By Matt Sigler and David Collier
Ole Miss turned in a good “prep day” Tuesday according to head coach Hugh Freeze, and with the season-opener against Vanderbilt just nine days away, they are going to need to continue to do so.
“I thought attention from the meetings to here (the field) as far as the initial part of the game plan was really good,” Freeze said. “I thought the things that I heard throughout the day today in the meetings carried over well into practice, so I was pretty pleased.”
Tuesday was the second day the Rebels installed portions of their game plan for the Aug. 29 showdown with the Commodores. They spent one period on Monday installing stuff before spending five periods on the game plan Tuesday.
Overall, Freeze was happy.
“I think and hope that it makes things similar for them and slows things down a bit in their mind,” Freeze said. “We don’t carry every single thing into a game plan. We’re hopefully giving them enough reps with what we want to carry in that they are very confident.”
Offensive line continuing to make steps forward
After being a very thin group last season, the offensive line has found their depth and their stride this preseason and is progressing well heading into game week. The unit returns three key seniors in left tackle Emmanuel McCray, right Pierce Burton and center Evan Swindall in addition to junior left guard Aaron Morris.
“I think we are getting better,” Freeze said of the line. “The first few games will really be an indicator as to where we are, but I certainly feel better this time this year than I did last year. I think we are little deeper. Not as deep as I would like to be, but a little deeper, and I think some of the guys that have played for two years in our system are understanding things better.”
Ole Miss is deeper, and it shows. The Rebels have to replace just one starter, and sophomore Justin Bell has a stronghold on the starting spot at right guard.
Behind those guys are highly touted freshman Laremy Tunsil, who will see a lot of playing time this season, according to both Freeze and offensive line coach Matt Luke. Senior Patrick Junen is back at practice after missing the early part of camp with an injury and will undoubtedly push Bell for playing time at right guard.
Experience will play a role in playing time, but also will prove to be a key in the leadership role for the unit.
“I just expect for them to be leaders,” offensive line coach Matt Luke said of the seniors. “All those seniors, for us to be good this year, have to play like seniors. I expect them to be leaders and role models for the young guys.”
Luke said they are looking to have about eight players ready to play by next week, including three tackles and four guards. The extended depth should benefit Ole Miss’ ability to use their fast-tempo sets more efficiently.
Sophomore running back I’Tavius Mathers is still out with an ankle injury he sustained in the first scrimmage of fall camp. Freeze said Mathers is out of the boot and did some work in the pool Tuesday. All signs point to Mathers returning by next week.
Bell was seen on the sideline with what looked to be an injury, but Luke said it was nothing and he will be just fine.
Freeze also talked about how the added depth up and down the roster will make an impact on special teams.
“It’s hard to tell yet,” Freeze said. “They’re on them, but we’re going to find out how well they do. We’ve certainly got to improve our coverage units, and hopefully, those young guys can do it for us.”