Ole Miss Rebels set to open season Saturday

From school reports

OXFORD  – As the dog days of summer wind down, Ole Miss is wrapping up fall camp with the season opener against Tennessee-Martin looming this week. The Rebels concluded a two-hour practice Friday on the practice fields adjacent to the Manning Center and the players are eager for a new foe.

One of those players is sophomore defensive end Marquis Haynes, who is often tasked with battling all-everything offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil in practice. Haynes said he looks at the battle as a learning experience.

“Every day I’m learning new things; going up against a top pick in the draft only makes you better,” Haynes said. “Having to face Laremy (Tunsil) every day has definitely made me better against the run. It has forced me to work on my technique and keeping my hips open.”

Haynes’ position coach, assistant Chris Kiffin, echoed Haynes’ sentiment that the experience only makes him a better player, but acknowledged that it is still a tall task.

“Technique wise, Marquis has gotten a lot better since his freshman year,” Kiffin said. “He has gotten a lot better against the run and has added some moves that have made him a better pass rusher. I have to remind him in practice sometimes that he is going against a future pro. It’s like taking batting practice against Nolan Ryan. You aren’t going to face anyone any better in a game and it only makes you better.”

Kiffin added that he is pleased with the depth of his defensive line unit and feels it has only pushed the players to be better.

“We had a pretty good camp overall. The competition is the one thing I’ve been most pleased with. Obliviously, we have a deep group with 8-10 guys that we think can play, but they have done a great job challenging each other to become better players.”

Kiffin singled out the play of sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown as one of the Rebels to watch on the defensive line this season.

“Last year I thought Robert Nkemdiche would have a break out and year and this year I think Fadol (Brown) will have the same type of year. He has just improved in all phases of his game and I think he is ready to show everybody what he can do.”

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner agreed with head coach Hugh Freeze’s comment last Wednesday that Freeze had a gut feeling on who the starting signal caller would be, but Werner added that he is more excited that all three players – Ryan Buchanan, Chad Kelly and Devante Kincaid – remain in the quarterback race.

“Anytime you have to make a decision, you start thinking about it more and more each day,” Werner said. “Obliviously, we have to make a decision pretty soon; it’s just good we have three pretty good ones. If two were playing badly and one was the leader, everyone would be happy that they knew who the quarterback is, but I would be worried about what we would do if something happened to him.

“We feel good about the position. We hoped all three of them would compete and they have. Usually one guy falls off, but none of them have. They have all competed and stayed right in there. Right now there isn’t much separation between one, two and three.”

Werner added that probably above all else, the coaching staff is looking for a QB that will play within the system and be patient.

“When you force things, that’s when turnovers happen. With the talent we have you have to let things come to you, because you never know when they decided to blitz and we get a one-on-one and are able to score quickly. That’s the thing I’ve been preaching to all three of them, be patient.”

Ole Miss’ running game was a focus during fall camp, and while Werner believes the Rebels will be good on a ground, he is anxious to see them do it against another team.

“I’m always positive, but now we have to go out and prove it in games. That’s the great thing about sports, you have to go out and do it. We’ve been able to run the ball against this defense, but it’s different when you have to go against somebody else. I’m just ready to see it.”

The Rebels open the 2015 season Saturday against the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks Saturday at 11 a.m. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network Alternative channel.