Practice Report: Pennamon adjusts to tight end, Tisdale confident in landing backup QB role

The last 20 months have been a whirlwind for D’Vaughn Pennamon. 

Once thought to be the future of the Ole Miss backfield, he suffered a gruesome knee injury in the penultimate game of the 2017 season against Texas A&M. It cost him the entire 2018 season. Finally healthy, Pennamon has been competing for carries at a crowded position that includes two newcomers in fiver star Jerrion Ealy and January enrollee Snoop Conner, along with established backs like Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard.

Rather than have Pennamon flounder in the deepest position group on the team, the coaching staff elected to move him to tight end, a place where the Rebels boast two seniors in Jason Pellerin and Octavious Cooley but have little depth after that. On the surface, it appears to be an odd fit for the 5-foot-11, 232 pound junior from Houston, but Pennamon just wants to get back out onto a football field by any means necessary.

“It’s just about me trying to help the team in any way I can,”  Pennamon said. “I told them ‘If it helps the team and I can better myself, I am down for it.’ Whatever it takes. I just want to win.”

Pennamon hasn’t lined up with his hand in the dirt since he played fullback as a child but he thinks he is acclimating nicely to the position despite his lack of size. 

“I am a little smaller but I am not afraid to be physical,” Pennamon said. “I catch the ball well. Being from the running back position, I can do more things. Maybe we don’t have to pull out a tight end. We can make things more interchangeable when we go fast. We have to go fast to get the opposing team tired.”

Pennamon feels as if he has most of the play designs and routes memorized. The biggest adjustment is how quickly contact meets him. At tight end, he is not afforded the five-yard head start he had in the backfield. The physical nature of the position is the biggest obstacle he will have to overcome. Pennamon slimmed down to 230 pound before camp began and already has his eyes set on gaining it back.

“He welcomed it,” Rich Rodriguez said. “The kid has a great attitude. Playing with multiple personnel sets is something we want to do. It just depends on whether we have the personnel to do it, so we are giving him a shot there.”

— The first team offensive line looked this: RT Bryce Mathews, RG Ben Brown, C Eli Johnson, LG Royce Newman, LT Michael Howard.

The only tweak on Wednesday was the two tackles flipping for the first time. Howard worked at left tackle while Mathews manned the right side. The Rebels are coping with the absence of senior right tackle Alex Givens, who has missed all of camp after undergoing a back procedure on July 18. All reports on Givens’ recovery have been positive and the staff is hopeful he will be ready for the season opener.

“We want guards to be able to play both sides, tackles to play both sides and some guards to play center,” Rodriguez said. “We have to be able to find a combination of not just who our five best are, but our eight best.”

The second team was offensive was as follows: RT Jeremy James,  RG Chandler Tuitt, C Carter Colquitt, LG Jalen Cunningham, LT Nick Broeker.

— Pellerin was back at practice on Wednesday and appeared to be full go as he was not wearing a green jersey. Pellerin had missed the last week with a concussion, which prompted Pennamon’s move to tight end.

— Braylon Sanders, Miles Battle and (slot) Elijah Moore ran with the first team offense at receiver. Demarcus Gregory, Dontario Drummond and (slot) Tylan Knight ran with the second team. If you’re looking for a breakout player amongst a position group that lost three guys to the NFL, Moore is the best bet. He’s a speedy slot receiver that has become a favorite target of Matt Corral. Moore spoke to the media after practice about his camp, what he likes about the receiving corps and more.

“We know we are all young and we have a chip on our shoulder,” Moore said. “We have to be in shape. Rich Rod’s offense is quick. We have to be ready.”

Moore came in last season as a freshman and cracked a star-studded rotation. He caught 36 balls for 398 yards and two scores. Now, he’s an older guy in the room despite being a sophomore.

— Rodriguez says the second string quarterback battle hasn’t been decided, but Grant Tisdale certainly spoke like he plans to be Corral’s backup. Tisdale was the only quarterback in Saturday’s scrimmage to wear a white no-contact uniform. Kinkead Dent and John Rhys Plumlee were made available to live contact.

“I am just trying to learn from the guys who have been here in the past and be ready because I am only one snap away,” Tisdale said. “I am just trying to mentally prepare for this season.”

Does that mean he is the second string quarterback? 

“That is not for me to decide. I am just trying to come to work every day and prove I am one of the best options for this team,” Tisdale said.

Rodriguez acknowledged Tisdale is slightly ahead because of the experience he gained in the spring.

“Kinkead got banged up a little bit so it is really John Rhys Plumlee and Grant Tisdale battling for that No. 2 spot,” Rodriguez said. “Grant is probably a little bit ahead mentally because he was here in the spring. But John Rhys is a great athlete and is a really smart guy. Those two and Matt have been splitting the rotation of reps.”

— Ole Miss showed a two back set in its offensive team period on Wednesday with Snoop Conner and Scottie Phillips flanking Matt Corral in the backfield. Phillips and Conner were the only two backs that got first team reps during the portion of practice the media was allowed to view. Isaiah Woullard and Jerrion Ealy ran with the second team.

— Jon Haynes, Jalen Julius  and Montrell Custis all wore no-contact jerseys on Wednesday. Haynes is recovering from a lower body injury suffered in practice last week, Julius tweaked an ankle in Saturday’s scrimmage and Custis has worn a green jersey all of fall camp as he continues to rehab a torn ACL he suffered last September in a loss to Alabama. Outside linebacker Brendan Williams also wore a green jersey. Sam Willams wore a green jersey on Monday, but was full go on Wednesday. 

— The defensive depth chart has been a revolving door through the two weeks of camp. The first team defense looked like this on Wednesday:

CB: Keidron Smith, Jaylon Jones

SS: C.J. Miller

FS: Armani Linton

OLB: Sam Williams, Charles Wiley

DT: Austrian Robinson, Ryder Anderson

NT: Benito Jones.

Keep in mind Haynes and Julius were limited. Wiley is listed as Qadirr Sheppard’s back up. Sheppard is nursing a broken bone in his hand and is expected back sometime next week.

Photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics