius Bryant suspension: Freeze told us that both Nkemdiche and Bryant had lists of objectives to achieve before they were fully restored as team members in good standing.
Nkemdiche’s list was longer, he said. The first sign of that was the fact that Nkemdiche was not allowed to go through spring drills, while Bryant was.
Bryant was a part of the mission team to Haiti during spring break. When he returned he spoke with humility about what he witnessed there and expressed appreciation for his lifestyle in Oxford.
From the time he announced the suspensions, Freeze indicated that Bryant had a chance to play in the Boise State game. From what we see, it appears Bryant is on track.
His emergence last year made up for the Nkemdiche’s missing production from the year before. He himself earned second team AP All-SEC honors and finished with 12.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, three pressures and three forced fumbles.
Christian Morris NCAA waiver request: UCLA transfer Christian Morris was seen as a big pick-up for the offensive line.
The NCAA must approve his request to play immediately and not sit out the required one year for transfers before he can get on the field this year.
The wheels are still turning on that request. It’s an unresolved issue heading into the off-season, but it may also be a moot point since Morris sustained an injury to his Achilles during a winter workout.
On March 4 Freeze said Morris was about three weeks out of from surgery. He said there’s a six- to seven-month recovery period, which by that timeline would have Morris available by mid-August at the earliest and probably later. There’s a whole lot of water under the bridge for the OL at that point, a lot of reps for other guys plus the fact that Morris won’t be able to fully embrace conditioning through the summer. It would seem difficult for Morris to catch up unless he’s a super talent. Maybe he is.
Bo and the specialist: Quarterback Bo Wallace has a chance to have the healthiest season of his career in 2014.
He took the hit on the shoulder early in 2012, played through it with difficulty, then had surgery early in 2013.
The off-season conditioning work that he didn’t have made him less able to stand up to the rigors of the entire 2013 season, Freeze said.
Wallace is as healthy has he’s been at Ole Miss, but Freeze isn’t stopping there. Some time in the coming off-season Wallace is expected to visit with Tom House, a noted specialist who has worked with MLB pitchers and NFL quarterbacks.
It’s a move that is expected to further strengthen Wallace’s shoulder.
Wallace has led Ole Miss to some big wins in two years, and he’s had some costly turnovers as well.
The visit with House is an example of Freeze and staff crossing t’s and dotting i’s and trying to give Wallace every possible chance to have his best season yet.
“If he can come back and get a little more zip on the ball and most of all be able to finish the whole season with the same velocity as when he started, it will obviously be a huge plus for us,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner said.
Liggins and the dinner table: Folks who have been around SEC football for a few years will remember Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen, whose size generated a lot of headlines.
At 6-3 and 296 pounds, Liggins, a sophomore after transferring from Northeast Community College, is 36 pounds heavier than the weight at which Lorenzen was listed in 2003.
Freeze is adamant that Liggins lose some weight.
“It would be very difficult for him right now to function in our offense for a sustained period of time, but as you all saw, he has has some natural gifts that a big man like that doesn’t normally have,” Freeze said.
Liggins won’t be called upon to be an every-down quarterback this season, but it’s clear by the amount of time invested in him in the spring that the short-yardage role is likely.
Liggins showed nimble footwork and good ball-handling skills in the spring. It takes more than one person to bring him down, and every time I saw him tackled he was tackled moving forward.