Rebels’ nose tackle getting back up to speed

Ole Miss nose tackle Issac Gross used his quickness last season against bigger offensive linemen. He’d like to get bigger than his current 255 pounds, but he’s been hampered after surgery. (Ole Miss)

Ole Miss nose tackle Issac Gross used his quickness last season against bigger offensive linemen.
He’d like to get bigger than his current 255 pounds, but he’s been hampered after surgery. (Ole Miss)

By Parrish Alford
Daily Journal

OXFORD – Issac Gross made a living as the small, quick guy on the Ole Miss defensive line as a freshman.

There’s a lot to be said for striking quickly, but being light in the pants presents other issues when you’re striking against guys who on average are 50 or 60 pounds heavier.

“I like to get skinny in the hole and defeat the double teams. It’s always great to be quick, but that’s what’s up with my groin right now,” Gross said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m small, and those big guys done wore on me. They suck up my body parts. I’m kind of dying out. I’ve got get stronger and get bigger.”

Adding weight really wasn’t something Gross could focus on coming off surgery on his groin.

He says he’s weighing in at 255 right now, which is about what he played at as a rookie starter in 2012.

The former South Panola star played nose tackle in all 13 games with seven starts. He finished with 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks en route to SEC all-freshman and freshman All-America honors.

Gross was extremely limited in practice last week, some days dressing but doing nothing at all. He’s worked his way back and has strung a couple of good workouts together.

“I’m just now starting to get back out here since the bowl game last year. It feels good just to be back in pads. I’m still aching or whatever, but it just feels good to move and know I can still do a little bit of what I used to do,” he said.

Gross says he can tell he’s lost a step when a stunt is called.

“If I’m doing a stunt move or something like that I’m dragging. I know it’s lingering on me a little bit, because I can’t counter yet,” he said.

In Gross’ absence, third-year sophomore Woodrow Hamilton (6-3, 300) has run first team at nose tackle.

Gross isn’t the only key defensive line performer trying to work his way back. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze says he believes junior end C.J. Johnson – coming back from a broken leg sustained in the spring – is running at about 75 percent.

Freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche – last year’s national No. 1 recruit – has been running first team but was held out of Tuesday’s work to rest a sore groin.

In a camp where injuries have been a major story line, Freeze is trying to get as many players healthy as he can as attention begins to gradually shift to Vanderbilt.

The Rebels open in Nashville on Aug. 29. Freeze said about 10 days out he’ll start mixing in roughly 30 minutes a day devoted to the Commodores.

Size didn’t hold Gross back last year, and Freeze expects another big year from his little big man – provided Gross stays healthy.

“Issac is a competitor and will rise above any of that,” Freeze said. “As long as he’s healthy I expect him to do the same.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com