By Parrish Alford
NASHVILLE – The best Christmas present Hugh Freeze received this year may turn out to be an accessory for his playbook.
It expanded on Friday by perhaps as much as 25 percent.
Freeze, the Ole Miss coach, said he expects freshman tight end Evan Engram to play around 30 plays when the Rebels take on Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl here on Monday.
Engram participated in Friday’s workout at Montgomery Bell Academy.
“He looked pretty good today. He had some soreness in the treatment room, but he’s going to give it a go. We’re excited about it. That kind of brings us back to do some things we did earlier in the season,” Freeze said.
A three-star recruit from Powder Springs, Ga., Engram was a focal point of August practice as Freeze sought to upgrade the athleticism and consistency at tight end.
He hasn’t played since sustaining a high ankle sprain in the LSU game but did enough in seven games to make the Associated Press All-SEC second team.
Engram’s ability to stretch the field and to give quarterback Bo Wallace a big, dependable target in the seam has been missed.
“We’ve been more predictable,” Freeze said.
Wide receiver Donte Moncrief agreed.
“Yeah, (teams) knew. You could tell they knew what was going on. We still should have made more plays when they came our way, but Evan’s back now, so he’s ready to see a lot of plays,” Moncrief said.
In little more than half a season, Engram totaled 20 catches for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
Freeze said Engram was a factor in “20 to 25 percent” of the Rebels’ most successful plays.
His absence “certainly changed us some,” Freeze said. “When we went to our other personnel we weren’t near as apt to flex them out and try to do different things with them.”
Engram burst onto the college scene in this city coming off the bench in his first game with five catches for 61 yards. On one of them he twisted his body in mid-air to grab a pass thrown behind him.
Give me 30 snaps
Running around with teammates on Friday, he showed some of the rust you might expect for a rookie who hasn’t played in more than two months.
The versatility he may bring is good news for an offense that scored just one touchdown – a 45-yard run by I’Tavius Mathers in the third quarter of a 24-10 loss to Missouri – over the last two games.
“If we can get 30 snaps out of him we’ll think we had a pretty good day,” Freeze said. “That’s the kind of number we’re looking at.”