April 24, 2013

Spring wrap-up: Ole Miss

OXFORD, Miss. -- Excitement hit a fever pitch in Oxford on Feb. 6.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had just put the finishing touches on a signing class that was historic by Rebel standards. It finished No. 7 in Rivals.com's national rankings and included five-stars Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil.

On the heels of a renaissance season of sorts, Ole Miss fans were downright giddy. If Freeze could take a down-and-out team and go 7-6 in his first season in Oxford, what could he do with the likes of Nkemdiche and Co?

Then spring practices rolled around, serving as a sobering drink of icecold water. Ole Miss has a chance to be strong in 2013, sure, but spring served as a reminder that Freeze still has plenty of work to do before the Rebels can be considered a serious contender in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division.

Quarterback Bo Wallace, who played hurt while leading Ole Miss to a 7-6 mark and a win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl last season, missed spring practice while recovering from January shoulder surgery. Offensive guard Aaron Morris missed spring for the same reason. Wide receivers Donte Moncrief and Korvic Neat missed most of the spring with minor injuries. The Rebels lost tight ends Jamal Mosley and Ferbia Allen to graduation, and true freshman/early enrollee Christian Morgan suffered a knee injury late in spring drills.

Defensive end C.J. Johnson broke his leg early in spring drills. Cornerback Charles Sawyer suffered a minor injury midway through spring drills and was held out for the remainder of the practices.

All of those absences served as a reminder that depth remains a very real issue in Oxford as Freeze and Co. prepare for Year Two of their rebuilding effort.
Instead of having a true intrasquad scrimmage on April 13, Ole Miss' annual Grove Bowl game was little more than a practice.

"You just want to see the kids play extremely hard, handle their assignment and make some plays whether its offense or defense," Freeze said. "And I think we saw some of that (at the Grove Bowl). There were some people who stood out."

Freeze said the relaxed spring game atmosphere _ which was played in front of an announced crowd of approximately 28,000 _ was largely because the team has been hit hard with injuries. There were a few big plays. Linebacker Serderius Bryant picked off a pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown while Ja-Mes Logan caught five passes for 101 yards. Backup quarterback Barry Brunetti had a disappointing day, completing just 3 of 13 passes for 55 yards and an interception.
By the end of spring, Freeze was eagerly looking forward to the arrival of his first full signing class, one that will be counted on to play immediately.

"I just want to get all those guys in here so we have some quality depth," Freeze said. "So that when we go (second-string and third-string) we've got guys who have a good chance at competing at this level."

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