Because the sports gods will only allow Ole Miss fans good news in incremental doses, the announcement of Laremy Tunsil's impending return has been offset by Hugh Freeze hinting that star defensive back Tony Conner may end up missing the rest of the 2015 season.
Roughly an hour before Ole Miss released the Tunsil news, Freeze had this to say on the Reb Talk radio show:
I'm concerned about [Conner's recovery], but I don't have a real update. I've talked to Tony. Where it should be right now, I don't know. There's no question that losing him Issac [Gross] and C.J. [Johnson] off our defense is a blow. Those are three veterans, two seniors. It sure would be nice to get them back. It'll be nice next year to have Issac back for sure, and Tony also looks like now that's going to be best for him. We'll miss them the rest of the season, for sure. It changes us some. We've got to make due without them.
After Conner went down three weeks ago against Bama, Freeze gave a tentative recovery timetable of four weeks, which would have put him back on the field as early as the Texas A&M game next Saturday. But the quote above sure makes it sounds like Conner is on the shelf for the rest of the season.
Just last week Freeze said that Conner appeared ready to begin physical rehab and that "everything looks good." Apparently those early rehab sessions didn't go too well, assuming they happened at all.
Conner could come back for another season, though
The silver lining here is Freeze's suggestion that Conner would come back for his senior year instead of leaving for the NFL. For what it's worth, CBS Sports currently lists him as a potential fourth- or fifth-rounder, a grade he could almost certainly hike up with another productive season.
Back when the injury was first announced, veteran physical therapist Wayne Jimenez told us that Conner's pro potential may weigh into how cautious the team is with bringing him back.
"They may be thinking, 'Ya know, this guy's got a future ahead of him, so we've got to take the high road here and take care of him.'"
"You want the best results and quickest results possible," Jimenez told us, "But the long-range goal here is to protect the kid and make sure he returns as healthy as possible."
So how does Ole Miss replace him?
After the experiment with A.J. Moore replacing Conner failed in Gainesville, Mike Hilton has been moved from safety to Huskie to help fill the void. With Hilton's football IQ, familiarity with the position (he played Huskie as a freshman and spent last season as the starting corner) and open field tackling ability, the Rebs defense isn't going to collapse or anything.
But there's no real replacement for the versatility that Conner brings to the defense. With Conner on the field for most of the first three games, Ole Miss' opponents averaged 4.53 yards per play. Without him in Gainesville, the defense allowed 5.63 yards per play, including a back-breaking 77-yard touchdown that happened because Moore missed a tackle on a short crossing route.