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Ole Miss fall camp notes: Luke pleased with progress of young offensive linemen

Ole Miss is now three practices into fall camp. On Monday, the Rebels strapped on shoulder pads for the first time since the spring. Here are some notes concerning special teams, the offensive line, tight ends and more.

— Ole Miss rehearsed its kickoff return formation early on in Monday’s practice. Junior kicker Spencer Cole launched a handful of footballs into the sky as a host of returners fielded them. Jaylon Jones and Snoop Conner were the first-team return men. Freshman wide receiver Jonathan Mingo and senior defensive Myles Hartsfield were the second duo back deep. Jordan Jernigan, Elijah Moore, and Scottie Phillips also got reps returning kicks.


— True freshmen Nick Broeker and Jeremy James are taking snaps with the second team offensive line at the two tackle spots. Ole Miss has very little experience on the offensive line after its first five. Building depth up front is arguably the most pressing issue this team faces as it barrels towards the season opener at Memphis on August 31.  Head coach Matt Luke has spent an increased amount of time with this position group as a result, keeping a close eye on the younger linemen that will likely be called into action early on this season.

“Some of the younger guys are going to have to get ready a little quicker,” head coach Luke said. “Broeker and James have been in there competing. They’ve made some freshman mistakes but they are working and they understand the sense of urgency.”

With right tackle Alex Givens out with a back injury, the Rebels are even thinner at the tackle position. Senior Michael Howard has worked with the first team at right tackle in Givens’ absence.  Howard has put on 25 pounds this offseason, a breakthrough on an issue that has plagued the senior throughout his career. Howard has been unable to gain weight consistently. He has fluctuated from a tight end to a lineman and has been limited to mostly special teams because of it. Howard is now listed at 280 pounds and will be called on to contribute heavily at both left and right tackle.

“You are not a right or a left tackle here,” Howard said. “You have to be able to play on both sides. I have worked so hard this offseason. Being heavier helps, but you also have to be a technician.”

— Senior safety Montrell Custis once again practiced in a green no-contact jersey. Custis is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the loss to Alabama last September. Senior corner Jaylon Jones endured a similar injury  in the season opener against Texas Tech, but has made a full recovery. Custis says he still has hesitation planting and cutting, but feels as if he is close to being 100 percent.

“Sometimes I feel like I can’t push on it,” Custis said. “But I know that is mental because we have great trainers and doctors that say my knee is well-structured so I am just ready to get back and get over them mental part of it. Right now, I am trying to key in on the last week of fall camp to get back out there with the guys.”

— Tairqious Tisdale was excited to learn that Ole Miss would be transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, primarily because Tisdale played in a 3-4 system at Northwest Community College. Standing at 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, Tisdale fits the frame of a defensive end in this scheme more so than sliding an outside linebacker position like a few of his former teammates have. He believes this spring was the most valuable learning period he’s had in his year-and-a-half in Oxford.

“Reading my keys and knowing what to do,” Tisdale said. “The installment from day one, I know the plays better now than I did last year.”

— In the minimal team offensive sessions that taken place during the portion of practice the media is allowed to see, Rich Rodriguez and the Ole Miss offense have been using a good bit of two tight end sets with Jason Pellerin and Octavious Cooley on the field at the same time. This is something the Rebels rarely did a season ago under Phil Longo and the tight end position  was seldom-utilized despite having a third round draft pick in Dawson Knox. With so much uncertainty on the offensive line, Luke believes these two tight end formations will aid in Ole Miss being able to run the football effectively and will allow them to be more creative in the passing game.

“We have two seniors that we think can both help us,” Luke said. “Cooley is physical and Jason is a mismatch. I think that will be a good changeup for us and will allow us to run the football effectively.”

— Alex Givens will head down to Jackson this week to have his back re-evaluated. Givens had surgery on July 18 to repair a lower back injury. The staff is hopeful the senior will be ready for the season opener.

Photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics

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