HOOVER, Ala. — Today marks the fourth and final day of 2014 SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and select players finally get their shot to talk about the upcoming season.
Freeze is scheduled to take the podium at approximately 10:30 this morning with quarterback Bo Wallace, safety Cody Prewitt and defensive end C.J. Johnson set to meet with reporters starting around 11:20. Georgia kicked off the morning session while Alabama and Kentucky will close out this year’s event in the afternoon.
But the day started earlier than that for Freeze, who briefly held court with local media members earlier this morning. The topics of conversation ranged from injuries to the academic statuses of some signees to areas of strength and weakness for the Rebels heading into fall camp.
A portion of Freeze’s meeting with local reporters is in the video below.
— The mass exodus of quarterbacks (Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel) and star players (most noticeably, Manziel and Auburn’s Tre Mason) has created a feeling that the SEC West is up for grabs. Freeze agreed.
“I know this: We’re a better football team,” Freeze said. “But so are the others also. They’re quality also. You can’t forecast the health of your players and what’s going to happen to key people throughout the season. But there’s no question I stand here today feeling excited and very confident about how we’re preparing and who we are at this point.”
— The last time we saw Wallace, he was having his reps limited in spring practice in order to give his fatigued throwing shoulder more rest heading into the offseason. Wallace also spent a week in California with renowned pitching coach Tom House in an effort to strengthen the shoulder even more and sharpen his mechanics.
It seems to have paid off. Freeze said Wallace’s shoulder, which was surgically repaired in January 2013 after being separated, is considerably stronger, adding that Wallace is “as confident as I’ve ever seen him.”
“He looks better. He’s gained about 15 pounds,” Freeze said. “He’s excited about the way he feels and the work that’s taken place in the offseason, not only with Paul Jackson but some specialists that have looked at him.”
— Ole Miss is awaiting official word on the academic clearance of two signees, cornerback Tee Shepard and defensive tackle Chris Williams. Freeze said all of the paperwork for Williams, a prep recruit out of Sandy Creek (Ga.) High, has been submitted to the NCAA Clearinghouse while Shepard, one of the top defensive backs coming out of the junior college ranks, is still taking classes. Those classes, Freeze said, are set to end July 25.
Freeze said he’s confident both will be cleared.
“Hopefully (Shepard) will be there right around the start of camp if he finishes the way he’s going right now,” Freeze said. “Chris Williams, everything’s in. We’re waiting on the ruling from the Clearninghouse.”
— The good news for the Rebels’ offensive line is that guard Aaron Morris should be ready for the first day of fall camp after missing the spring rehabbing a torn knee ligament, Freeze said. The bad news is Freeze isn’t optimistic that fellow guard Christian Morris will be available this season.
Christian Morris, a Memphis native, transferred closer to home less than a year into his time at UCLA and missed all of spring after rupturing his Achilles, but Freeze said he should be able to participate in fall camp at some point. But Christian will have to get a waiver from the NCAA to be able to play this fall, something Freeze sounded doubtful about.
“It’s not something I’m tremendously hopeful about,” Freeze said. “It is in the process.”
Speaking of injuries, Freeze said wideout Collins Moore sustained a knee injury that will keep him out “four to six weeks.”
— Freeze spoke highly of the incoming recruiting class. When pressed on which newcomers could see the field immediately, it’s no surprise the first names out of Freeze’s mouth were along the offensive line in junior college transfer Fahn Cooper and Rod Taylor, one of the country’s more highly recruited guards out of Jackson-Callaway.
Others freshmen Freeze said could make a quick impact were defensive linemen Breedland Speaks and Garrald McDowell and wide receivers Dayall Harris, Markell Pack and Sammie Epps.
— It’s been a few months since linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was suspended for the season opener against Boise State following a February arrest for disorderly conduct and failure to comply. Nkemdiche only made things worse for himself when a spring break video of him shouting expletives at a group of people on a beach surfaced on YouTube.
But Freeze said Nkemdiche, who was held out of spring practice but has since rejoined the team, has met a set of guidelines set forth by the coaches since then. Freeze didn’t offer much on cornerback Senquez Golson’s arrest and charge of disorderly conduct last month, stating simply that the situation will be “cleared up.”
“Denzel is the only one that I’m holding out a game right now as long as everything continues to go well with the things we put in place, and we’re pleased with everything they’re doing,” Freeze said. “They’ve abided by everything we’ve asked them to do at this point, and hopefully they’ll continue to do so going into the season.”
— Former Lafayette High quarterback Jeremy Liggins has made significant progress since the spring, Freeze said. Being behind in the playbook and packing on too much weight — Liggins was listed at 296 pounds on the spring roster — resulted in a slow transition to the Division I level for Liggins.
But Freeze said Liggins has put in “absolutely phenomenal work” in the offseason and has put himself in position to play somewhere for the Rebels this fall.
“He’s down to 280,” Freeze said. “I don’t know where I’m going to play him yet, but he’s going to help us.”
Ole Miss’ player representatives got their turn with the media later this morning, and Wallace had an interesting exchange. The senior, who’s entering his third year as the starter, admitted he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to throw a football the same way he did during his junior college days when he was fully healthy.
But Wallace, who sported some shorter hair, said he’s the healthiest he’s been during his time as a Rebel and talks about his time training with House and an Egg Bowl loss that still stings among other topics in the video below.
Prewitt, who was an All-American by the time last season ended, is the unquestioned leader of a secondary that should be one of the team’s strengths this fall. The unit returns every starter, and Prewitt talks about having that kind of experience on the back end, what he’s seen from the incoming freshmen, and his new-found fame in the following video.
Perhaps no Rebel is more ready for the new season to get started than Johnson, whose 2013 season ended just four games in after suffering an ankle injury. Johnson, the Rebels’ most established pass rusher, got that year back with a medical redshirt, giving him two more years of eligibility.
In the video below, Johnson talks about the frustration of having to watch most of last season from the sideline and what he’s done to improve his game. Part of that improvement has come by getting plenty of practice reps against teammate Laremy Tunsil, who Johnson called “the best offensive tackle in the country.”
Ole Miss’ time at Media Days has ended. See Friday’s edition of the EAGLE for complete coverage from Hoover. (July 17, 2014)