Chad Kelly had high praise for his teammate, freshman quarterback Jason Pellerin earlier this week.
Wednesday evening so did Hugh Freeze. The bye week presents an opportunity for Freeze and the Ole Miss coaching staff to take a closer look at players who will help determine wins and losses in the future.
The week hasn’t been only about hard and intense focus on freshmen who are redshirting and other scout team players. There’s some of that, of course, but part of the bye week is simply about fun. It’s about taking those scout team guys and putting them in situations, albeit only practice, where yards, catches and touchdowns matter.
All high school and college football players are competitive by nature. It’s a bit of an adjustment to come in and learn another team’s plays off a card held up by a graduate assistant. You go from being the Big Man On Campus, from being a difference-maker every Friday night, to being the “look” team, one of the 11 who give a “look” to the first- and second-team Ole Miss players, the guys involved in the game plan who will get the snaps on Saturdays.
So Freeze let the scout team guys get after it Wednesday afternoon. It wasn’t just redshirt signees, but anybody who regularly spends time on the scout team, walk-ons or what have you, was eligible for the scrimmage.
It was the redshirt scholarship players, not surprising, who caught Freeze’s eye. The first player he mentioned was cornerback Jalen Julius. It’s not surprising given the recent struggles in the secondary that that position might get a closer look. Julius, the Winter Garden, Fla., native, was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, a three-star by other recruiting services. ESPN listed him No. 230 on its list of top 300 players.
Freeze liked what he saw from the 6-foot Julius in one-one-one drills. Read that again. That’s especially important given Freeze’s complaints Saturday night after the Rebels’ 53-52 overtime loss to Arkansas and again on Monday about his team’s inability to win one-on-one matchups in the secondary.
“I thought Jalen Julius stood out in one-on-ones at corner. I think he’s going to be a really good player.”
Ole Miss has signed the No. 1 juco cornerback – according to someone’s service – for the last two years. Tee Shepard is no longer part of the program. Tony Bridge is but hasn’t acclimated as quickly as Freeze and the staff would have hoped. Ole Miss will return all its cornerbacks for 2016, but there will be wide-open competition, and Julius or anyone else who demonstrates an ability to make plays like Senquez Golson did last year will get more than ample opportunity.
Speaking of Golson, Freeze was asked Wednesday if the secondary struggles are a direct result of losing Golson and Cody Prewitt from last year’s defense which led the nation with the fewest points allowed. He says that’s not the case and gives a little more explanation of what he thinks is going on defensively.
“It’s really simple for a lot of people to say well Senquez Golson, but there are backers also involved in carrying receivers that would have closed the windows some, and the windows not quite as big. We’ve kind of got a combination of all that going on and people not playing well. I wouldn’t sit here and say it’s just on those guys.”
Freeze also had good things to say about redshirt tackle Alex Givens. Again, that’s a need position for the Rebels. The offensive line experience that Ole Miss will return will be at the interior with guards Rod Taylor and Javon Patterson and Robert Conyers, who will be coming off ACL surgery, at center. Conyers could play tackle if needed, but the guess is he’ll stay in the middle. Taking him away from center just creates another search.
The Rebels will be losing an elite tackle in Laremy Tunsil, and a pretty good one in Fahn Cooper.
Givens is a four-star guy out of Nashville and was rated the No. 30 offensive tackle in the nation by 247Sports. Givens is 6-6 and will likely be 300 pounds by the time next August rolls around. Freeze describes him as a guy who plays hard and plays with a nasty streak.
“We’re real excited about Alex. Great kid. He’s going to play hard. He’s got a nasty streak in him. His body is changing. Another year with coach (Paul) Jackson, and he’ll fit in nicely with the guys we have coming back. It’s a big year in recruiting for our offensive line. We need to sign five or six particularly now with Christian moving to a medical. We’re aiming for six if we can find the six we feel good about.”
He will be only a redshirt freshman next year. Alex Givens won’t solve the Rebels’ needs at tackle. Freeze says he’ll look for as many as six offensive linemen this signing period if he can find six that he really likes. Expect a juco tackle to be in the mix somewhere. Freeze has had good luck finding and evaluating juco tackles at Ole Miss first with Pierce Burton, now with Fahn Cooper.