OXFORD – The linebacker experiment for Ole Miss did not reach a conclusion during the open week.
Getting better play there was one of last week’s goals.
The Rebels climbed two spots to No. 12 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25. They take on No. 22 Arkansas Saturday night in Fayetteville.
Whether junior DeMarquis Gates returns from suspension against the Razorbacks remains to be seen. He missed the Rebels’ 48-28 win over Memphis on Oct. 1.
“Gates, it’s totally up to him,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “He knows exactly what he has to do to be ready to play.”
In spite of missing the Memphis game Gates remains to team’s leading tackler with 30.
Through five games the Rebels are ranked No. 102 of 128 FBS teams in total defense, No. 105 in rushing defense.
The middle linebacker and outside linebacker spots in the 4-2-5 scheme have both seen three different starters.
Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack prefer Gates at the outside spot, but he’s started twice in the middle and plays there other times as well.
Rommel Mageo, a graduate transfer who led Oregon State in tackles last year, has not taken hold of the middle linebacker spot.
Freeze praised the play of junior college transfer Detric Bing-Dukes against a power-running Georgia team, but the Memphis’ style of offense often required Bing-Dukes to play in space, which is not his strength. Arkansas will be similar to Memphis.
Freeze said he’s working six different linebackers with no apparent separation among them. Redshirt freshman Willie Hibbler is a guy coaches wanted to get a good look at in the open date.
“We’re just trying to find the best combinations for what we’re asking them to do. It will probably continue throughout the season really.”
Kelly takes responsibility: Quarterback Chad Kelly said his decision to rush the field at his brother’s high school football game was not a good one. “If I could do it differently, I definitely would. I regret doing it. At the same time I’m sure many of us, if we had seen a family member in need of help, would have come to the rescue too.”
Kelly’s actions on his brief trip home created a social media stir late Friday night and into the Rebels’ open date on Saturday.
Fadol Brown a maybe: Defensive end Fadol Brown has appeared in only two games this season as he’s struggled to recover from a stress fracture in his foot. The injury occurred late last season. Freeze said Brown will be reevaluated later this week and could possibly see action against Arkansas. Brown had 4.5 tackles for loss and led the team with 10 quarterback pressures last year.
Steady Engram: Senior Evan Engram continues to lead all tight ends nationally with 30 catches and 479 receiving yards. Engram is on pace to double his total of 38 catches last year.