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Practice Report: Freeze praises energy in last full-pad practice before Saturday's Grove Bowl

Tyler Jackson/The Daily Mississippian


For the second time this spring, weather forced the Rebels indoors for practice, and head coach Hugh Freeze was pleased with the energy and passion in the team’s last full-pad practice before Saturday’s Grove Bowl, set for 1 p.m. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

“I loved the energy,” Freeze said. “I thought everybody was flying around and playing with great passion, and that’s what we’ve got to have to get where we want to get in year one. I’m really pleased with this padded practice before we have to go one more non-padded before Saturday. I thought there was great competition. Offense won the first competition, defense won the team pass (competition) by a landslide then the offense came back and won a close one at the end in the first-down competition, so it was a great day.”

Tuesday also marked the Rebels’ first practice since Saturday’s two-hour scrimmage. Freeze said he saw some good things from the offense but the unit lacks the awareness to stay in front of the chains and avoid second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

“Offensively, we do not have an awareness of staying on schedule,” he said. “From quarterbacks to receivers to running backs, second and threes become third and sixes because we don’t understand its second and three and we got to stay on schedule. I thought there was some better play on the offensive line in the run game in the scrimmage. When we went to our tempo stuff, the defense got tired and got a little sloppy. Other than that, they really dominated the series. We have to get better awareness. Some of it is they may still not be playing free and fast and are having to think too much and that will come, but I wish it would come a little faster. I did see some things today that got a little bit corrected from Saturday.”

After watching the film from Saturday, Freeze gives a slight edge to sophomore Bo Wallace in the quarterback competition with junior Barry Brunetti. During the scrimmage, Wallace completed 10 of 23 passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns, while Brunetti completed 12 of 17 passes for 119 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“Brunetti threw for a few more yards, but I thought Wallace did a few more things to keep us on schedule,” Freeze said. “It’s not so much that you are getting huge gains but getting one yarders or an incompletion instead of a minus five. We just can’t take a negative play in this offense and survive.”

Freeze also commented on the improvements he’s seen from the offensive line throughout spring practice, particularly the first-team unit of junior left tackle Emmanuel McCray, sophomore left guard Aaron Morris, junior center Evan Swindall, senior right guard A.J. Hawkins and junior right tackle Pierce Burton.

“I really had very little preconceived notions because they lost Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie and then the loss of (Matt) Hall this spring because of personal issues which hurt us a little bit. I think (Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line coach) Matt Luke has done a wonderful job in preparing them. 

“I think our first group right now has no doubt improved in the run game. We are still a long way away in pass protection, and we got to have some of that second team improve in the offseason. Paul (Jackson) has his work cut out for him to get them ready for his tempo stuff throughout offseason workouts.”

On the injury front, senior safety Ivan Nicholas (bruised ribs) and sophomore wide receiver Collins Moore (strained hip and knee) missed Tuesday’s practice, while junior safety Charles Sawyer was held out for much of the team drills, but is expected to play Saturday. Ole Miss practices for the last time this spring Thursday, but it will not be a full-pad practice.

The beginning of the strength and conditioning process under Jackson

Head strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson also praised the energy in Tuesday’s practice.

“As far as the weight room, when I watch practice, I look for intensity and physicality, and today was the most physical and most intense, I think, we have practiced so far. So, I think they’re starting to figure it out with the tempo that we want and being able to bring that intensity at that tempo. I think we’re finally starting to get it. Today was very encouraging for me.”

The biggest priority for Jackson when he arrived from Southern Miss in January was discipline and toughness, two things he said were lacking immediately. Although the beginning of a long process, he said the early results from the team have been encouraging.

“The guys are doing a good job. Everything is new to them, so they’re trying to understand exactly what we’re asking for. Every day the consistency of it. As far as physical stuff – everything – we got to get better in all areas. We got to get stronger, we got to get more explosive, we got to get faster.”

Jackson, who worked under and was mentored by strength and conditioning legend Tommy Moffitt while at LSU, said the main thing he and his staff are trying to do is to generate the most force in the least amount of time.

“It’s not necessarily about who can squat the most, but it’s who can move the fastest or move the weight the fastest. We got to be able to move to play this game. We got to be explosive. We’re not going to be the biggest team on the field no matter what I do with the guys, so we’ve got to be the most aggressive. We got to be able to strike first. And that’s everything we’ve doing in training – be fast and explosive.”

Because his techniques are new, Jackson said the players’ bodies will start to evolve pretty fast this first offseason, but expects to see the most gains in the weight room in the second offseason once the team knows what to expect and gone through his particular drills.