OXFORD, Miss. -- The offensive line found some consistency and cohesiveness during Wednesday's two-a-day practice sessions, and that momentum carried over to Thursday.
The Rebels practiced well over two hours inside the IPF, and the offensive line put back-to-back days together. Tempo and protection were two areas the coaching staff was pleased about.
Junior tackle Pierce Burton thinks it was as much conditioning as anything else.
"I feel like the O-line is really coming together," Burton said. "Yesterday the two-a-day was our best practice or best two practices at the hardest time. We're together and we're really pushing. We're not really the weak link anymore, so that's good.
"It's getting our legs back football-wise. We're in the weight room running, but it doesn't translate over well to the field. We're in shape, but football shape is different. Once you get your conditioning down it's easier to focus on the plays, and you're not focused on being tired."
Burton has faced significant competition at right tackle from junior Patrick Junen. The two have shared first-team snaps, and it's that way by design. In an effort to build depth, offensive line coach Matt Luke made sure to get competition from that spot.
Burton has handled the battle well and understands more than a starting unit is required throughout the season.
"Coach told me the first day he's going to put Pat behind me to push me because he's the best guy on the second team. We're good friends, and we're going to need more than five guys to go through the season. Aaron (Morris) has already gone down. We need all those guys."
Justin Bell has filled in at left guard while Morris is out day-to-day with an achilles injury. It's a positive sign that the Rebels have had their best days without such a key member of the unit.
"Me and A.J. are working really well together on the right side and then whoever is coming in there have been good," Burton said. We're really mixing. I think seven or eight guys are ready to play right now.
"It's been easier than the spring, and it's actually hotter. Inside the IPF is cool and not hard at all. They added running in and I felt like as a group we handled it well."
FREEZE PLEASED WITH THURSDAY: After two long, hot practices Wednesday, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze expected to have to dig into his bag of motivational tricks to get much out of his team on Thursday morning.
He was wrong.
Instead, the Rebels had a strong practice at the Indoor Practice Facility as they inch closer to Saturday's first scrimmage of fall camp.
"I thought that was a step in the right direction," Freeze said. "We came out and had some good energy. That first competition was really good to get us kicked off and started, and it carried over. I was pleased with their effort and attitude."
ROLLER COASTER QUARTERBACKS: Both Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace had some impressive throws during team drills Thursday morning. Minutes later, however, both quarterbacks were bit by the interception bug in a 7-on-7 skeleton session.
"It's just a process. They are getting better, no doubt," Freeze said. "I think yesterday and today, they took steps in the right direction. We still make some poor decisions at times, but everything is still relatively new to them. Even though they had some practices in spring, they shared those reps with four guys and I do think you see them getting better and they did make some extremely nice throws today."
Freeze said all of the interceptions can't be pinned on the quarterbacks, either. Instead, there have been times, including two particular occasions Thursday, when receivers "gave up on routes and should have fought to make sure it was just incomplete at worst."
Freeze maintained again Thursday there's no significant separation between Wallace and Brunetti yet, reiterating that he expects the competition to "play out in the first few weeks."
SANDERS SHINES: Speaking of wide receivers, Freeze said sophomore Vincent Sanders has made a strong push this week, making the most of reps left open while starter Donte Moncrief rehabs a minor leg injury.
"I love Vince Sanders," Freeze said. "I think he's bringing it every practice. I think he loves to compete. I'm glad we have him."
Freeze said the Rebels are still hoping to get more production out of Terrell Grant. Freeze's offense, wide receivers coach Grant Heard said earlier this week, is most effective with eight wide receivers in the rotation. The Rebels aren't quite there yet.
"It's too early to tell," Freeze said. "Cody Core keeps showing flashes, but he's going to make mental mistakes. He's swimming when we're going fast.
He's going to be fine. That will help us get up around six, seven or eight."
BROWN FIGHTING FOR A CROWDED SPOT: Chief Brown will certainly play this season, but he's currently dealing with a three-man race for a starting safety spot.
Brown, Tanner Burns and Cody Prewitt are mixing together currently, and it's been a tight race thus far.
"I'm just trying to fly around and get better each day," Brown said. "I'm learning stuff, and we all need to learn what everybody else is doing (at other positions). There's no separation yet."
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Jeff Scott was held out of Thursday's work for precautionary reasons after being dinged in the back of the head Wednesday night.
Freeze said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the depth the Rebels are developing at running back.
Freeze said if Ole Miss played today (the Rebels open Sept. 1 against Central Arkansas), 6-8 freshmen would likely play.
The most consistent freshman so far, Freeze said, is defensive tackle Issac Gross. "Every day he shows up," Freeze said.
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