BLOG — The offseason is over for Ole Miss’ football team.
The Rebels went through their first practice of the fall Saturday morning. Players worked out in shorts and helmets for approximately two hours and reaped the rewards of a roster that’s gotten deeper in head coach Hugh Freeze’s three years at the helm.
Ole Miss split the practice between its first-year players and upperclassmen for the first 40 minutes before mixing everybody together, something a depleted roster didn’t allow the Rebels to do the past couple of camps.
“We finally have some kids that when we go two-deep, they’re not getting enough reps. That’s kind of not been the norm,” Freeze said afterward. “So we kind of split practices this morning and went out early with the young guys.”
Freeze said the team will stick to that routine for “about three days.” The coach mentioned wide receiver Dayall Harris, offensive lineman Rod Taylor, cornerback Tee Shepard, twins A.J. and C.J. Moore, cornerback Kendarius Webster and tight ends Sammie Epps and Jeremy Liggins as those who stood out among the crop of newcomers.
“I really like the class we just brought in,” Freeze said. “I think there’s a lot of talented kids in it, and if we can do a good job of helping them understand how we want to do things and what they’re to do, I think we’ve got some guys that can perform in that class.
“It was a good start.”
The first hour of practice was open to the media. Here are some notes and observations from that viewing window:
– Quarterback Bo Wallace got his first chance to show off his healthy throwing shoulder in practice. It didn’t disappoint.
Wallace, who re-emphasized that he’s at full strength at Ole Miss’ media day on Friday, had more noticeable zip on his throws, especially the ones down the field that became a hindrance toward the end of last season. Freeze noticed it, too.
“He’s overthrown two streaks, which we’ve never had that problem before,” Freeze said with a smile. “We just hope it got there sometimes. We kind of laughed about that today. His arm is definitely stronger.”
– The battle to replace graduated punter Tyler Campbell and placekicker Andrew Ritter is on. Freshmen Andy Pappanastos and Gary Wunderlich along with senior Andrew Fletcher all took their turns kicking field goals while Wunderlich and fellow freshman Will Gleeson handled the punting duties.
Fletcher, Pappanastos and Gleeson — the latter two being redshirt freshmen — have all been in the program for at least a year, but don’t count Wunderlich out. Regarded by some recruiting services as the nation’s top prep kicker a season ago, Wunderlich has a booming leg and had no problem matching Pappanastos and Fletcher in the distance department.
Freeze said Pappanastos was the top performer on the first day, but the competition at these positions is just getting started.
“Gary had some really good hits from particularly the left hash. He struggled a little bit from the right hash,” Freeze said. “I’m pleased with Gary’s punting, too. I think we’ve got two quality punters there in Will and Gary. We’ve got a good battle that’s going to happen for the PAT and field goal stuff.”
– Ole Miss is also looking for a new punt returner now that Jeff Scott is out of eligibility.
Defensive backs Carlos Davis and Trae Elston along with wideout Quincy Adeboyejo fielded punts on Saturday. Safety Anthony Alford is a possible contender there as well, but Freeze said the job is Davis’ to lose.
“Carlos Davis, if we played today, would be the guy,” Freeze said. “Carlos is pretty natural back there.”
– The first-team offensive line consisted of Laremy Tunsil at left tackle, Aaron Morris at left guard, Ben Still at center, Justin Bell at right guard and Robert Conyers at right tackle. Davion Johnson (left tackle), Daronte Bouldin (left guard), Craig Frigo (center), Taylor (right guard) and junior college transfer Fahn Cooper (right tackle) ran with the twos.
Tunsil is entrenched as a starter, and Morris and Bell, who can play both guard spots, are safe bets to join him, but there’s plenty of competition going on. There was some mixing and matching going on at times, and that will continue until the Rebels figure out who their starting five will be up front.
Catch Freeze’s post-practice meeting with the media in full in the video below.
Ole Miss will practice again Sunday morning at 10:15. (August 2, 2014)