BLOG — The numbers are as good as they can be for Ole Miss’ football team heading into the 2014 season. Coach Hugh Freeze needs them to stay that way.
For the first time in Freeze’s three years at the helm, the Rebels won’t suffer from an academic casualty. Players reported to campus on Friday — the first day before the start of fall camp — and everyone’s ready to go.
“This is the first time today that I can stand before you guys before the first day of camp and everyone’s eligible,” Freeze said during his meeting with reporters at the Rebels’ Media Day Friday afternoon inside the Manning Center.
Freeze needs all hands on deck as the Rebels try to claw their way up the SEC West standings. Though Ole Miss is deeper than it’s ever been under Freeze — all 85 scholarships are being used by players recruited by the current staff — certain spots are still scarce, starting with the offensive line. Freeze said he’d like to get out of camp injury-free while integrating the newcomers with familiar faces to improve the depth.
“We really feel like we have a team that can be good,” Freeze said. “Hopefully we can grow to be great, but it’s never going to change if you have injuries. The line that you worry about, particularly with us still having some depth issues, is how do you get done what you need to to develop depth and create a competitive-juice practice and still stay as healthy as you can? We’ve got to create some more depth.”
A portion of Freeze’s meeting with the media is below.
Here are some notes from the rest of Freeze’s media session:
— Safety Chief Brown, who tore his Achilles during an offseason workout, is out for the season, Freeze confirmed. Brown played the “Husky” position, a hybrid outside linebacker/safety in the Rebels’ 4-2-5 defense. Tony Conner and freshman D.K. Buford are now at the position, and Freeze said cornerback Mike Hilton, who’s played the position before, could slide inside at times and give the Rebels another body there.
“Hilton is one of the best football players on our team,” said Freeze, who also mentioned freshman C.J. Moore as another possibility at “Husky.”
— Of the players who will be participating in camp, Freeze said defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton is the only one who may be less than 100 percent. Hamilton is working his way back from a broken foot suffered in the spring. Wide receiver Collins Moore will miss the first few weeks with a knee injury.
— Junior college transfer Tee Shepard was one of the last newcomers to be cleared academically, and Freeze is expecting big things from the 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback. Shepard, a former Notre Dame signee who flipped from Mississippi State on Signing Day back in February, will immediately be in the mix for a starting job, Freeze said.
“I expect Tee to come in and be hopefully a lockdown corner that we’ve been missing,” Freeze said. “He’s got the size, the strength and the speed. He’s physical.”
— There’s going to be a lot of cross-training going on along the offensive line. Robert Conyers is in a battle with Ben Still to replace three-year starter Evan Swindall at center, but Conyers will also work some at tackle, Freeze said. Redshirt freshman Davion Johnson, a natural guard, will spend some time at tackle. Freshman Rod Taylor will start his career at guard, offensive line coach Matt Luke said, but will get some reps at tackle, too.
“We’re OK inside I think depth-wide, but on the edges, we’re very, very thin,” Freeze said.
— Competition will be abundant among kickers and punters. Punter Tyler Campbell and placekicker Andrew Ritter both graduated, leaving the positions short on experience. The race to replace them, Freeze said, is “wide open.”
Australian Will Gleeson has the edge in the punting department, Freeze said, while freshmen Andy Pappanastos and Gary Wunderlich along with senior Andrew Fletcher will duke it out for the kicking duties. Freeze said Nathan Noble will handle kickoffs.
Freeze will have a close eye on each of them.
“I haven’t watched those guys out there in the summer, so I’m really anxious,” he said. “I’m probably the most anxious when we go out our first time to see our field-goal kickers in competition and our punting guys.”
— Jeremy Liggins worked at quarterback all spring after transferring from Northeast Mississippi Community College, but the former Lafayette High standout will start the fall as a tight end, Freeze said. It’s not necessarily a permanent move for Liggins, who’s dropped his weight below 300 pounds.
“He could play a lot of things, and people like that, they certainly help your football team,” Freeze said.
Channing Ward, who moved from defensive end to tight end in the spring, is back on defense, Freeze said.
— Freeze fielded a question about the recent comments made by Nebraska coach Bo Pelini on the recruitment of wide receiver transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow, who left Washington after one season and was committed to the Cornhuskers earlier this summer before ultimately deciding to enroll at Ole Miss.
Pelini flirted with accusing Ole Miss of committing violations in Stringfellow’s recruitment when he recently told HuskersIllustrated.com, Nebraska’s 247Sports affiliate, to “read between the lines” as to why Stringfellow, who won’t be eligible for the Rebels until 2015, had a change of heart.
Freeze said he tried to contact Pelini to clear the air but hasn’t heard back from the Cornhuskers’ coach.
“I think it’s bad form anytime coaches … we’re colleagues and in this together,” Freeze said. “Generally I think all coaches are for the kids. We’re confident in the way our coaching staff goes about doing things.”
Ole Miss will hit the practice field Saturday at 9:45 a.m.
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork preceded Freeze and announced that the weekend of Sept. 27 will be used to celebrate the life of the late Chucky Mullins on campus. The weekend, which will be named “It’s Time,” will include Mullins’ induction into the M Club Hall of Fame and the official renaming of Coliseum Drive to Chucky Mullins Drive.
Ole Miss will host Memphis that weekend, and players will wear helmets with a white “38″ on the side for the game. The season marks the 25th anniversary of the hit Mullins took against Vanderbilt that left him as a quadriplegic. (August 1, 2014)