By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Barring the unexpected, it looks like Ole Miss will have both of its top outside linebackers for this week against Vanderbilt.
Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche were both suspended in the off-season following misdemeanor arrests last January.
Nkemdiche’s suspension carried through last week’s season-opening 35-13 win over Boise State in Atlanta. Bryant’s did not, but he didn’t play much against the Broncos. He was ejected with a little more than 5 minutes left in the first quarter for helmet-to-helmet contact with Boise quarterback Grant Hedrick.
Behavior aside, health was an issue for Nkemdiche last year. A knee injury sustained in the opener at Vanderbilt required surgery.
“Last year after the knee injury and surgery after the Vandy game … I don’t know that he ever recovered,” Freeze said. “He always had a little gimp in his leg. I didn’t see that this fall camp. I see a kid that’s hungry to play, hungry to prove himself again.”
Nkemdiche appeared in 10 games last year, but his tackles for loss dropped from 13 to two.
There will be packages where Nkemdiche and Bryant are on the field together.
“We’re glad to have (Denzel) back, and hopefully he’s learned valuable lessons from the experience he’s been through,” Freeze said. “He values the opportunity that he has to change that and hopefully will continue to see that.”
Freeze said there was standard soreness that goes along with a football game but no new injuries stemming from the Boise game.
Defensive lineman Issac Gross, who has appeared in 26 games and started 11 over his two years, was expected to practice Monday. He missed most of August and did not play against Boise State.
Competition at cornerback is one reason there was not much playing time for sophomore Derrick Jones, Freeze said.
Jones, a sophomore, was once described by his coaches as having NFL potential. The Eupora native stands 6-foot-2 and signed as a wide receiver before moving to the secondary.
Senior Cliff Coleman and freshman Kendarius Webster played ahead of Jones against Boise.
“We love Derrick and I expect him to play a lot of football before his time is over,” Freeze said. “There are some things Derrick is better at than they are. If we get in the red zone against big receivers you’ll see Derrick there ready to go. There are certain things he has to continue to improve on.”
Progress for Ward
Coaches typically don’t like the idea of “gamers” but that may be a fitting description for Channing Ward.
A high school All-American from Aberdeen, Ward was a member of Freeze’s first signing class but has had trouble getting on the field.
“To be perfectly candid, he plays better in the games than he practices,” Freeze said.
Ward had five tackles and a forced fumble against Boise State. In addition to the adrenaline of game day it looks like there was some extra motivation.
“One of their players made a comment to him that he didn’t like too much,” Freeze said. “It was quite funny, but it upset Channing, and Channing maybe played a little better.”