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NOTES: Three of Ole Miss’ projected starters held out of practice

Three projected starters on offense were held out of Ole Miss’ latest practice, but coaches expect them to back in the fold soon.

After a day off Tuesday, the Rebels returned to the practice fields Wednesday for their seventh practice of training camp without offensive lineman Greg Little, receiver Van Jefferson and running back Jordan Wilkins. Little, who’s split first-team reps with Rod Taylor at left tackle during camp, suffered a concussion in a recent practice and will have to pass medical protocol before being cleared to return.

Taylor got all those reps during Wednesday’s practice, which was open to the media for the first 10 periods. The rest of the first-team offensive line consisted of Javon Patterson at left guard, Sean Rawlings at center and Alex Givens at right tackle with Daronte Bouldin and Jordan Sims rotating at right guard.

“(Little) will be out a couple days,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “He’ll be back. He’s fine. He just dinged himself a little bit.”

The absences of Jefferson and Wilkins are more precautionary. Jefferson, who’s back in the slot after starting all 12 games last season, is being limited in camp after having his knee scoped during the summer.

“He’s actually ahead of rehab schedule,” Longo said. “I know he’s going to start moving around here soon. The plan is he should be ready to go for the opener (against South Alabama).”

Wilkins left Monday’s practice after tweaking his knee during a run, but Longo said the senior is “fine.” Wilkins watched Wednesday’s practice from the sidelines and rode a stationary bike at times.

“He probably could’ve run around today,” Longo said. “We’re just going to rest him a little bit and be smart with him. I think there’s some other backs we want to try to develop. … Right now, it’s an advantage for us to get those other guys in and take a look.”

‘Tough race’ in backfield

Sophomore D’Vaughn Pennamon and redshirt freshman Eric Swinney split the first-team reps in Wilkins’ absence, but Longo said he’s a long way from deciding which backs will join Wilkins in the rotation once games start.

Longo called the backfield “the most improved group” on offense, and it’s got options. The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Wilkins and Pennamon, at 5-11 and 238 pounds, are the bigger backs while coaches have praised Swinney’s playmaking ability, though he’s missed a majority of the last two seasons with leg and knee injuries. Eugene Brazley and former Lafayette High standout D.K. Buford have impressed with their speed.

“Right now, it’s a tough race,” Longo said. “I’m not sure what our top two or three rotation would be going into that opening day.”

Competition at linebacker

DeMarquis Gates is entrenched as a starter after leading the Rebels in tackles the last two seasons, but the rest of the competition is heating up at linebacker, defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said.

Detric Bing-Dukes is projected to start alongside Gates in the middle, though the junior is suspended for the season opener following his recent shoplifting arrest. Redshirt freshman Donta Evans has received some first-team reps there.

Converted running back Jarrion Street, junior college transfer Brenden Williams and true freshman Josh Clarke were other players McGriff praised following Wednesday’s practice. Willie Hibler, Tayler Polk and Mohamed Sanogo, another true freshman, are also options at the position.

“We’ve got good competition going at linebacker,” McGriff said. “The main thing is get them better but keep them healthy.”

Looking for safety

Zedrick Woods has one of the starting safety spots locked up. McGriff is looking for someone to join him on the back end.

Senior C.J. Hampton and junior C.J. Moore have spent most of camp splitting first-team reps at free safety. Ken Webster has moved over from cornerback for the time being to give the Rebels another option while sophomores Deontay Anderson and Armani Linton as well as true freshman C.J. Miller are getting looks.

McGriff said he doesn’t expect to make any more personnel changes at the position but would like to see some separation soon.

“Right now, I’ll tell you our next safety is probably by rotation and by committee,” he said. “Hopefully in this next week, somebody will hopefully step up and grab the other spot.”