Mississippi searching for SEC-caliber players

Associated Press Modified: August 18, 2012 at 3:32 pm •  Published: August 18, 2012

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — There aren't many safe starting jobs at Mississippi's preseason camp.

First-year coach Hugh Freeze certainly appreciates the competition. He's just not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing.

The Ole Miss football roster is in various stages of disarray after two disastrous seasons. Freeze is confident he can rebuild the team's depth after a few years of recruiting thanks to his connections around the region, but that's not going to help this season.

So the past two weeks have been spent looking for the current players who can meet the demands of playing in the Southeastern Conference.

Some days the search goes better than others.

During Saturday's scrimmage at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the offense looked like it had made some progress. The defense struggled. Few concrete discoveries were made as the Rebels' opener on Sept. 1 against Central Arkansas rapidly approaches.

"It's hard to tell," Freeze said. "But we'll find out soon."

There were some bright spots on Saturday — particularly at running back. Freeze says freshmen I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton will help the team immediately. Mathers rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Senior Randall Mackey — a converted quarterback who is a likely starter — rushed for 45 yards on four carries in a limited role while the freshmen got extended playing time.

"I'm crazy about our two young backs," Freeze said. "I think Jaylen and I'Tavius are phenomenal kids and competitors. They haven't missed a snap during camp and they've been hit and beat on. They bounce back up after every hit."

Quarterback Bo Wallace completed 13 of 26 passes for 85 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed for a touchdown. The junior college All-American from East Mississippi Community College has grasped the offense quickly and is competing with junior Barry Brunetti for the starting job.

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