OXFORD – The combination of injuries and an unsettled secondary make this a week of personnel movement for Ole Miss.
Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels and All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews torched the Rebels’ secondary where the sides were manned by largely inexperienced cornerbacks much of the evening.
Then came the news on Saturday that left offensive guard Aaron Morris would be lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (knee) and that outside linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche will miss a month or more after having having knee surgery on his meniscus.
Coach Hugh Freeze said he hopes that his team “will be more settled” soon.
Right now, the Rebels must find a replacement for Morris, a two-year starter, among five people.
The guard rotation will be comprised of upperclassmen Justin Bell, Patrick Junen and Jared Duke and freshman Austin Golson.
Bell started at right guard against Vanderbilt, and Golson played extensively.
It’s possible that senior Emmanuel McCray could move inside to guard which would open the door for freshman Laremy Tunsil to start at left tackle.
Freeze praised his freshmen for their play against Vanderbilt.
“Laremy graded extremely high. Austin was about average. His effort was phenomenal, but he pulled the wrong way a couple of times. Those are things that a normal freshman will do, especially while playing inside,” Freeze said. “There are a lot of things that can go on inside, and he’s only been playing there for about a week and a half. I was real pleased with his focus.”
Depth chart on hold
Ole Miss media relations did not submit a depth chart with this week’s game notes but said one will be provided later in the week.
At cornerback, junior field corner Senquez Golson is continuing to heal from his hamstring injury and is expected to play more this week.
“I think everybody who watched the game saw that when Senquez can go we’re much better,” Freeze said.
In other secondary moves, senior Dehendret Collins, who started at the boundary corner, will move to Huskie, where he played last season. Sophomore Mike Hilton, the starting Huskie, will move to corner, a move that could make Tony Conner the second true freshman to start on defense.
Keith Lewis and Serderius Bryant, both juniors, will get the first chances to replace Denzel Nkemdiche.
For Lewis it’s a move from middle linebacker to outside. The trickle down effect has senior D.T. Shackelford moving back to middle linebacker from defensive end.
Shackelford made three tackles against Vanderbilt. It was his first playing time since 2010 as he’s worked back from two knee surgeries.
“He made a few mistakes on fits, but he played with phenomenal effort, and I think he’ll be fine,” Freeze said.
Sophomore running back I’Tavius Mathers (ankle) did not make the trip to Vanderbilt but is getting stronger and could play this week. Freeze said Mathers gives the Rebels a better inside running presence and allows him to do different things with play-calling.
“By the end of the open date week (Sept. 21) I would like to be settled on exactly where guys will play, but with the injuries we’re having to move guys around again,” Freeze said.