Ole Miss went back to work Tuesday afternoon in the Indoor Practice Facility after suffering its first loss of the season to Texas 66-31 this past Saturday.
Head coach Hugh Freeze was anxious to see how his team would respond, and he was pleased with what he described as one of their most productive practices of the season.
“I thought the energy was great, and I was really pleased with our practice,” Freeze said. “Pleased to see the bounce back, and I think we are all excited to get back on the field and try to do it better next time.”
As Freeze said in Monday’s press conference, Ole Miss made some changes on defense.
Freshman defensive end Channing Ward and freshman safety Trae Elston worked with the starting defense, and sophomore defensive end C.J. Johnson got some reps at linebacker on Tuesday.
“Channing may start, may not, I don’t know,” Freeze said. “I’ve got to talk to (defensive coordinator) Dave (Wommack) about that. He’s definitely going to play more snaps because we’ve got to get him some more snaps before we get him into SEC play.
“He’s getting better. He’s raw. He gets caught up with his single block sometimes and doesn’t realize how good he could be in trying to escape it and doing it fast. He seems to get distracted on some things, but he’s definitely talented.”
Sawyer switches from safety to cornerback
After starting at safety the first three games, junior Charles Sawyer has moved back to cornerback. Sawyer is tied for second on the team with 18 tackles from the safety position.
“I think it was a good change,” Sawyer said. “I’m happy with it and the coaches seem happy with it, so I have no problem with it. I came to play corner. That’s why I came here.”
Sawyer started all 12 games this past season, but only two games at cornerback, and four games at nickelback in 2010, but he’s confident he can make the transition.
“I haven’t played corner since last year,” he said. “I played it in the spring, but early and only for three days. It’ll come back to me as it goes on, but really, I just have to get comfortable with the calls.”
Sawyer said there are a few differences between safety and cornerback, notably the mental adjustments.
“Basically it’s the boundaries,” Sawyer said. “It is mainly man. At safety you’re reading more than just one man. It’s not hard, but you just have to practice it.”
Sawyer said corner is easier mentally but not physically. The change in defensive scheme from when he last played cornerback is another adjustment for him.
“We weren’t off,” Sawyer said. “We were press-man. That’s all I know. That’s why when I’m pressing, it’s natural, but when I’m off-man, that’s what I need to practice.”
Johnson finding his niche on defense
After giving up 66 points and 676 yards of total offense to Texas, it was apparent Ole Miss had some things to fix on the defensive side of the ball. One area of concern is depth at the linebacker position,
“We’re looking at all situations and possibilities there,” Freeze said in Monday’s press conference. “You guys will probably see us try a few different things at practice this week.”
If Tuesday’s practice was any indication, sophomore C.J. Johnson could get a shot there.
Johnson, who started the first three games at defensive end, was taking reps at linebacker. He was originally recruited as a linebacker out of Philadelphia High School, so he could make the change to his original position.
He said he is comfortable wherever the coach decide to put him.
“They are moving me around, but it’s just a scheme that we have,” Johnson said. “I’m comfortable wherever they put me.”
In three games, Johnson has 18 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He was also named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Week after making six tackles and recording a sack against Central Arkansas.
Despite the possible move to linebacker, Johnson said he may prefer to pass rush from a down position.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Johnson said. “You just have to have a good get off wherever you are, but it would probably be more comfortable being down than standing up.”
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