Ole Miss Wednesday Practice Report: Young Linebackers Learning Through Experience

Matt Luke called this week of practice “therapeutic” as his team tries to wash away the stains of a 62-7 trouncing at the hands of the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

“That’s the only way to get the bad taste out of your mouth is to go back to work,” Luke said. “We have great kids and I enjoy being around them. To go back to work and try to get that bad taste out, that is sometimes the best remedy.”

Injuries:

— Willie Hibbler was again in a no-contact jersey at practice on Wednesday and is going through concussion protocol, according to Luke. He expects Hibbler to be good to play against Kent State.

— Ken Webster was active some degree on Wednesday but did not go through drills. Webster continues to deal with a nagging hamstring injury that has hampered him since fall camp. He remains questionable for Saturday’s game.

Trial by fire for young linebackers Ruggs and Jones:

The biggest unknown on Ole Miss’ roster coming into the 2018 season was undoubtedly the the linebacker position. True freshman Kevontae’ Ruggs and Jacquez Jones have quickly become major contributors — in Ruggs’ case a starter — on a relatively young defense and are learning through trial and error.

“It’s taken time to get adjusted,” Jones said. “Staying on film. In high school, you could just go out there and play. Here, you have to really study film to be able to play.”

Jones is adjusting to the speed of the game and the different calls he has to make as a linebacker at the SEC level. In high school, it was more about instinct and going to put a helmet on the football. Jones is quickly realizing the different responsibilities that come with playing linebacker in the SEC.

“In high school, I didn’t make any calls,” Jones said. “In college, you have to communicate with the defensive line and then check with the safeties behind you.”

Jones has found comfort in having a fellow freshman learn beside him. He and Ruggs are in the same boat, trying to navigating through their first college seasons.

“We can relate,” Jones said. “We’re both from Alabama. We both played in the (Mississippi-Alabama) All-Star Game, so we have played with each other before. We have chemistry.”

The two even study together sometimes. Ole Miss needing to rely on a pair of true freshmen (and a sophomore in Mohamed Sanogo) is out of necessity. The defense has lacked consistent linebacking play and has struggled mightily as a result. That’s hardly on the shoulders of a pair of true freshmen, but rather the result of not having many veteran options. Luke says he can see the progress the young linebackers are making each week, which will only bode well for them in the future.

“I think issue is they are not playing against the same schemes each week,” Luke said. “It is the same defensive calls, but they have to relate to different things. That comes with experience. This week is different than last week. Even though the calls are the same, they have to adjust to wider splits, motion or tempo. That comes with experience.”

“They’ve been good. I think they’re trying, but there are some growing pains. When things happen fast, it is not easy to communicate. Those things come with experience.”

Lodge says receivers need to be sharper:

A dynamic Ole Miss receiving corps received its toughest test of the season last week against Alabama’s secondary. The Rebels weren’t sharp as an offense. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo said earlier this week one of his main takeaways is that the unit has to be sharper in execution against better defenses, rather than relying on matchups and winning those matchups solely by being the better athlete.

That isn’t always going to be the case in the SEC.

“I think more of it was that we can’t let a team or a game get us too hyped for the moment,” Lodge said. “I think a lot of guys were trying to do too much. It kind of throws you off when you do that. We have to execute better. We can’t give them anything. The little mistakes, they will take them and capitalize.”

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 11 A.M.