Last week the Ole Miss Football program received the notice of allegations in the NCAA investigation. Today, the focus shifts from off-the-field to the practice field as spring practice begins. To get things underway, Hugh Freeze met the gathered media to discuss preparations for the upcoming season.
Freeze opened with a statement in the wake of last week’s NOA and commented on his team’s response to the disappointing news. Ole Miss will not be eligible for a bowl game in 2017, but Freeze doesn’t see that deterring his team.
“They’ve probably been the greatest testimony to how to handle adversity. They’ve been a ‘do not blink, play the next play, control what you can control’ team and that tells me a lot about our leadership,” Freeze said. “I was blown away by how they handled it and how they are determined to make the most of the 12 opportunities they do have. Playing in this conference, we can make an argument that we’ll have three or four bowl games.”
Going into a difficult year, Freeze knows that his team has their leader in rising sophomore Shea Patterson.
“He’s locked in; he’s determined to be a tremendous leader for this program. Like I shared with him, ‘whether you like it or not, you’re the right man for the right time at the right spot.’ He can do some things that lead the program through a difficult era, and I think he has the shoulders to do it,” Freeze said.
An area of concern in the 2016 season was the linebacking core, but Freeze mentioned the change in the system would attempt to turn that weakness into a strength in 2017. With the return of Marquis Haynes and Demarcus Gates, Freeze believes they can all benefit from starting with a clean slate.
“I think the system is going to help some. The system changes are going to play to some of their strengths. Whether its Bing-Dukes or Donta [Evans] that are attached to the box, they kind of stay attached. Then we got Brendan Williams, who I can’t wait to see. He’s long, rangy, he can run and change direction,” Freeze said. “When you change staffs or systems, those guys feel renewed. They feel like the slate is clean and make their own weight.”
Also returning to the Rebels this season is senior RB Jordan Wilkins. After missing last season due to an academic mishap, Wilkins is ready to become the lead running back that the Rebels need.
“Jordan’s one of my heroes right now. The way he’s matured and handled some unfair things that I think happened to him… there’s no question he’s one of the leaders of the team,” Freeze said. “I think he’s ready to carry the ball 20-25 times if need be. We’re praying he stays healthy, and I think he’s going to have a dynamic year.”
Something to keep an eye on is Freeze’s eagerness to have his hand in special teams. Freeze’s desire to do so comes with the news that new OC Phil Longo will be on the sidelines rather than coaching from the booth.
“I’m excited; I want to coach the punt team because I think we can be creative. With Phil on the field, I think I can help with the transition, and I think I can help make us a little more unpredictable and maybe steal a possession here and there,” Freeze said.
Freeze mentioned that many players will have a chance to stake their claim on returning duties. The players he mentioned were Tre Nixon, Markell Park, Jalen Julius, Jordan Wilkins, Eric Sweeney and Eugene Brazley.
Freeze gave an injury update as well saying WR D.J. Metcalf is a full go, RB Eric Sweeney will participate in drills, but not team work yet. While CB Kendarius Webster is “doing great” recovering from his torn ACL, Freeze said there was “no chance” he will play in the spring. Armani Linton suffered an appendectomy and will be limited for two weeks. The last update provided was that TE Jacob Mathis’ broken foot will keep him out of spring practice.
The first practice session began today at 4 p.m.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.