Late in Ole Miss's Saturday morning practice -- the first and only one open to fans this fall -- Robert Nkemdiche stood up as an outside linebacker just off the outside hip of defensive end C.J. Johnson. As the ball was snapped, Nkemdiche -- all 6'4, 290 pounds of him -- shot around the left side like a cork out of a bottle of Woodford Reserve, hurdled over the attempted cut block of some helpless running back, planted his feet and two-hand volleyball spiked Bo Wallace's pass into the ground. The rest of humanity cringed in fear.
Nkemdiche being utterly un-blockable was the general theme of the practice, much of which was spent pleasing fans with a heavy dose of scrimmaging. By my count, the preseason All-SEC defender tallied three sacks (if it were live), at least three additional tackles, the batted pass and a steady stream of trips into the backfield.
While that doesn't necessarily bode well for a still-unsettled offensive line, I think this speaks more about Nkemdiche's ability entering his second season. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was moving Nkemdiche around liberally -- defensive tackle, both end positions and stand-up linebacker -- and it didn't seem to matter who was in front of him (or how many -- he broke through at least two double teams).
There was more to Saturday's practice than Nkemdiche, though. Here's a quick breakdown of what else I noticed.
Kincade looks the better backup QB
Hugh Freeze criticized both of his freshman backups early last week, but I thought DeVante Kincade looked good on Saturday -- better than Ryan Buchanan. Kincade was sharp with his passes and showed off good mobility in the pocket. He was the best of the bunch (including Bo Wallace) as the quarterbacks went through throw-on-the-run drills before the scrimmage. Buchanan, meanwhile, had an interception on a badly under-thrown ball. From that small sample size, I'd guess that Kincade will be the No. 2 when the Rebs take the field in Atlanta.
With that said, reports from earlier in the week suggested Buchanan was outplaying Kincade, so who knows.
As for Bo, he was having to do a fair share of dancing behind the porous offensive line. He did have a couple of nice touchdown passes, including one where he was forced out to his left (by the younger Nkemdiche, of course) and connected on a beautiful deep ball to Laquon Treadwell in the end zone. He also tossed a couple of picks, though: one a tipped ball that landed in the arms of Cody Prewitt and the other a screen pass that Senquez Golson jumped for a pick-six (in fairness, 'Quez knows the plays).
Big Lig needs polishing
Jeremy Liggins got a lot of playing time with both the ones and twos on Saturday. Freeze is using he and Nick Parker as tight end/fullback hybrids, frequently moving them around the backfield instead of the traditional off-tackle spot. Several times Wallace put Liggins in motion to counter blitz looks. If you're familiar with the Green Bay Packers, it's similar to the way that Mike McCarthy deploys his tight ends.
For a guy his size, Liggins is pretty fleet of foot and showed some impressive raw athleticism … but you can tell he's still getting accustomed to his new position. At one point he had an inexplicable fumble and allowed C.J. Johnson to blow by him for a sack on consecutive plays. Once Liggins gets his feet under him, though, he could be a real weapon. Look for his production to steadily increase as the season progresses.
We didn't get to see Liggins in the quarterback package Freeze has promised, but we did get a brief look at Anthony Alford back there. Nothing real impressive, just a high snap and a couple of unremarkable runs.
O-line still a work in progress
The inevitable problem with scrimmages is that the success of one unit means the failures of another, making it difficult to get a real grasp of how good or bad the team is performing -- everything is relative. So was our offensive line that bad or our defensive line just that good?
(Freeze admitted as much, telling The Spirit "Sometimes Robert makes them look bad, but he's a tough block for anyone.")
With Laremy Tunsil locked in at left tackle and Justin Bell and Aaron Morris holding down the guard spots, center and right tackle are still up for grabs. Fahn Cooper started with the first team, but Robert Conyers got extensive work there as well. Conyers also got first-team work at center, though Ben Still started the day there. If nothing else, Conyers's versatility will give the line desperately-needed depth.
Cornerback Tee Shepard sat out after injuring his foot in practice the day before. Freeze said he was undergoing an MRI, so let's hope nothing serious comes out of it.
Issac Gross was out with a neck stinger, but Freeze told Hugh Kellenberger the defensive tackle is day-to-day.
Fadol Brown was out of the walking boot he had been wearing and should be back this week, according to The Spirit.
- I knew Evan Engram had bulked up, but I was still surprised at how big he looked (Chuck Rounsaville claims he's gone from 216 pounds to 230 pounds). Before you go worrying that the added size comes at the expense of his athleticism, his leaping circus catch in the end zone on Saturday should calm your nerves.
- Despite being listed as a tight end on the depth chart, Channing Ward was playing on the D-line. I didn't get a great look at how well he did, but I think we're all pleased that he's contributing at his natural position.
- Andy Pappanastos drilled all three of his field goal attempts. Andrew Fletcher and Gary Wunderlich each missed one apiece.
- Damore'ea Stringfellow saw the field a lot for a guy who isn't expected to play this season. I'm not sure if the coaches are expecting good news on his waiver or just being prepared.
- Trae Elston was returning punts. Huh?
- With Brown out, defensive end Marquis Haynes got a lot of playing time with ones.