One of the position battles both head coach Hugh Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack discussed after Saturday's scrimmage is Rover safety, where Freeze said sophomore Chief Brown is pushing sophomore Trae Elston.
"Chief will have a much bigger role than he had last year," Wommack said after Saturday's scrimmage. I see Chief as a starter who can play both either Rover or free safety. I really haven't decided who will start yet. Chief might be a starter in the first game."
Elston started nine game at Rover last season and finished fifth on the team with 61 tackles, along with six pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery.
"He's done well," Wommack said of Elston. "He knows the defense, inside and out. He's a physical guy. I kind of worry about the targeting rule with him, but he's just got to play smart in that area. I like Trae Elston. He's a good football player."
Elsewhere in the secondary, at cornerback, senior Charles Sawyer has practiced, including some team drills, but has not participated in live contact drills. Injuries to Sawyer (shoulder) and junior Senquez Golson have given opportunities to other players at the position.
"I don't think we have been able to totally fix that because the injuries (Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson) to the two guys who have the most experience," Wommack said. "It was good situation for us that Bobby Hill and Anthony Standifer and some others got more reps than they would have gotten. We have to get those other guys back to have better depth in the secondary"
Sophomore Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins continue to run with the first-team defense, and Wommack has been pleased with the play of both.
"Burdette has tried to go against #12 (Donte Moncrief) every time out here, and you get better every day that you do that," Wommack said. "He's had some rough days because of that, Donte is one of the best players in the nation at wide receiver. Burdette is a competitor. He's grown up, and I don't see him put his head down like he used to last year. I'm excited about him.
"Collins has been very solid to me. I wish we could have played him at corner last year. We didn't have enough guys, and we were trying to get speed on the field. I think we absolutely have him in the right spot now. He's tough, he's physical, and he's a competitor. He does everything we need that corner to do."
Earlier in fall practice, sophomore Mike Hilton, who has gotten first-team reps at Huskie, also got some reps at corner, but Wommack said on Saturday they are training him, at this time, to play corner. Behind Hilton at Huskie, freshman Antonio Conner has gotten reps, including some first-team reps alongside Hilton in passing situations.
"He's going to play a lot," Wommack said of Conner. "He'll play in the first game. He has been exceptional, especially for a freshman, assignment-wise," Dave continued. "He has a physical nature and is a natural playmaker."
Up front, freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross both practiced Saturday, and junior defensive end C.J. Johnson is expected to practice Monday. Wommack said he feels good about the depth there, when everyone is healthy, and sees a big role for Nkemdiche.
"He is going to play a lot," Wommack said of Nkemdiche. "We are going to keep those guys fresh by rotating them. I see him absolutely in the two-deep."
Developing Depth At RB, Offensive Line
Compared to last season, offensive coordinator Dan Werner feels better about the depth at both running back and offensive line.
It's a crowded backfield, led by senior Jeff Scott, who rushed 846 yards last season, and bolstered by a trio of freshmen in Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. When asked on Saturday, Freeze said sophomore Jaylen Walton, right now, holds the No. 2 running back spot behind Scott.
On the injury front, Moore returned from concussion symptoms earlier this week, while sophomore I'Tavius Mathers (ankle) is out of his boot, and while he may not practice Monday, Freeze said he is close.
"Last year at this time, we had to move Randall Mackey to be the backup tailback," Werner said after Saturday's scrimmage. "This year, we have six or seven guys there. During the scrimmages, we're rolling them in and out. A guy knows if he doesn't make a right read or doesn't make a hard run, he's probably coming out and there's somebody else going in with a smile on his face."
There has been a lot of competition on the offensive line in fall practice, notably at left guard, where both junior Aaron Morris and senior Jared Duke have gotten first-team reps.
At other guard position, sophomore Justin Bell and senior Patrick Junen were listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. With Junen out, Bell has gotten most of the first-team reps, but Junen is expected to practice Monday.
Earlier in fall practice, offensive line coach Matt Luke said they should have eight or nine players ready to go this season, and Werner shared the same sentiment on Saturday.
"Last year at this time, we had five, maybe six guys that could play," Werner said. "This year, we've got about eight or nine, with Patrick Junen out right now. But from what I hear, he'll be back next week. Any time you have that many guys playing, it's just human nature you're going to play a little bit harder. You've got somebody behind you."
In the previous Saturday scrimmage, junior quarterback Wallace completed 6 of 11 passes for 125 yards with an interception. Throughout this past week, the coaches said they were pleased with Wallace, and it continued on Saturday.
"All of the quarterbacks looked better," Werner said. "I thought we protected the football better. We still have some issues with that, which has been kind of our camp motto - protect the ball. I thought for the most part (Bo) made good decisions, and we scored a lot of touchdowns. He completed a lot of balls, so I was pleased."
As for the freshmen, along with the three running backs, Laquon Treadwell continues to impress at slot receiver, where he has gotten most of the first-team reps, and drew praise from Freeze after Saturday's scrimmage.
Quincy Adeboyejo is in the rotation at outside receiver, along with junior Donte Moncrief, senior Ja-Mes Logan and sophomore Cody Core.
"He's a guy that was a big-time recruit but not as high as a couple of (others)," Werner said of Adeboyejo. "But, man, he came out right away and showed he's really fast, he's really explosive. He understands how to get into zones and make plays. He's another guy that will play a bunch."
On the offensive line, Laremy Tunsil has gotten most of the second-team reps at left tackle and earned first-team reps in Saturday's scrimmage with senior Emmanuel McCray out due to a family issue. Austin Golson has gotten second-team reps at both right guard and right tackle.
At tight end, Evan Engram, tights ends coach Maurice Harris said earlier this week, has separated himself some as a pass-catcher. Also at the position, Christian Morgan, who enrolled at Ole Miss in January, is expected to practice on Monday, as he recovers from a knee injury.
"If he goes through the next two weeks and feels like he can function," Freeze said of Morgan playing this season. "We're missing a lot of body types like his, if nothing else for short-yardage and special teams. I would like to see him play."