OXFORD, Miss. -- Issac Gross didn't get to go through Ole Miss' offseason program.
After playing his freshman season at just 250 pounds, the Rebels' sophomore defensive tackle desperately needed to get bigger and stronger.
A sports hernia injury, coupled with a second surgery to remove scar tissue, set Gross back. Just last week, Gross returned to the practice fields in full pads, trying to work himself back into shape in time for Ole Miss' season, one that opens on Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt.
"I feel good," Gross said Tuesday following the Rebels' two-hour full-pads practice. "I'm just working my way back up, getting myself back in shape and most of all, getting my groin area strong. I feel good. I just have to work every day."
Gross said Tuesday he's "still aching" after practices, but he's gotten solace out of "being able to move and still being able to do a little bit of what I used to do."
Gross started seven games last season, recording 40 tackles and 2 ½ quarterback sacks. He said Tuesday he's not sure if he'll be ready for Vanderbilt or not, adding that he's still in one-day-at-a-time mode. Gross said he's "been weighing in at 255" pounds, a weight he's not happy with.
"I like to get skinny in the hole and defeat the double-teams or whatnot" Gross said. "It's always been great to be quick, but that's what is wrong with my groin now. I'm small and the big guys have wore on me and that's sucked up my body parts. I'm kind of dying out, so I've got to get stronger and get bigger."
"I think Issac is a competitor and will rise above any of that," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "He's certainly an undersized defensive lineman, but he did well last year, so as long as he's healthy I expect him to do the same.
Gross said he lost a couple of one-on-one reps Tuesday, a sign that the injury is still lingering on him.
"I can't counter yet," Gross said. "Overall, I'm just glad to be back out there. I just want to take it a day at a time and just go from there."
TEMPO PERIODS THE POSITIVE: Hugh Freeze was pleased with his team's play during tempo periods Tuesday but the other portions of practice didn't carry quite the response he was looking for.
With the opener just over two weeks away, efficiency with the time allotted is a major goal.
"We're moving the chains and definitely doing better at staying on schedule in the red ball period, but I thought the rest of practice was ho-hum," Freeze said. "Everybody is going through it, and the one thing I've always said is the one thing we have equal with our opponents is time. The more we make with out rime the better we're going to be. Some periods today I felt like we just sludged through, so that's frustrating, but I'm sure I'm my worst critic."
Kailo Moore sat out another day due to concussion protocol but should begin running with the team tonight and progress quickly back into normal practice, Freeze said. Robert Nkemdiche missed Tuesday with a groin pull but could have played if necessary. It's simply a precaution.
C.J. Johnson was limited this morning, but Freeze said he went the entire practice last night.
"I'd say 75 percent would be my guess," Freeze said of Johnson "Tried to go this morning a little bit, and he could have, but he was feeling some pain. He pushed it pretty good yesterday and thought he had a good practice. He changes our front when he's out there."
RUN DEFENSE STAYS SOLID: The offense has struggled to put big gains together on the ground, and Freeze is hopeful those struggles are due to his team's run defense.
The backfield has been a bit hobbled with Mark Dodson recently out with a thigh bruise, Moore currently coming back from a concussion and I'Tavius Mathers nursing an ankle sprain, but no matter the tailback, the Rebels' defense had done an excellent job during camp.
"Sporadic at best now (running the ball), Freeze said. "I'll be very disappointed if our team is not very good against the run with the stuff we do. I think it's very difficult for you to have consistent runs against them… Hopefully we'll experience more success playing other folks that don't have an understanding of what we're trying to do.
"It's difficult to run against our team. I hope that's it anyway. We've certainly been very inconsistent with that. We were last year, too."