Hugh Freeze's Ole Miss Rebels are now in week two of spring practice.
Week one was productive in Oxford, but DE C.J. Johnson did sustain a broken fibula in practice. With Johnson now out the remainder of spring, coaches are continually evaluating the progress of other players in the defensive end rotation.
In fact, several men have already stepped up.
An unfortunate trend that continues is the pedestrian play of the team's reserve quarterbacks. Without starting QB Bo Wallace, who will miss spring practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery, much of the offense has seemed out of sorts.
On the other hand, a former Rebel is back at Ole Miss making the most of a second chance.
Nearly halfway through spring practice, coaches have liked the team effort, overall.
Now, it's time to review the Rebel stock report for week two of spring practice.
CB Nick "Snoop" Brassell is making the most of a second chance at Ole Miss.
Following the Rebels' March 22 practice, Hugh Freeze stated (via olemisssports.com), “Nick Brassell had a tremendous day. He caused a couple of turnovers and made a couple of big hits.”
After an amazing true freshman campaign, the supremely-gifted Brassell was ruled academically ineligible in 2012. Wishing to continue with football in 2012, Brassell enrolled at East Mississippi Junior College last season.
After a solid season in junior college, Brassell is getting a chance this spring to prove himself in Oxford on the field and in the classroom. At least for now, the junior is making good on his second chance.
While Brassell played on both sides of the ball at Ole Miss during his freshman season, the Rebels will primarily use him on defense in 2013. He's a kid with NFL-level talent who should perform even better not having to play on offense and defense each game.
If the spring is any indicator, Brassell has returned with a renewed focus.
A redshirt last season, defensive end Carlos Thompson appears to be making noise in spring practice. The junior is taking advantage this spring in hopes of becoming a major part of the DE rotation in 2013.
Hugh Freeze noted (via olemisssports.com) Thompson's progress after a March 25 practice:
That redshirt year really helped him. His body developed. He's a lot more physical. He's maturing some. We still need him to mature some more, particularly, off the field. Coach [Chris] Kiffin is real high on his progress as a player.
Ranked as Scout.com's 17th-best DE (via OMSpirit.com) in the country in 2010, Thompson has seen the field in only 11 games over his first three years at Ole Miss. He's a player with a great deal of potential who now appears to be showing coaches how he can contribute on defense.
With Johnson sidelined until the summer, Thompson will battle with returning starter Cameron Whigham (out the first few practices with a minor injury) and rising star Channing Ward for time on the line ahead of DE Robert Nkemdiche.
Assuming his progress continues, Thompson should be a key contributor to the rotation this fall.
Another player taking advantage of an opportunity at hand is defensive end Channing Ward.
With defensive ends C.J. Johnson out with a broken fibula and Cameron Whigham being held out of the first few practices (minor injury), the sophomore Ward is making the most of his practice time.
As a true freshman in the SEC last season, Ward made 21 total tackles as a part of the defensive rotation. Rated by ESPN as the No. 5 (via olemisssports.com) high school defensive end in the country as a senior, he's a player with a tremendous upside for the Rebels.
If he can continue to learn and enhance his skills before the fall, Ward can have an even greater impact on the defensive line for Ole Miss than he did straight as a raw freshman last year.
Competition breeds success, and it appears Carlos Thompson and Ward are rising to the occasion.
No news certainly isn't bad news, but everything has just gone as expected at running back this month.
Senior running back Jeff Scott returns as the starter, while a handful of younger backs are vying for playing time to replace Randall Mackey. Sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton currently lead the pack for minutes behind Scott while talented true freshman Mark Dodson acclimates himself to the college game.
This position battle is bound to intensify over the second half of spring camp. Will Walton ultimately serve the team best as primarily a special teams weapon? Will Mathers have enough punch to stay ahead of Dodson?
It's fairly quiet right now, but keep an eye on the running back position. One or two guys will have to split carries with the speedy yet smaller Scott this season to provide ample depth in the backfield.
Fortunately, Ole Miss returns its top three wide receivers this spring in terms of receiving yards: Donte Moncrief, Vince Sanders and Ja-Mes Logan.
Unfortunately, starting QB Bo Wallace isn't the quarterback throwing to them right now.
For Moncrief, Sanders and Logan—receivers who have already played in the complex Ole Miss offense—not having Wallace this spring isn't a major issue. However, less experienced receivers like Cody Core, Collins Moore and Quadarias Mireles are at a major disadvantage without Wallace leading the offense.
The most important thing for younger receivers to do this spring will simply be to learn the offense without worrying too much about how many balls are thrown their way. Wallace should be back at some point this summer, and he'll know who seized the moment this spring while he was sidelined.
Starting QB Bo Wallace just can't get back on the field fast enough for Ole Miss.
While Wallace heals from shoulder surgery, reserve QBs Barry Brunetti and Maikhail Miller are leading the way under center this spring. As of last week, neither player had excelled very much during the first few days of practice.
Now, in week two, the situation remains the same.
Neither Brunetti nor Miller are expected to compete for the starting spot this fall. However, coaches surely hoped that one of the two men would have stepped up and efficiently run the offense this spring.
Following practice on March 25, Freeze told reporters (via olemisssports.com):
The offense didn't bring much enthusiasm to that (a dominant performance by the defense) at all. We have to get that corrected. We're not at a place in this program to waste a period, much less a day. I felt like we probably went through the motions too much today.
Therein lies the problem, the offense is somewhat stalled without Wallace on the field.
To assist the learning curve of younger players studying the offense this spring, either Brunetti or Miller must step up and seize the moment. At this point in the spring, the odds of Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan competing for the top reserve role this summer are increasing.