OXFORD • Defense is not the only side of the ball where rebuilt knees are a big story line for Ole Miss.
Injuries to defensive backs Jaylon Jones and Montrell Custis were visible and damaging last year, because seasons ended abruptly for two productive players on a struggling unit.
It was easier to forget about wide receiver Demarcus Gregory and running back D’Vaughn Pennamon since their seasons never started.
A year ago both players were rehabbing and never made it to the field in 2018.
Perhaps forgotten by some, they’ve both worked their way into the consciousness of new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, and by doing so are on track to earn playing time.
Pennamon, a four-star signee in the 2016 class, was beginning to peak when he suffered a dislocated kneecap in November of the 2017 season.
“I don’t think he’s like truly 100 percent where he trusts it, but he’s not wearing a knee brace, and he’s working himself into shape,” Rodriguez said.
Pennamon has been taking reps with the first team this week along with senior starter Scottie Phillips and freshman Jarod “Snoop” Conner.
Rodriguez will at times use two running backs in his run-based spread option.
Pennamon, 5-foot-11, was listed at 238 pounds in the 2018 media guide. Now he’s listed at 216 pounds, the same weight as both Phillips and Conner.
“He’s got really natural ball skills. If he can get in shape and keep working, he can be a guy that can help us,” Rodriguez said.
Gregory is listed at 6-1 and 216 – 12 pounds heavier than his recruiting profile.
He hasn’t been completely healthy since his junior year of high school in Duncan, South Carolina. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament as a senior. Healed from that injury he tore the meniscus and cartilage in his other knee on the third day of fall camp last year.
He says he was 70-75 percent healed in the spring but feels 100 percent now.
“I feel stronger, I feel faster. I feel the best I’ve felt since my injury,” Gregory said.
Rodriguez seems to agree.
“They’re all unproven guys out there, really,” Rodriguez said. “Demarcus is a guy that’s going to play for us this year. He’s having a really solid camp. I’m pleased with what I see.”
The Rebels return slot starter Elijah Moore, and reserve flanker Braylon Sanders has some experience, but the wide receiver position is rebuilding after the loss of NFL draft picks A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf plus free agent DaMarkus Lodge.
Watching receivers coach Jacob Peeler restock with young talent has had Gregory anxious to get on the field.
“Oh yeah, it’s a competition out there every day. You’ve got to bring it. Peeler’s going to bring the best players in so you know you’ve got to compete,” he said. “I’m up there. I’m doing all I can, working every day, earning the coaches trust.”