When asked about his confidence in regard to different positions, head coach Hugh Freeze said the area that concerns him the most is the secondary.
Both cornerback positions were listed with co-starters -- junior Senquez Golson and sophomore Quintavius Burdette at Field corner, and seniors Dehendret Collins and Charles Sawyer at Boundary corner. With both Golson (hamstring) and Sawyer (shoulder) returning from injury, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones feels confident about those four players at the position.
"Starting out at fall camp, we didn't have a lot of depth at the position, but we got some guys back the last couple of weeks, and those guys are now practicing and executing the game plan," Jones said.
"I have four guys that are experienced and mature and can help us. I want to keep all of them fresh. It's supposed to hot on Thursday night. And at times, Vanderbilt can tempo you. The more depth you have, the more guys you can play, and so the fresher they will be."
Burdette, who ran with the first-team defense for most of fall camp, earned the start at Field corner, Freeze said Monday.
"It makes me feel great," Burdette said of getting the start. "It makes me feel like I have to go out there and prove myself even more now."
"He improved his game a lot," Sawyer said of Burdette. "He's making plays on the ball. He's getting the calls. He's understanding the defense. He's just making plays."
A converted safety, Burdette said he feels more comfortable with the defense. He also said he has learned a lot from facing junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief every day in practice, whether it was he or Moncrief making a play.
"After a play, we would go back and talk about it and see what he was thinking during the play, or if I wasn't doing something right, he would tell me," he said. "It taught me to be more patient as a defensive back, and how to make plays against a wide receiver of his size and quality."
On the injury front, Freeze and staff are confident about the status of senior cornerback Charles Sawyer (shoulder) and junior Senquez Golson (hamstring). Sawyer is prepared to play both cornerback positions, Freeze said, while Golson will come in at Field corner, and then they will see how the game goes.
"Charles, he's been going now for at least a couple of weeks," Jones said. "We may practice non-contact to try and take care of each. He's out there laying out for balls and banging around with Donte and things like that. I'm not concerned about him at all.
"Senquez, even though he was injured, he was still getting conditioning in with Coach Jackson on the side. His conditioning shouldn't be a big problem. Both of those guys should be good to go for Thursday."
At the safety position, sophomores Trae Elston and Chief Brown were listed as co-starters at Rover safety, with junior Cody Prewitt at free safety. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he thinks of all three as starters who will all play about the same number of snaps.
"It's a battle between all three of them," Wommack said. "I have called them all starters to them in person. Chief has the ability to play both sides. Hopefully, between the three of them, we can keep them fresher than they were last year."
Ole Miss has six players vying for playing time at the running back, including three freshmen in Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. Running backs coach Derrick Nix feels great about the overall depth of the position.
"We feel like we have choices at the position, which is always good," Nix said. "If something happens to Jeff (Scott), we have guys who are capable of going in and bringing some of the same skill set that he brings to the table. But most importantly, we have guys with more experience than last year.
Nix said they haven't finalized it all the way which running backs will travel to Nashville, and that guys are still competing every day.
What is probably set in stone, Nix said, is Scott, the team's leading rusher last season, then sophomore running back Jaylen Walton. After that, he said, there is a question mark about what they are going to do.
Sophomore I'Tavius Mathers, who was listed as co-backup with Walton behind Scott, has returned to practice since suffering an ankle sprain, but his status for Thursday remains uncertain.
"He did well in practice yesterday," Nix said. "We're going to evaluate him more today to see what he looks like. As the week goes on, we'll see how he progresses and then determine if he will play or not on Thursday."
That question mark also includes potential redshirts, which Freeze said they're considering for sure, adding that there's no way they can say at a position like running back exactly what will happen, such as injuries.