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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
OXFORD - The latest edition of Ole Miss' football team, a squad which already knows the postseason is out of reach, took the field for its first practice of the year Tuesday.
It's opening spring ball in the shadow of the NCAA's notice of allegations, which was delivered to the university last week.
As spring practices began, coach Hugh Freeze, who was charged with violating his head coach responsibility, stood in front of the media and fielded questions about his integrity, possible suspension, job security and what he would have done different in the wake of 21 allegations levied against his program by the NCAA's enforcement staff.
"That's something that I have and will continue to think about," Freeze said. "Certainly as you look back from 2012 ... I have done a lot of things differently and will continue to evaluate that throughout this whole process. ... I'll always sit back and think what could I have done different?"
It was a busy offseason to say the least for Freeze and his program, which is coming off a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2016.
He replaced both coordinators and hired three other new assistants.
"These guys brought a renewed energy in the building," Freeze said. "They've got backbone and they're strong."
But the biggest story of the season and with the program continues to be the NCAA. Freeze's integrity has come into question, which he said is the toughest part of the situation.
He didn't seem worried about his job security and said he has administrators who have followed everything he's done very closely the past five years. And he said he hasn't given thought to not coaching the first game.
But the questions will remain until a verdict is handed down.
"Growing up in Tate County, you're dreaming about a job like this. ... This is certainly not a part of the dream," Freeze said. "I never thought I'd go through anything like this."
With the start of spring practice, some of the attention will now shift to the players, which Freeze welcomed.
New offensive coordinator Phil Longo will install his new offensive scheme, which features Air Raid pass concepts and a power running game, and Wesley McGriff returns to the program to take over a defense, which was flat-out bad last year.
Longo has a solid amount of experience returning, while McGriff does return some young corners, both safeties and some linebackers, which is the unit that needed the most help.
Some newcomers like freshman Breon Dixon and sophomore Brenden Williams are already on campus and will be practicing with the team.
Freeze said he was "blown away" by how the players have responded. While they'l play in 12 games this year, the most important result for program will be what the NCAA hands down to them in terms of penalties.
"We'll be accountable for the things that are proven to be true when we get before the committee on infractions," Freeze said.
Freeze said receiver D.K. Metcalf, who broke his foot and missed the last 10 games of the season, will be good to go for spring practices. Running back Eric Swinney tore his ACL in the season opener, and will participate in some things for some portions of spring practice.
Safety Armani Linton had an appendectomy and will be limited through the first two weeks. Tight end Jacob Mathis will be out nursing a broken foot.
As far as corner Ken Webster who suffered a knee injury against Florida State, Freeze said: "Webster is doing great but no chance I would play him during the spring even if they told me he could."
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