OXFORD, Miss. — Matt Luke is rotating a lot of players in on both sides of the football to see who best fits where–and with a number of players out due to injury, the Ole Miss coach is getting a good look at a lot of players.
Thanks to Saturday’s scrimmage, however, Luke learned a great deal about his team. He was pleased with the competitive spirit as well as the team’s energy. Luke told reporters after Tuesday’s practice he felt the defense played well in the weekend scrimmage, but does want the unit to continue working on finishing situational downs.
“I thought the defense tackled really well,” Luke said when asked about the Rebels’ scrimmage. “A couple of situational things we want to clean up. We want to be a good situational football team–understand the distance and where you’re at on the field.”
Luke also mentioned the running backs performed well, averaging somewhere around 5.5 yards a carry. “We converted on a fourth-and-1 in the scrimmage, in which D’Vaughn (Pennamon) made a good run and broke a tackle,” Luke said.
“We always have room for improvement. But when the defense is moving and blitzing, I think that will be more of a test this week coming up.”
Notes from Tuesday’s practice
After Tuesday’s practice, Luke spoke with reporters and commented on the mental fortitude of his team. “This was our hottest day by far. Practice 12, and there was some pushing through going on and that’s important,” he said.
“Anything that we get, we’re going to have to go earn. Right now, there are some weary legs out there, but that’s part of camp. We’re just trying to create mental toughness and not backing off. I think that’s the fine line between pushing them through and making sure you’re managing your injuries.”
Matt Luke on creating mental toughness
Luke said Tuesday was an important day.
“Every day is important, but today was super important because of the mental-toughness aspect coming off a grueling scrimmage. Being able to perform under any circumstance is what mental toughness is,” Luke noted.
“That is what we are creating and what we are finding out. We don’t want to wait until the fourth quarter of a game to find out who will respond in tough times and who won’t.”
News and notes from Tuesday’s lineups
Offensive line: Senior Rod Taylor (left tackle), junior Javon Patterson (left guard), junior Sean Rawlings (center), senior Daronte Bouldin (right guard), and sophomore Alex Givens (right tackle) worked as the offensive line unit for the first team.
Redshirt freshmen Royce Newman (left tackle), Jack DeFoor (left guard), Eli Johnson (center), Chandler Tuitt (right guard), and sophomore Michael Howard (right tackle) comprised the second team offensive line.
Tight end: Sophomore Jason Pellerin and redshirt freshman Gabe Angel received first team reps at tight end, following the injury of Dawson Knox. Knox didn’t practice with the team as he’s dealing with a foot injury.
Luke noted Knox’s foot is being evaluated and, as of Tuesday afternoon, said does not yet know the seriousness of his injury.
“We’re a little worried about Dawson. We’ll know soon about his foot. We are evaluating it.”
Running back: Projected starter at running back Jordan Wilkins is still out with a knee sprain, and sophomore D’Vaughn Pennamon is making the most of the opportunity to have time with the first team–taking the majority of the reps with the ones on Tuesday. From all accounts, Pennamon was impressive in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“From the spring, I’ve started (having) tremendous improvement,” Pennamon said after Tuesday’s practice. “I feel like I’m getting the plays, and I’m learning them better. I’m just now able to read my keys and just get down hill…Just being comfortable in the offense, I feel like that was my biggest hold back.”
Sophomore Eric Swinney, who is a bit hampered with a bicep injury, junior D.K. Buford and senior Eugene Brazley are also in the mix at the running back position.
Wide receiver: With a talented group of wide receivers, here is how the first team unit has been positioned as of late. D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge have been on the edge with A.J. Brown in the slot.
Jason Pellerin has been lined up as a hybrid/slot tight end. Van Jefferson and Markell Pack are still out but are expected back soon. There is no doubt this an incredibly talented group with all of them being fairly interchangeable.
Linebacker: Redshirt freshman Donta Evans took reps with the first team Tuesday afternoon, impressing Coach Luke with his play.
Of Evans and others, Luke said: “I think he (Evans) is really stepping up. I like Jarrion Street. I like him pushing (DeMarquis) Gates. There’s a really good competition right there. Willie Hibbler has had back-to-back pretty good days, so I’m hoping he can provide some depth there for us.”
Defensive tackle: Redshirt sophomore Josiah Coatney and junior Breeland Speaks both got first team reps with the defensive line Tuesday.
Sophomore defensive tackle Benito Jones has been placed on concussion protocol and will take an impact test this Friday according to Luke, who expects Jones to be back at practice sometime next week.
Jones was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital on Saturday after a hard hit in the scrimmage. He didn’t lose feeling or movement in his extremities and was released from the hospital the following morning after being kept overnight for observation.
In addition to Jones and Knox, players who didn’t practice on Tuesday include:
- Cornerback D.D. Bowie (concussion protocol)
- Wide receiver Markell Pack (bone bruise)
- Defensive tackle Garrald McDowell
- Defensive back Myles Hartsfield (knee)
- Left tackle Greg Little (concussion protocol),
- Tight end Ty Quick (concussion protocol),
- Cornerback Jalen Julius,
- Running back Jordan Wilkins (leg),
- Right guard Jordan Sims (ankle sprain),
- Defensive tackle Herbert Moore
- Wide receiver Van Jefferson (knee-scraping in off-season)
Wilkins likely could have practiced Tuesday; however, the decision was made to give the running back a little more rest before resuming practice. Luke said he is hopeful that Jefferson will be able to practice some before the Rebels’ season opener against South Alabama on September 2.
Here is what WR DaMarkus Lodge and RB D’Vaughn Pennamon had to say after practice Tuesday.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)