Hugh Freeze uses bye week to explore minor adjustments to Rebels’ defense
OXFORD, Miss. – During the bye week, Hugh Freeze tinkered a bit with the linebacker position, trying to find the right personnel to fill gaps in a position that is thin.
Senior linebacker Terry Caldwell and junior linebacker DeMarquis Gates are the only two returning players who made a start at linebacker last season for No. 14 Ole Miss (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference).
Gates, who was not available for the Rebels’ game against Memphis after being suspended from the team for a violation of team standards, currently leads the Rebels in tackles (30). Against the Tigers, Ole Miss went with junior college transfer Detric Bing-Dukes and graduate transfer Rommel Mageo to help Caldwell anchor the mid-section of the defense.
Bing-Dukes had seven tackles against Memphis while Mageo had one. Tayler Polk also spent time at linebacker, finishing the game with six tackles.
“Bing-Dukes played really good against Georgia,” said head coach Hugh Freeze. “This (Memphis) was a different offense that caused him to have to leave the box a lot. That’s really not his strength. So we might have to tinker a little bit with some of the structure of the defense, play more to his strength.”
After assessing that his defense gave up too many explosive plays against Memphis, Freeze said he would use the bye week to see what changes could be made to limit those explosive plays while holding a comfortable lead. Freeze used the Tigers’ fake punt as a prime example. Spencer Smith faked a punt and threw the football 12 yards downfield to defensive back Arthur Maulet to the Tigers’ 39-yard line.
Three plays later, Memphis scored off an 11-yard rushing touchdown run by Doroland Dorceus.
“We knew one was coming in this game,” Freeze said. “We had two guys assigned to stay at home. The kid did, but he didn’t make the play. That was at a critical moment. I think it was 27-7 at the moment.”
More names at linebacker
After the Rebels’ 48-28 win over the Tigers, Freeze discussed players who could see playing time at linebacker, indicating the staff will work with Willie Hibbler at the stinger (outside linebacker) position.
Additionally, Shawn Curtis, who played middle linebacker prior to being moved to defensive end in the spring, got some work back at the middle linebacker spot last week.
Freeze wants to continue to bring along Bing-Dukes at mike linebacker, hoping Gates will be able to play against the Razorbacks. If Gates plays, Freeze said “he probably is going to have to play some of the mike, too.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack specifically mentioned that linebacker Tayler Polk “graded very well against Memphis.”
Update on Kendarius Webster and Eric Swinney
Freeze was asked last week about the status of Ken Webster and Eric Swinney, who both suffered season-ending injuries. “(Athletic trainer) Pat (Jernigan) gives me an update and feels like everything is going well,” Freeze said. “They’re both mentally strong and handling it well it looks like.”
Freshman running back D’Vaughn Pennamon, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Memphis game, has been running in the pool with Jernigan, and Freeze expects him to be back for the Arkansas game.
Though there was not an exact timetable for Pennamon’s return, he may be able to practice soon. “At worse case, we think he can give it a go next week in practice,” Freeze said last week.
DE Fadol Brown back for Arkansas?
Defensive end Fadol Brown has been able to play in only two games this season for Ole Miss as he’s still receiving treatment on his foot he injured last season. However, Freeze and his staff are hopeful the senior playmaker will be back soon.
“The latest procedure they did, they felt like Arkansas-week was the week he should try it,” Freeze said. “We’re hopeful he’ll try it.”
Ole Miss faces off against Arkansas at 6:00 p.m. (CT) on Saturday, October 15 in Fayetteville. The game will be televised by ESPN.
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.