Ole Miss saw its stay in Nashville to come to an end in heartbreaking fashion, falling in the final moments to South Carolina 60-58 in the second round of the SEC Tournament Thursday. The Rebels, now 20-12 and ranked No. 55 in the latest NCAA RPI, will be scoreboard-watching, as they await to learn their postseason fate on Selection Sunday.
"We have now taken destiny out of our own hands, and so now we just have to wait and see what the other teams that are in the equation have done," head coach Andy Kennedy said.
Despite the loss to South Carolina, ESPN's Joe Lunardi, CBS Sports' Jerry Palm and USA Today's Shelby Mast all have Ole Miss among their last four teams in the NCAA Tournament field, which would mean a date in Dayton for the NCAA First Four for an opportunity to play their way into the Field of 64.
Another bracketologist, Syracuse.com's Patrick Stevens, has the Rebels as his last team with an NCAA Tournament bye, placing them safely in the Field of 64 and avoiding Dayton.
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who has now played Ole Miss twice this season, shared their opinion, when asked if the Rebels are an NCAA Tournament team in his opinion.
"Our league is really, really good," Martin said. "Ole Miss better be in that tournament, and not only be in it, they better be in it with a good seed. I understand if you look at our record, you're probably going to sit there and say, Well, look at our body of work. We're a pretty good basketball team. And it's not like us beating them is any different than what happens in every other conference in America."
Members of the 2012-13 team that last made the NCAA Tournament, seniors Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White were less certainty, showing true honesty and candidness in their answers, when asked about if they had done enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.
"Honestly, I really can't say," said Summers, who completed a four-point play to briefly give the Rebels a 58-57 lead with 3.3 seconds left. "I really feel like we haven't because we haven't just, you know, played good this year, and it starts with me. I have had an up-and-down season and I just really put all this on me because on I'm the senior leader and I just didn't get it done."
"I really don't feel like we done enough, but if we do make it, I feel like we backed our way in," added White, who led the Rebels with 17 points.
As Stevens noted on Twitter, 76 Division I games remain between now and the bracket announcement on Sunday, some of which include fellow bubble teams and potential bid thieves, all of whom may have an impact on Ole Miss' precarious position on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"The Rebels are now right on top of the cut line," wrote ESPN's Eamonn Brennan in his latest Bubble Watch. "Their road wins at Oregon and Arkansas remain impressive, and a neutral-court win over Cincinnati doesn't hurt. But this late slide has only magnified the bad losses on the other side of the nitty-gritty sheet, and ceded some uncertainty on what used to be very solid ground."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ole Miss returns to Nashville, the site of its 2013 SEC Tournament title, in much the similar position, perhaps in a more favorable position as it relates to an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
Despite the loss to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale, Ole Miss remains a team projected in the field, as a No. 10 seed in ESPN's Joe Lunardi's bracket, and as one of the last four teams in the field in CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's and USA Today's Shelby Mast's brackets.
At this time of year, it's easy to get caught up in all the numbers and bracket projections, but head coach Andy Kennedy and his team are focused on what they can control, which is their opponent-to-be in Thursday night's second-round game against No. 11 seed South Carolina.
"We have a veteran group," Kennedy said. "They have been through these conversations many times. My hope is that they will just focus on what the thing they can control and that's playing well Thursday night. We have a lot of good memories in this building, so hopefully we can conjure some of those back."
Seniors Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White played key roles on the 2012-13 team that made a run to the SEC Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Summers was the starting point guard, only to have his SEC Tournament run cut short due to a concussion he suffered in the quarterfinal against Missouri. When Summers went down, White stepped into the point guard role, starting both the semifinal against Vanderbilt and the final against Florida.
"We're really just taking it one game at a time," Summers said. "We don't really focused on the bubble or the tournament at all. We still have to play the SEC tournament. For me, I'm just trying to maximize the games and enjoy it while I can."
"I haven't been reading anything about the first four out or the last four in," White said. "My concern hasn't been on that. We're just taking it one game at a time."
Ole Miss has not only has its run in 2013 to draw from entering this year's tournament, but it also has its success away from Tad Smith Coliseum earlier this season. The Rebels have three RPI top 50 wins -- No. 22 Arkansas, No. 29 Oregon and No. 34 Cincinnati -- and they all came away from Tad Smith Coliseum
Their 11 wins away from home are the most since that same 2012-13 season, when they picked up 12 wins away from home, including three wins at the SEC Tournament.
"We're very confident away from home," White said. "Very confident. That's where we play our best ball, I think. It's weird. I mean, I don't know. I can't explain that."
One possible explanation? They shoot the ball better away from Tad Smith Coliseum.
Ole Miss averages 75.1 points per game and shoots 46.5 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from 3-point range in road and neutral-site games, compared to 71.2 points per game, 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 30.3 percent 3-point shooting in home games.
"Maybe you do put more pressure on yourself at home," Kennedy said. "I think they'll come in here and play loose and free. I just hope we can make some shots."
The men's basketball team returns to the site of its 2013 SEC Tournament title, looking to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The women's basketball team awaits its postseason fate, the baseball team hits the road for its longest road trip of the season, during which they will play two top-15 teams, and the football team opened spring practice. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:
- The Ole Miss men's basketball team split its final week of the regular season, finishing with a 20-11 overall and 11-7 SEC record, tied for third place in the league standings. However, by virtue of a tiebreaker, the Rebels will be the No. 6 seed in the Nashville, where they await the winner of No. 11 seed South Carolina and No. 14 Missouri in the nightcap of Thursday's second-round games.
- With the win over Alabama on Tuesday night, Ole Miss picked up its 20th win of the season, the seventh 20-win season in nine seasons under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels recorded just seven 20-win season in the 96 seasons before Kennedy's arrival.
- Against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss shot over 40 percent and committed just six turnover, but they were unable to overcome a hot shooting night from the Commodores. As a team, Vanderbilt shot 54.5 percent from the field and went 13-for-23 from 3-point range, tying its season high for 3-point field goals made.
"They put on a clinic," Kennedy said. "They've been shooting the ball well. They're as good a shooting team as we've faced maybe in the nine years here. Basketball is a game of rhythm. You have to disrupt theirs and establish yours. We didn't tonight. We were a step slow. We've been a step slow all year, and I've had to create defenses. We were moving slow, and they were making shots. We didn't have any answers."
- Looking ahead, Ole Miss returns to Nashville, the site of its 2013 SEC Tournament title, and faces the same path this week, but with an additional second-round game against the winner of the South Carolina and Missouri matchup. Georgia awaits in a possible quarterfinal matchup, a team Ole Miss played in last year's quarterfinals.
- As far as the NCAA Tournament, despite the loss to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss remains a team projected in the field, as a No. 10 seed in ESPN's Joe Lunardi's bracket, and as one of the last four teams in the field in CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's and USA Today's Shelby Mast's brackets. Here's more from Palm, who had the Rebels among his teams "on the fence" in his latest Bubble Watch.
- Earlier in the week, after the win over Alabama, ESPN's Eamonn Brennan considered the Rebels a lock in his latest Bubble Watch, but after the loss to Vanderbilt, he rescinded that. Here's more from Brennan.
"I don't know what has transpired around the country, but our name has not been mentioned one time in any bubble conversation," Kennedy said. "It probably will now. We've probably put ourselves in a precarious situation where we need to look at what other people do."
- One of my favorite sports data and analytics sites, Team Rankings, projects Ole Miss as a No. 12 seed and gives the Rebels a 55 percent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. With one win in Nashville, Team Rankings gives them a 51.3 percent chance, and with two wins, it jumps up to 77.0 percent.
- Bid thieves shrink the NCAA Tournament bubble. And as Brennan noted in his latest Bubble Watch, they are most likely to come from high-major leagues this season. Bubble teams breathed a collective sigh of relief when Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley Conference on Sunday, making it a two-bid league instead of a three-bid league. On a similar note, bubble teams would also probably like to see Gonzaga win the West Coast Conference automatic bid.
- After a strong end to the regular season, the Ole Miss women's basketball team fell short in a 72-61 loss to Arkansas in the second round of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament. The Rebels, now 17-13 and likely Postseason WNIT bound, will learn their postseason fate on Monday, March 16. It would be their first postseason appearance since 2009-10.
- Here's a couple of great stories related to the Ole Miss pep band, which stepped in as a replacement to act as Kentucky's band, which was unable to make the trip to Little Rock for the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament due to inclement weather. For our story, click here. For the stories from The Clarion-Ledger and The Lexington Herald-Leader, click here and here.
- The Ole Miss baseball team claimed its third weekend series of the season, sweeping Saturday's doubleheader before dropping Sunday's series finale. The Rebels, now 8-6, face a pair of tough road series this week, a two-game midweek series at No. 11 Louisville, and a three-game weekend series at No. 2 LSU.
- The star of Saturday's doubleheader sweep was sophomore right-hander Brady Bramlett, who struck out a career-high 12 batters, joining some elite company in the process. His 12 strikeouts were four shy of tying the school record, the most in a game by an Ole Miss pitcher since Drew Pomeranz struck out 15 in a win over Georgia on April 9, 2010. It was also Bramlett's second digit strikeout game of the season, becoming the first Rebel to record multiple double-digit strikeouts games since Pomeranz, also in 2010.
"He's always fired up and ready to go," said junior left-hander Christian Trent of Bramlett. "I thought he was going to get the record two weeks ago. I thought he was going to get the record today. He was on pace for 27, but 12 is still impressive. I'm sure he will take 12."
- The No. 17-ranked Ole Miss women's tennis team swept the weekend, not dropping one singles or doubles match in 7-0 wins over Arkansas and Missouri. With the weekend sweep, the Rebels improved to 10-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC. Senior Julia Jones, ranked No. 14 in the nation, won both of her singles matches, improving to 21-5 overall and 11-2 at No. 1 singles this season and picking up her 93rd and 94th career wins.
- The No. 9-ranked Ole Miss men's team dropped a 4-2 decision at Alabama, their first outdoor match in more than a month. Their other weekend match, a road contest at rival Mississippi State, was postponed and will be rescheduled for a later day. Next up is a marquee nonconference home match against No. 5 Baylor on Tuesday.
- The Ole Miss football team began spring practice Tuesday. Here Some storylines to follow, as the Rebels get into the heart of spring practice after Spring Break: The three-way quarterback battle, some position changes on defense and the return of Laquon Treadwell and Denzel Nkemdiche from injury. Check out some notes and quotes already on the blog and stay tuned to more coverage.
- NFL hopefuls Cody Prewitt, a projected second-round pick by CBSSports.com, and Senquez Golson, a projected fourth-round pick, continue to impress in pre-draft workouts, most recently at Ole Miss' Pro Day on Thursday. Three other hopefuls, Deterrian Shackelford, Carlos Thompson and Deterrian Shackelford also made some impressions. For more, check out my recap of Pro Day.
- Ole Miss played a couple of tribute videos before Saturday's home men's basketball game against Vanderbilt. Here's one to Tad Smith Coliseum, and here's another to graduating seniors Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White, two Mississippi natives and the first members of their respective immediate families to graduate from college.
With the Rebels' 82-74 win at Alabama on Tuesday night, Ole Miss has posted 20 wins for the seventh time in nine seasons under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels recorded just seven 20-win campaigns in the 96 seasons before Kennedy's arrival.
Also, with the win over Alabama, Ole Miss positioned itself to earn the No. 3 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. But the Rebels could also finish fourth, fifth or sixth with a loss, depending on other outcomes in the league.
The No. 3 seed would not only mean a double-bye into the quarterfinals, but it would also place Ole Miss on the opposite side of the bracket from top seed and undefeated Kentucky.
"It was a huge game," said senior guard LaDarius White after the win over Alabama. "It was important and we needed this game."
As far as the NCAA Tournament, the win over Alabama kept Ole Miss around the No. 9 and No. 10 seed lines, depending on the bracket projection, and according to ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan, the win also locked up an NCAA Tournament bid.
"Either way, both teams are straddling the No. 8/9 seed lines at this late date," said Brennan of Georgia and Ole Miss in his latest Bubble Watch. "For either to miss the tournament, they'd have to drop two straight this weekend and next, and somehow have the dozen-or-so teams between them and the cut line pass them in the next nine days. Not going to happen."
That being said, the Rebels, now No. 44 in the latest NCAA RPI, can eliminate any doubt about their NCAA Tournament hopes and perhaps play their way up a seed line or two, between now and Selection Sunday, starting with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
There's not much reward playing the Commodores, ranked No. 102 in the RPI, but they have won four in a row and seven of their last nine games, dating back to the start of February.
"We get one more win, we have a secure seed in the NCAA tournament," sophomore forward Sebastian Saiz said. "That was the goal this season -- to get to the NCAA tournament and do well in it."
Senior Send-Off for Five Rebels
Ole Miss will also honor its five seniors, three fourth-year seniors in Aaron Jones, Jarvis Summers and LaDarius White and two graduate seniors in M.J. Rhett and Terence Smith.
Jones, Summers and White have been a part of three of Kennedy's six 20-win seasons, including Summers who is the SEC active leader in points (1,587), assists (507), minutes (3,762) and wins (83).
"It's Senior Night, so it's got to be the most important game for those guys who are leaving Ole Miss," Saiz said. "I expect them to come out with a lot of energy and show everybody they have been thankful for their time at Ole Miss."
Summers and White showed signs of a return to form in the win over Alabama, while Jones provided a spark with 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting, to go along with five rebounds, in 21 minutes off the bench.
Summers showed the decision-making that made him an All-SEC type player, dishing out seven assists compared to zero turnovers 32 minutes of action, while White exploded for 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. For White, it was his first double-digit scoring game since scoring 16 points in a win over Florida on Feb. 12.
"Snoop has struggled in the last two or three weeks," said Kennedy of White. "He has not shot the ball well. For him to go seven-of-nine, four-for-five from three, huge, huge effort for him. My hope is that it will give him the confidence that he needs to finish this thing strong."
The Manning Center played host to 16 former Ole Miss players, including NFL Scouting Combine participants Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson, attempting to make a lasting impact on the 27 NFL teams represented at Pro Day on Thursday.
Prewitt, a projected second-round pick by CBSSports.com, was not pleased with his performance at the combine, where he ran a 4.60 40-yard dash and recorded 11 bench-press reps of 225 pounds. He improved both marks at Pro Day, as he posted times of 4.47 and 4.46 in the 40 and recorded 12 reps on the bench. His 4.46 mark would rank third among safeties and tied for 10th among all defensive backs at the combine.
"It ate me up," Prewitt said of his combine performance. "It aggravated the crap out of me. I still think I can do better in the 40, but I think today was a lot closer to what I think I can run."
After putting on a show at the combine, Golson, a projected fourth-round pick by CBSSports.com, only participated in two testing drills at Pro Day. One those drills was the bench press, where he improved his number of 225-pound bench press reps from 15 at the combine to 16 at Pro Day. Overall, he was pleased with his performance at Pro Day.
"There are a lot of questions when you got a 5-8 corner that catches 10 interceptions, Golson said. "A lot of people want to get their eyes on me and see if everything matches up with the numbers.
"They have asked me, 'What makes you think you can play in the league?' You go back to my freshman to my senior year, every week I played against first-round, top-10 picks. I played against Odell (Beckham, Jr.). I played against Mike Evans for two or three years. I played against Amari Cooper and Sammie Coates, all the top receivers that are going to come out this year, I have film against all those guys."
Both Prewitt and Golson went through defensive back drills with New York Jets defensive backs Joe Danna. Golson said he has private workouts or visits scheduled with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It was fun," said Golson of working with Danna. "You get an idea of how NFL coaches think and how they want us do things. I was happy for that opportunity."
Other standouts at Pro Day were Deterrian Shackelford, who benched 225 pounds 33 times, which would have ranked second among linebackers and ninth among all players at the combine, and Carlos Thompson, who posted a 38-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-3 broad jump. He ran the 40 in 4.75 and 4.77 seconds and recorded 21 bench-press reps of 225 pounds.
Pro Day was also an opportunity for Bo Wallace to impress NFL scouts after not receiving an invitation to the combine. Wallace said he felt healthy and threw the ball well in a scripted positional workout put together by former NFL quarterback John Beck.
"I wanted to show I'm talented enough to compete with the guys that were brought into the combine," Wallace said. "I was upset I wasn't there and it pushed me and motivated me. I felt like I had as good of a day as I could have."
Here's an update with some official numbers from NFL.com's Gil Brandt:
Representatives from 27 NFL teams, including a defensive backs coach from the New York Jets, were present to see 16 players work out at Ole Miss' pro day on Thursday.
The workout was held indoors and run on FieldTurf.
Cornerback Senquez Golson (5-foot-8 3/4, 180 pounds) had 16 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and a time of 11.93 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle (staying on the rest of his numbers from the NFL Scouting Combine). Golson -- who made a pivotal interception in Ole Miss' upset of Alabama in October -- was very fluid in the positional workout and displayed great ball skills.
Free safety Cody Prewitt (6-2 3/8, 208) ran much better at his pro day than he did at the combine in the 40-yard dash, posting times of 4.47 and 4.46 seconds (he ran 4.6 in Indianapolis). He also performed 12 strength lifts. Prewitt also showed good ball skills during his positional workout.
Quarterback Bo Wallace (6-3 5/8, 211) ran the 40 in 5.1 and 5.07 seconds. He had an 8-foot-8 broad jump. He went through a scripted positional workout and did an adequate job doing so. Wallace's workout was put together by former NFL quarterback John Beck.
One relatively unknown prospect was really impressive to the scouts present at Ole Miss' pro day.
Defensive end Carlos Thompson (6-4 1/4, 252) ran the 40 in 4.75 and 4.77 seconds. He had a 38-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-3 broad jump. He did the 20-yard short shuttle in 4.54 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.51 seconds. Thompson recorded 1.5 sacks in limited playing time while at Ole Miss, but might have had so impressive of a pro-day workout that he could get drafted as a pass-rushing prospect. At worst, Thompson will be a priority free-agent pickup for an NFL team following the 2015 NFL Draft.
The scouts at hand were treated to a big breakfast and lunch.
Stay tuned to NFL.com's Gil Brandt and NFL.com's Pro Day reports for more from Ole Miss Pro Day. The NFL Draft is April 30-May 2.
NFL Scouting Combine participants Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt are among 18 former Ole Miss players expected to go through Pro Day workouts in hopes of realizing their professional football dreams. More than 25 representatives from 22 different teams were on hand for last year's Pro Day that featured future third-rounder Donte Moncrief of the Indianapolis Colts.
Golson and Prewittt are expected to be joined by 12 other recently-departed Rebels, including Serderius Bryant and Bo Wallace, as well as four players more than a year removed from their time in the Red and Blue. Golson and Prewitt, who both impressed at the combine, may not compete in every drill at Pro Day.
A reminder that the event is closed to the public, but we will have complete coverage on the official site. Official times and results will be posted on NFL.com in the days following Pro Day.
2014 Seniors participating:
The Ole Miss women's basketball team heads to the 2015 SEC Tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas, having won three of its last four games to finish the regular season with a 17-12 overall and 7-9 SEC record and earn the No. 8 seed in the tournament.
The Rebels are a near-lock for the Postseason WNIT, which would be the program's first postseason appearance since the 2009-10 season, but they will likely need to some damage this week to strengthen their case for the NCAA Tournament, starting with No. 9 seed Arkansas on Thursday.
"I feel like we're 100 percent in the NIT," head coach Matt Insell said. "We're going to have to win two games, at least, to solidify ourselves as having a chance to maybe be on the bubble and be in the NCAA Tournament. Beating Arkansas and then coming back and beating South Carolina, I think, would put us in, with South Carolina being the No. 1 seed (in the SEC Tournament). We know that, but Arkansas is our main focus."
Insell pointed to his team's wins over Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and LSU, four teams ranked in the top 70 of the latest NCAA RPI and three teams projected to be in the tournament. The team not projected in the tournament, Georgia, was at full strength with a 15-2 overall and 3-1 SEC record, when Ole Miss met them earlier in the season.
Insell also noted the Rebels' SEC schedule, which featured two games each against Kentucky, LSU and Mississippi State, three of the top six teams in the league. Despite that schedule, they finished tied for seventh in the league standing.
The numbers, however, are working against them, including a No. 96 ranking in the RPI.
"If you're one of the better teams in this league, you deserve to have a chance to be in the tournament, but the computers say we're not in, and I guess we're going by the computers, and I'm going to keep saying that," Insell said.
ESPN.com Bracketologist Charlie Creme said the NCAA Selection Committee weighs many factors in their selection process, such as RPI and strength of schedule, as well as records against the RPI top 25, RPI top 50 and RPI top 100, among others, and those categories create the discussion points.
"The RPI is by no means everything, but it is how the committee groups teams," said Creme in an email. "At 96 at this point, they wouldn't seriously enter the discussion. No team has ever made it as an at-large with an RPI outside the 70's (and the 70's is even rare).
"The wins over UK and LSU would be where the committee would start with Ole Miss, but there isn't much else to discuss. Ole Miss isn't currently in my "Next Four" out, which puts them over eight spots away. The takeaway is Ole Miss has to win the automatic berth."
Senior forward Tia Faleru, a first team All-SEC selection, drew on the experience of the 2012-13 Ole Miss men's basketball team, when asked about the NCAA Tournament. That season, the Rebels entered the SEC Tournament in Nashville on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, likely also needing to win at least a couple of games, and they went on to win the automatic berth, eliminating any doubt of them getting in the NCAA Tournament.
"Nobody thought they were going to win it," Faleru said. "They got on a little roll and got all the the way to the championship. Nobody expected them to beat Florida that year either. I remember that like it was yesterday. They won it all, and we were here supporting them. I want to experience the same feeling. Do something impossible. We can do the same thing. It's no pressure on us. The pressure is on everybody else. We're the team no one wants to play."
Ole Miss welcomes back seven starters from the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, but two of those starters, seniors C.J. Johnson and Mike Hilton, will be starting the spring at different positions, with Johnson at Mike linebacker and Hilton at Rover safety.
"This is a different team with a different group of players with different talents," Johnson said. "The key for us is how do we build on what he had last year. We have a lot of young guys stepping in and trying to fill roles, so they have to understand what it takes to get to where we were last year."
Johnson was originally recruited as a linebacker and began his Ole Miss career at the position, before moving to defensive end, where he has played for the last three-plus years. He and coaches talked about a move to linebacker after the bowl game and then closer to National Signing Day.
"I wanted to try something different," Johnson said. "The coaches knew I knew the playbook really well and they knew me sitting in the defensive line meetings for install the first couple of days would be completely boring for me, so we decided to try the move."
The most senior member of the Ole Miss defense, Johnson said he knows pretty much know what everybody in front of him is doing, and he also draws on his high school and early college experience playing linebacker, but there's still a lot to learn.
"With the multiple things we do, you have to be able to do a lot of different things, so it's going to be a challenge for me," Johnson said. "It feels familiar and it feels good. A lot comes with the position, being the quarterback of the front of the defense and getting everybody set and lined up, knowing the checks and formations. It's going to be a big learning process for me, but I'm ready for it."
As a defense, despite ranking among the nation's leaders in most statistical categories, Johnson said they need to give up fewer big plays to improve as a defense. In their meeting yesterday, Johnson said, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack brought up that they were two plays away from an 11-1 record with a case to play in the College Football Playoff.
Those two plays, Johnson said, were a pair of dropped interceptions, one in 35-31 loss to Auburn and another in a 10-7 loss to LSU. He also mentioned a sack that he missed on a third down against LSU, after which the Tigers drove down the field and scored.
"You look at the games we lost, and we didn't get turnovers and we gave up too many big plays," Johnson said. "If we eliminate the big plays and we get more takeaways, we'll be a better defense."
Familiar Spot for Hilton
The coaches have shown a similar type trust in Hilton, who has started a game at every defensive backfield position, including two career starts, both last season, at Rover safety.
"I feel like it's another good move for me," Hilton said. "Once again, it show the trust the coaches have in me and my ability go out and produce on the field."
His move to Rover safety leaves a two-deep at cornerback that will likely include juniors Tony Bridges, Kailo Moore, Tee Shepard and freshman Kendarius Webster. It also shifted senior Trae Elston from Rover safety to free safety, where he will look to replace three-plus year starter Cody Prewitt.
"Free safety is more in the box and has more run support responsibility, while the Rover safety has more coverage responsibility and has to be able to tackle in the open field," Hilton said. "I feel like it's a good spot for me because open-field tackling is one of my best assets."
Hilton is learning under first-year safeties coach Corey Batoon, a member of head coach Hugh Freeze's Ole Miss staff since the beginning, who was recently promoted to assistant coach for safeties and special teams coordinator in January.
"He's a strategist," said Hilton of Batoon. "He wants everything down perfect. He wants you making the right steps and everything. I feel like he will put us in the right position to make plays; we just have to go make them."
Johnson on returning to linebacker: "The game has slowed down for me a lot. I pretty much know what everybody in front of me is doing, as opposed to coming in as a freshman when you know absolutely nothing. Right now, I'm getting adjusted to the drops and coverages."
Johnson on his playing weight: "I was trying to lose weight to get down to a weight where I could run and play fast, and over the weekend, I came in Monday at around 246. I have to drop a little weight, but I felt fine yesterday running."
Johnson on the move to linebacker preparing him for the NFL: "I don't really know, I don't really get involved in all that. I try to come to work every day, do my job and play to my strengths as a football player."
Johnson on leadership: "It kind of feels weird being the oldest one out there and being the person that everyone looks up to. It's something I'm ready to embrace."
Hilton on the defense's identity: "I feel the identity of the defense is the same. We still have guys like C.J., myself, Trae, Issac and all those guys on the defensive front. We feel like we have that same Landshark mentality and the mentality to be one of the top defenses."
Hilton on Tee Shepard: "He looks really good. He's holding up and playing well. He's running full speed and everything. He's looking good. He's ready."
Hilton on Tony Bridges: "He's really quiet, but he's really coachable. He's even come up to me and asked questions. He's really coachable. He works with Coach (Jason) Jones a lot. He's good be a good one for us."
Hilton on the younger players: "Breeland (Speaks) has shown dominance up front. He's put on some weight, but he's still able to move. Victor (Evans) is coming off the edge a lot better. Those two I'm really looking forward to seeing this year."
Ole Miss began spring practice Tuesday, and for the first time under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels will have a starting quarterback not named Bo Wallace. With the graduation of Wallace, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, as well as junior college transfer Chad Kelly, will split equal reps this spring.
"We're going to be very thorough in our evaluations by charting every single drill that they do," Freeze said. "We'll look at stats from those. It's going to a very competition three-man deal. They will be in a constant rotation, and everyone will get equal reps with the 1's and the 2's. The main thing you want to see is who can handle hard coaching and who can understand what we're trying to get accomplished with what we have called and then being able to execute and take care of the ball, which is always a priority."
It's the first true quarterback competition in Oxford since the 2012 season, when Wallace beat out Barry Brunetti for the starting job. In that case, Freeze did not name Wallace his starting quarterback until two days before the Rebels' season opener against Central Arkansas, and it may a similar case this season between Buchanan, Kelly and Kincade.
"It would probably have to be so clear-cut for me to do that this spring, knowing the personalities of who I'm dealing with and the time between now and fall," said Freeze of naming a starting quarterback in the spring. "A lot of dynamics play into that. It's probably not going to be a clear-cut decision at the end of spring and will continue through summer workouts. It's time for that room to be the leaders of this team. With that, comes some responsibility, and we have them to understand that throughout summer workouts."
Changes on Defense
Freeze had already announced one position change during his National Signing Day press conference. That change was moving Jeremy Liggins to offensive tackle, although he will likely continue to play some tight end and "Wildcat" quarterback. But there are also changes on the other side of the ball.
The changes on the defensive side are familiar, but they are notable. Freeze announced that senior Mike Hilton, who has started a game at every defensive backfield position, will start the spring at one of the safety positions, as they try to find the best rotation in the defensive backfield.
"We think we he have a lot options (in the secondary)," Freeze said. "We're going to start Tony (Bridges) and Tee (Shepard) at cornerback and start Mike Hilton at one of the safety positions, knowing that he's played them all and can do that. If we think there's a better rotation, we won't hesitate to move them around"
Freeze also said that senior C.J. Johnson will get a look at Mike linebacker, a position that Freeze called their biggest question mark right now. Johnson was originally recruited as a linebacker and began his Ole Miss career at the position, and he will join senior Christian Russell and junior Temario Strong in looking to replace Deterrian Shackelford and Keith Lewis.
"We are going to see this spring," said Freeze of Johnson playing Mike linebacker. "I don't know (how he will perform), it is hard to say. I know he can run and tackle. I know he is smart and really understands the defense. It is a different role, playing there. But that's where we are going to put him and see how it goes this spring. We can always move him back down to the defensive line. We are going to see how he performs this spring."
D. Nkemdiche, Treadwell Return from Injury
The Rebels will be without a trio of offensive linemen in junior Laremy Tunsil and senior Aaron Morris, two returning starters, as well as sophomore Daronte Bouldin, but the Rebels will welcome back a talented trio of players in junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and junior cornerback Tee Shepard.
"I expect Denzel and Quon, both, to be back," Freeze said. "Denzel, right away. Quon, after spring break. He will do some things but not a lot this week. Robert Conyers will go after spring break also. The others, Daronte (Bouldin), Aaron (Morris), and Laremy, will not participate in spring practice. Tee will be full-go. Carlos Davis, we'll see where is after spring break."
With the injuries along the offensive line, it is a great opportunity for freshman offensive lineman Javon Patterson, an early enrollee, who was rated a five-star prospect and listed as the No. 1 offensive guard in the nation by 247Sports.com.
"I told him yesterday that we he will get all the reps he wants, and then some," Freeze said. "It's going be good for him. He's going to get plenty of reps. i'm really excited about him. He's exactly the type of student-athlete you want. He's a great kid, first, and he's going to be an outstanding player. Getting him enrolled early and getting an extra spring with him will be big for him. He will get plenty of reps to get looked at this spring."
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Joe Snaidauf said:
Rebs stay healthy, they can win it all!!! in post Eleven Rebels Garner Phil Steele Preseason Honors
Jamie laverty said:
Bulmer I love you and ole Miss in post Fast Runner From Down Under
Coach Freeze is a genuine coach and our players and fans adore him!! in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year
Gary Vaughn said:
It's great to be a Rebel fan. Coach Freeze in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year
Has brought back the excitement
Competitiveness we all so desire. The
fan base and even our doubters are
Paying attention. Even the whole country
Sport tLk shows ect. Are taking notice.
After we upset Alabama this weekend
38-27 we will bolt to a top 12 or better
Ranking. Go Rebels
I am not and never have been an Ole Miss fan. I am however a Coach Freeze fan. I like what he represents in today's world of big time sports and what he stands for in leading young men of today into a more responsible role. He is everything that Ole Miss has never had. I am on his band wagon winning or losing. in post Vote Freeze For Coach Of The Year
Cory Wilson said:
How can I get my hands on one of these? in post 2013 Fall Sports Player Posters
Dave Darnell said:
Gray pants with red and blue stripes on the legs have served Ole Miss football my entire life time. The blue on blue, red on red and white on white are hideous and UGLY! Leave the pants alone.
Dave Darnell in post New Football Uniforms Unveiled
Ole Miss '68
Tiger fan here (LSU) b we now have 3 in the SEC. You guys looked great last year. You looked coached, and the players were up for every game. Good to see you back in the hunt. in post Looking Ahead to 2013 On Gridiron