OXFORD – (AP) Donte Moncrief isn't concerned about Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace's surgically repaired right shoulder.
Thrilled might be the better term.
“I see an arm that's gotten stronger,'' said Moncrief, who led the Rebels in catches and receiving yards last season. “The fade routes look good. The dig routes look good. He's got more power with his arm and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with it in games.''
Ole Miss opened its expectation-laden season on Friday morning with a closed practice that was Wallace's first team workout since he had surgery to repair his throwing shoulder in January. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound junior's health is vitally important to the Rebels' hopes of improving on last year's 7-6 record.
Second-year coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace went through Friday's workout with no problems, though his total throws were limited as he works back into game shape.
Wallace said he had some soreness in his biceps, but the surgically repaired areas felt good.
“My main thing is staying relaxed back there when I'm throwing,'' Wallace said. “Sometimes I try to muscle up when I'm throwing and that's when I get into trouble. But as long as I'm relaxed and I feel good, I'm putting it pretty much where I want to.''
Wallace threw for 2,994 yards, 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last season in his first year with the Rebels – numbers that are more impressive considering he injured his throwing shoulder during the team's second game against Tulane.
He was never quite the same after the injury, though he played through the pain. It was most obvious on long throws, which were sometimes on the mark, but just as likely to die a few yards short of the target.
Ole Miss quarterbacks coach Dan Werner said the surgery has helped Wallace's arm strength.
“He's still a little rusty, obviously, because it's the first time he's seen action since the bowl game,'' Werner said. “But his arm looks live. He's throwing better now than he was at the end of last season.''
The only real question now is if Wallace can take a hit. He proved to be a surprisingly adept runner in 2012, gaining 390 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
But the Rebels aren't going to test that shoulder with any big hits during preseason practice. That will come during the team's opener against Vanderbilt on Aug. 29 in Nashville.
“I'm excited for the first hit I take,'' Wallace said. “That way I can finally take the monkey off my back and say, `Let's go. The shoulder's good.'''
Wallace isn't the only important player nursing a previous injury. Three defensive starters, including defensive end C.J. Johnson, cornerback Charles Sawyer and defensive tackle Issac Gross missed Friday's practice, though Freeze hopes all of them will be ready by the season opener.
Ole Miss returns eight offensive starters and all 11 defensive starters.
The team's youth and success under Freeze's high-tempo offense – coupled with a highly-regarded recruiting class – have caused Ole Miss to become a trendy pick to contend in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division.
It should be apparent by mid-October if that's a realistic goal. The Rebels face a brutal stretch during the season's first seven games, which includes games against Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU.
“It's a difficult stretch for sure,'' Freeze said. “We could be a better football team but it not be reflected in the record at that point. We've got to handle all of our issues – and one of those is a difficult schedule to begin the year. But it's not something we talk a lot around here. Let's just prepare for us.''