OLE MISS NOTEBOOK: Freeze pleased with progress of C.J. Johnson

Ole Miss defensive end C.J. Johnson, left, played in four games last season and recorded 12 tackles. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Ole Miss defensive end C.J. Johnson, left, played in four games last season and recorded 12 tackles. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

OXFORD – From one side of the ball to the other, the approach is different as Ole Miss continues in its second week of spring drills.

Having a week off since getting started has helped more players heal and get back in the mix.

Almost everyone was available for Monday’s practice, and almost everyone was on time in their return from time away. Those who weren’t “paid a little price,” Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said.

One important piece of the puzzle who is growing in health and returning to form is junior defensive end C.J. Johnson.

It was in spring ball a year ago that Johnson broke his leg. He struggled to regain conditioning, then came a broken ankle that required surgery and ended his season.

“He’s really developing into one of our leaders, and we’re really excited about what’s going on over there,” Freeze said.

Johnson played in four games and had 12 tackles – four for loss – last season. He led the team in sacks with 6.5 in 2012, and without him pass rush suffered across the board last year.

The Rebels averaged just 1.54 sacks in 2013, 12th in the SEC and 96th out of 123 FBS teams.

Morris’ journey

Rehab remains on track for left guard Aaron Morris, who tore his ACL in last year’s season opener at Vanderbilt.

It’s the first injury of this magnitude for Morris. A junior from Jackson, Morris has 20 college starts and was preseason All-SEC second team last season.

“My first contact, I’m pretty sure will be kind of scary,” he said. “I’ll just go out there and see what happens.”

Morris visits with therapists twice a day.

He’s spoken with teammates D.T. Shackelford and Darone Bailey, who have had similar knee injuries, to get an idea of what to expect with his comeback.

“They tell me you’re going to have aches and pains. You’re going to have that anyway. If I just keep getting it stronger …,” he said.

The inability to push the knee makes conditioning a challenge. Morris is currently at 349 pounds. He’d like to get to a playing weight in the high 320s.

Goals for Week 2

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack is installing much more of his package than Freeze and the offense.

“They’ve got some good mature guys over there who are handling it quite a bit better maybe. It’s hard for us, knowing they want to do that, to get everything in,” Freeze said.

Offensively, the Rebels are trying to sharpen their proficiency with the basics of Freeze’s scheme.

“We want to try to retain what we’re installing, be physical in the way we practice with high energy and running around. Just be consistent in our effort and attitude as we try to retain what we’re installing. Not going to install a lot offensively,” he said. “It’s probably better for us to do a few things and do them really well.”

Freeze singled out sophomore offensive lineman Austin Golson for his work on Monday and said that middle linebackers Christian Russell, a junior college mid-year signee, and Temario Strong, a third-year sophomore, benefitted by the absence of D.T. Shackelford.

Shackelford has been moved back to middle linebacker but misses Monday workouts with a class.

The Rebels are looking for a starter to replace Mike Marry.

parrish.alford@journalinc.com