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Practice Report: Givens progressing, Rebels building depth on the defensive line

Ole Miss is now through two full weeks of fall camp and will have its second scrimmage on Saturday, just 14 days away from the team’s season opener against Memphis in the Liberty Bowl.

Here are some news and notes from Friday’s practice.

— Alex Givens was out on the practice field on Friday morning, roaming the sidelines and doing work off to the side. The senior tackle is rehabbing a back procedure he endured on July 18. He has yet to practice during fall camp.

— During the portion of practice open to the media, first-team offensive line look like this: LT Michael Howard, LG Royce Newman, C Eli Johnson, RG Ben Brown, RT Bryce Mathews.

The personnel has been the same as it’s been throughout fall camp with Givens out, but Howard and Mathews swapped tackle spots as they did on Wednesday.

The second team offensive line looked like this: LT Nick Broeker, LG Jalen Cunningham, C Carter Colquitt, RG Chandler Tuitt, RT Jeremy James.

Colquitt continues to work at center. The Rebels do not have a backup center etched in stone and have worked a couple of different guys at this position as they try to find some semblance of depth in what is undoubtedly the thinnest position group on the team.

— Jalen Julius moved from corner to free safety this offseason. Why? According to Mike MacIntyre, it mostly had to do with Julius’ versatility.

“In today’s world of RPO’s and everything, you have to have someone who can cover the slot,” MacIntyre said. “There aren’t many true safeties who can cover a slot. He is physical. I watched the film last year, he had a hurt shoulder and was hitting people with all he’s got. He can cover and do so many different things. That allows us to do more things in coverage.”

Julius tweaked his ankle late last week, but has since shed the no-contact jersey and appears to be full go. Julius has experience playing nickel as well as corner and says the transition has been relatively seamless. The move was MacIntyre’s idea, but Julius was receptive to it. The biggest difference? The number of checks he is responsible for.

“At corner you may have one or two, where here you have like 10,” Julius said. “I cover the slot sometimes in certain formations and packages.”

— Redshirt freshman K.D. Hill has ascended up the depth chart and placed himself squarely in the mix for playing time this fall. The 6-foot, 305 pound Eufaula,  Alabama native has been working with the second-team defensive line for the last week, an ostensibly good sign for Ole Miss at it appears to be accumulating some real depth on the three-down front in MacIntyre’s new 3-4 scheme.

“I have gotten better working on the small things like technique, eyes are a big thing at this level,” Hill said. “You have to strike and be physical. Nose tackle is an unselfish position. You have to be willing to take on a double team to help the linebackers out.”

Hill played in two games during his redshirt freshman year and can sense the depth the Rebels are building up front.

— When inside linebacker Lakia Henry signed with Ole Miss over Arkansas in February, the expectation was that he’d contribute immediately at a position of need for a defense that had a horrendous 2018 season. Henry did not participate in spring practice, which is rare for a junior college transfer, and it showed initially. But Henry has worked his way up the depth chart and has ran alongside fellow inside linebacker Mohamed Sanogo with the first team this week.

“Once we put on the pads, I felt like things started clicking,” Henry said. “I felt like I started understanding the concepts better.”

The hardest thing for Henry to master has been the pass coverage responsibilities that come with the inside linebacker position. He noted that Sanogo has helped immensely with this, but it has taken time for him to get acclimated to it. This is the first time in Henry has played in a 3-4 scheme.  He feels as if he’s at a point where it is starting to feel natural. Henry was a name the coaching staff mentioned a couple of times when asked who impressed in last weekend’s scrimmage.

— The defensive depth chart has been fluid to say the least throughout camp. MacInytre acknowledged it will remain that way to some degree as the Rebels try to build depth on all fronts. The first-team defense looked like this on Friday:

CB: Myles Hartsfield, Jaylon Jones

SS: Armani Linton

FS: Jalen Julius

OLB: Sam Williams, Charles Wiley

ILB: Lakia Henry, Mohamed Sanogo

DE: Tariqious Tisdale, Austrian Robinson

NT: Benito Jones.

Keep in mind starting strong safety Jon Haynes is out with a lower body injury and outside linebacker Qaadir Sheppard is still nursing a broken hand. Keidron Smith has rotated with Hartsfield as a starter at corner, and Ryder Anderson and Tisdale have both gotten first-team reps at defensive end this week.

The second-team defense looked like this:

CB: Keidron Smith, Jakorey Hawkins

SS: C.J. Miller

FS: A.J. Finley

OLB: Brendan Williams, Brandon Mack

ILB: Donta Evans, Willie Hibbler

DE: Ryder Anderson, Josiah Coatney

NT: K.D. Hill

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