Senior right tackle Alex Givens practiced in pads for the second consecutive day and will play in the season opener at Memphis, head coach Matt Luke said on Wednesday.
Givens participation on Tuesday marked the first time he has put on pads since he underwent a back procedure on July 18. Givens is the most experienced offensive lineman on the Ole Miss roster and his absence only heightened the already immense scrutiny on the young and inexperienced unit.
“His experience gives him a chance,” Luke said. “He obviously will not be able to play the full game, but having him out there from a morale standpoint with the team is a positive. He means so much to those guys. Whatever he can give us will be a big boost.”
Luke acknowledged that Givens’ conditioning is not where it would normally be had he been a full participant in camp, which has been the biggest factor with regards to his status in this game, rather than scheme or anything else.
Aside from Givens having been on the shelf, Ole Miss remained mostly healthy throughout fall camp. Montrell Custis is the only player Luke ruled out for the game. Custis is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in last year’s loss to Alabama. Custis has been in a green no-contact jersey throughout fall camp and has yet to fully participate in practice.
— One of the few surprises, if you want label it as such, on the game-week depth chart Ole Miss released on Monday was the “or” listed next to inside linebacker Mohamed Sanogo’s name. The junior is listed as a co-starter alongside Donta Evans. In reality, there is little-to-no chance Sanogo is on the sideline for the first defensive series, but either way, Sanogo didn’t feel slighted by it.
“That’s the energy we are trying to carry in our linebacker room,” Sanogo said. “The coaches want us to look at it as us having five starters. When we rotate, we want the offense to feel like they are in trouble regardless. We don’t want to play two guys like last year. We want everyone to be fresh.”
If you are trying to read between the lines or are miffed by the decision to list Sanogo as a co-starter, it is most likely a hat tip to the performance Evans put together in camp. He struggled mightily in his first two years in the program in former defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff’s 4-3 scheme. The Rebels haven’t had any semblance of depth at linebacker the last three seasons and the putrid results have shown that. Evans has impressed the coaching staff and will contribute this fall, but any notion that Sanogo is not the most established linebacker on this team is foolish.
Mike MacIntyre’s arrival called for a switch to a 3-4, which helped Evans. Having four linebackers means there is less space to cover and fewer things to read in run-pass-option scenarios.
“The change really helped him,” Luke said. “It fit his skillset better and gave him a chance to play in the box. He is a physical guy. The change of scheme and new coordinator really helped him, and gave him a new start. He took advantage of it.”
Depth is a welcomed sight to Sanogo, who rarely left the field last season and was the team’s leading tackler by a 30-plus margin. The high snap count took its toll on Sanogo and he welcomes the added depth.
“I maybe got four snaps off in some of the games last year,” Sanogo said. “To be able to rotate out and tag team opposing offenses is fun. I don’t know what anyone else thinks, but that is fun for me.”
— Matt Corral hasn’t felt like a freshman since his 9th grade year of high school. The leadership role he’s been thrust into as a freshman has been well-documented this offseason. He’s an old soul by default in an incredibly young quarterback room. His limited action in four games last season is more than the three men trying to earn the right to serve as his back up. All three are true freshmen.
As strange as it sounds, Saturday will be Corral’s first college start. He isn’t treating it that way though.
“I am just going into it like a regular game,” Corral said. “I was able to get comfortable last year and see what it was like in the SEC. I knew what I was getting into.”
Corral won’t have the luxury of throwing to an A.J. Brown in the slot or a long, athletic red zone target like D.K. Metcalf. But the Rebels feature an eclectic blend of talent at receiver and could potentially play as many as eight or nine guys on Saturday.
“I feel like we have done enough,” Corral said. “But the chemistry can always be better. The scheme we run and the way Rich Rod wants it done, I think we can get it done.”
Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 11 A.M.