Howard on Rebels’ minds, too

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2015

If you take the temperature around the Ole Miss defensive coaches’ offices about who the key guy is they are keeping an eye on with Alabama’s offense, the answer will be the same and somewhat unexpected.

It’s not running back Derrick Henry or first-year quarterback Jake Coker, though they are not too far on the back burner. The player every coach kept mentioning Tuesday after practice was tight end O.J. Howard.

In last year’s 23-17 win, the Rebel defense kept Howard in check with three receptions for 81 yards and no touchdowns. Without start wide receiver Amari Cooper lining up for the Tide, it makes Howard a bigger threat to key in on.

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“I think with O.J. Howard being a tight end, (Alabama) has been able to be more flexible with him,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “They can do anything to two (running) backs with him to an empty set with him. I think that’s helped him because he’s kind of an Evan Engram.”

The 6-foot-6 Howard is even on the mind of defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. Getting to practice against the likes of Engram every day has done nothing but made the Rebels’ defensive front better prepared for what Alabama offensive coordinator — and Chris’ brother — Lane Kiffin could show.

“Any time you have an electric guy like that that’s kind of a tweener especially for the back end guys and coverage,” Chris said. “They already treat him as a receiver, so you have to be able to adjust and be able to play the run and pass when those guys are in the game.”

Young linemen, big game
With the Laremy Tunsil saga still ongoing, at least for this week, it means there will be young talent on the Rebels’ offensive line Saturday.

One of those will be redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings, who has started at right tackle the past two games. Justin Bell has spent time talking with Rawlings as well as true freshman Javon Patterson about the increased physicality they will experience against Alabama Saturday night.

“It’s going to be a challenge for sure,” Rawlings said. “First SEC game, it’s definitely going to be a notch up. It’s going to turn up, so I’m going to have to turn up with it.”