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Freeze praises defense in Tuesday’s practice

The injury bug continues to plague the Ole Miss football squad as the news of a couple important players returning to practice Tuesday was quickly diminished with the news of junior running back Jeff Scott still suffering from a back injury.
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The Ole Miss defense had a much better day than the offense in the Rebels’ first game week practice of the year on Tuesday, according to head coach Hugh Freeze.
“Defensively, (it was) excellent,” Freeze said. “I thought their energy was great, and I thought their attention to detail was super. They were very coachable. Offensively, I don’t know, we didn’t have any pizzazz. No energy, no bounce in our step like it’s game week. 
“That was a little disappointing, but I’m sure they’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
A possible explanation for excitement on the defensive side of the ball could have been the return of three key contributors in the secondary – junior safety Charles Sawyer, senior cornerback Wesley Pendleton and sophomore corner Cliff Coleman. 
All three suffered injuries during fall camp but were back in action Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s game against Central Arkansas. 
“That may have been one reason (the defense) had a lot of pep in their step,” Freeze said. “I thought Charles looked really good. I thought Wesley was 80 percent, and Cliff was close to 80 (percent) probably. I thought Charles was the farthest along when they were moving around.”
While news was good for the trio of defensive backs, the same can’t be said for junior running back Jeff Scott, who has been battling a lower back injury for about three weeks, according to Freeze. 
“He tried to go today, and I was proud of him for that, but he’s not himself,” Freeze said. “We’ll just see how the week goes on, but if we had to play tomorrow, I don’t know that he would be a factor. He’s had an X-ray, and it didn’t show anything. So, it’s just one of those things that keeps flaring up. Seems (to happen) every time he goes live.”
If Scott were not to play Saturday or play a smaller role than expected, Freeze feels confident in his other backs, even though they are largely unproven. Freshman running backs I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have never played a college down, while senior Randall Mackey has never taken a snap at running back in a game. 
“We’ll miss his home run threat; a healthy Jeff can really run,” Freeze said. “I think we’re a lot better off (at running back), but until we play in a game and see how those you kids do, you really don’t know. I certainly feel like they’ve had good enough camps to where they’ll go in there and compete.”
Others News & Notes: 
* Freeze reiterated that he would announce which quarterback will receive the first snaps against Central Arkansas on Wednesday. Both sophomore Bo Wallace and junior Barry Brunetti will “hopefully get about equal snaps,” according to Freeze. 
* The competition is also tight at the stinger linebacker position, where senior Aaron Garbutt and redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche were listed as co-number ones in Monday’s depth chart. After talking to the defensive coaches, Freeze said “both are going to play equal amounts.”
* Scott’s absence would also affect the return game, where he is one of the primary options returning kicks and punts when healthy. 
* Freeze mentioned freshman safety Trae Elston, sophomore cornerback Senquez Golson, senior wide receiver Korvic Neat, senior wide receiver Philander Moore, and Walton as players would could step up in the return game if Scott isn’t able to go. 
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss football, follow @thedm_sports and @bennetthipp on Twitter.