By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – In a classic case of glass half empty or glass half full, Ole Miss fans today can celebrate their defense or debate their offense.
There’s ample room for both.
The Rebels’ defense was dominant in a roughly two-hour workout that was open to fans Saturday morning at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The solid work for the defense took place without heralded junior college transfer Tee Shepard. The former Notre Dame signee is out with a foot injury. An MRI was scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze hoped to learn more on Shepard later in the day.
“He had a phenomenal practice the last two days. I’m sure praying. I prayed hard this morning that it’s nothing significant,” Freeze said.
Shepard had been running in what Freeze described as a rotation of first-team cornerbacks. The first-team corners for Saturday’s scrimmage work were Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton.
It was sophomore Robert Nkemdiche who stood out as the Ole Miss offense struggled to block him.
The Rebels are far from settled on the offensive line with competition on-going at center and right tackle.
Junior college transfer Fahn Cooper ran with the first team much of the week, but third-year sophomore Robert Conyers – who is also competing for the center job with junior Ben Still – got many of those reps on Saturday.
“It will probably have to be another week, and we’ll say, ‘This is who we’re going with,’” Freeze said.
Nkemdiche is listed as a tackle, but defensive coordinator Dave Wommack showed Saturday that he’s not shy about lining up Nkemdiche any number of ways along the defensive front.
Nkemdiche collapsing the pocket was a consistent scene Saturday. That disrupted timing in the passing game and led to several interceptions, two of them picked by Golson.
The day wasn’t a total wash for the offense.
Quarterback Bo Wallace threw a couple of touchdown passes, one on a deep ball to Laquon Treadwell.
Nkemdiche was in the backfield on the play, but Wallace moved left and got off the pass to Treadwell, who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch.
Offensive highlights, though, were hard to find.
Freeze said Nkemdiche was as good for most of the first week as he was on Saturday.
It was near the end of the day that Conyers joined the club of the many who had been blown up by Nkemdiche.
He learned something too, something that may prove helpful as his fight for a starting spot carries into Week Two.
“He’s a big, strong, physical man. He’s by far the most physical guy we have on our team,” Conyers said. “He’s a tough one, but if you get after him the way he gets after you you can hold your own.”
By Parrish Alford