By Brian Scott Rippee
OXFORD — Ole Miss is into its third week of fall camp and its season opening bout with Texas Tech at NRG Stadium in Houston is less than two weeks away. Here are some news and notes from the Rebels’ practice on Tuesday.
A couple of players returned to the practice field after missing time with minor injuries, including A.J. Brown who had been dealing with a pulled hamstring. Defensive back Javien Hamilton also had a hamstring issue and returned as a full participant. Hamilton said he initially got back onto the field last Thursday in a limited capacity. Braylon Sanders injured his hamstring in practice on Sunday, but head coach Matt Luke did not seem concerned about Sanders’ status for the season opener. Freshman defensive lineman Jalen Cunningham is out after undergoing surgery on an injured tendon in his finger. Luke did not give a timetable for his return.
Damarkus Lodge has yet to return from an ankle injury suffered earlier in camp and Ken Webster has not yet returned to practice. Luke listed Webster (hamstring) and defensive lineman Sincere David as the two most serious candidates to miss the first game.
“I am thinking (Webster) is going to be back to where is probable and Sincere is maybe questionable,” Luke said. “We will know more at the end of the week.”
Stopping the run:
Ole Miss began its preparation for Texas Tech on Tuesday during a 15 minute period in practice. A dynamic Red Raider offense ranked third in the Big 12 in total offense in 2017 and will be quite a test for a Rebel defense littered with question marks across its defensive front. The unit’s struggles to stop the run have been well documented and it has been a focus throughout camp.
“That is the biggest thing,” defensive tackle Benito Jones said. “We just have to lock in and take what they give us.”
Ole Miss ranked 123rd nationally in run defense last season, giving up over 245 yards per game and have to replace the likes of Marquis Haynes, Breeland Speaks and DeMarquis Gates. An experienced and improve defensive secondary gives the Rebels a bit of a crutch to lean on and allows them to be more flexible with how they line up.
“It shouldn’t be a lot of pressure even though (defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff) is going to load the box to stop the run,” Hamilton said. “We have a lot of great defensive backs. You will be able to load the box and play man-to-man on the back end. It gives us a lot of confidence. He trusts us.”
Texas Tech ranked sixth in the Big 12 in rushing offense and ran the ball for 1832 yards on 459 carries. True freshman linebacker Kevontae’ Ruggs has had a strong fall camp at inarguably Ole Miss’ biggest position of need heading into the season. Luke said he has seen a lot of players make improvements at linebacker but noted it is difficult to tell how far they have progressed as a defense until game action arrives.
“I think you will find out a lot in the first game,” Luke said. “I think we are deeper and have a lot more guys that can contribute and are pushing for playing time. I think we are faster, and then obviously the knowledge is one year better. They are communicating better.”
Allen on Scholarship:
Senior wide receiver Floyd Allen wasn’t expecting what came next after he won a one-on-one route in a drill work between the receivers and defensive backs. The winner of the match up won an individual bag and inside Allen’s was a scholarship letter.
Allen came to Ole Miss from El Camino Community College and played in six games on special teams last season. He has been one of the standouts in fall camp and is expected to see time at receiver this fall.
“He was really excited,” D.K. Metcalf said. “After we got done and we were in the receiver stretches he was tearing up a little bit.”
I really wanna thank @CoachMattLuke @NastyWideOuts and the rest of the coaching staff at @OleMissFB for not only putting me on scholarship ,but also blessing me with an opportunity to play for y’all ! I am truly thankful ??
— Floyd Allen (@LegendaryGrind) August 22, 2018