I, unlike a horde of bad Rebel fans (read: you -- okay, we're kidding), made it to Oxford this weekend to take in both the Rebel football team's Grove Bowl game festivities as well as the Arkansas baseball weekend. After the Grove Bowl, I sent an email to the usual gang of Red Cup Rebellion idiots to gather some knee-jerk reactions and give us yet another piece of discussion fodder for the offseason. What follows are the impressions of, largely, myself and Whiskey Wednesday, with a smattering of "insight" from Juco All-American and Ghost.
This isn't supposed to be some sort of in-depth analysis. We're talking about spring football here, so getting "deep" with this would just be a waste of time. These are first impressions of what we saw. We encourage you to share your impressions as well.
The Ole Miss Rebels were a team without a cohesive offensive identity leaving spring practice. With new coach Hugh Freeze, it was evident the tempo was a step or two quicker than Houston Nutt's previous efforts, though it was a far cry from the "basketball on grass" emphasized by the coaching staff and expected by fans such as myself. This is something we all pretty much much agreed with on all points. The tempo did not impress us, but the team did look organized. It'll be interesting to see what this system will look like during an actual ballgame.
The offensive lines were ragged. I think the lack of cohesion by mishmashing first-team guys with second-team guys was evident. We'd have much rather them put the first-team OL against the first-team DL to get a somewhat better idea of each unit's capabilities.
The offense is a work in progress without a doubt. While it may seem that Bo Wallace is the clear-cut leader at the quarterback position, it is important to point out that, during this scrimmage, Wallace had more dynamic receiving threats in Donte Moncrief and Jeff Scott, and he attempted 26 passes to Barry Brunetti's 10. Wallace's passes did seem more crisp, accurate and generally thrown where receivers could make plays on the ball, whereas Brunetti did overthrow a wide open Ja-Mes Logan twice.
Brunetti can run like a sonofabitch. You've gotta think that gives him a fighter's chance in Freeze's system, especially considering how many read-option type plays he likes to run. That being said, he's a better runner than Wallace but not by a gigantic margin. Wallace rushed for a touchdown on a designed play and nearly rushed for another early in the game only to be stopped at the one yard line.
Of significant note, the coaches used Randall Mackey TWICE on touchdown passes out of a wildcat-like formation. This is definitely an interesting wrinkle to the offense. Mackey lined up all over the field and made good plays more often than bad ones. He did have a drop or two, at receiver, but is dangerous enough as a multiple-threat guy to catch defensive players off guard.
Korvic Neat and Jeff Scott danced around defenders nearly every time they got the ball and didn't do a lot of downhill or North/South kind of running for the Red team. Scott will get the lion's share of carries in this system, though. He fits nicely in to Hugh Freeze's philosophy of getting the ball to athletic players in space. He'll need a more powerful back to serve as the yin to his yang, though.
Nick Parker has easily lost 20 pounds, but he still lacks any kind of real S-E-C speeeeeeeeeeeeeed. He's a power runner and could be utilized well in short distance packages without a doubt. Aside from that, Nick Parker won't cut it during SEC play in any capacity. He just doesn't have the flash, speed, or vision; so let's hope I'Tavius Mathers can play.
We used a couple guys (DeLyle Washington and Jimmy Potepa) who we had never heard of before out of the backfield among the usual cast of characters. Moving Tobias Singleton there may pay off eventually, but it seemed like he was a little lost on a few plays and definitely was not picking up blocks very well.
None of us have watched it in depth enough to determine if this is the result of playcalling or Bo Wallace's decision making, but swing passes made up at least four or five of Wallace's completions, and there were a couple drops out of similar routes. There were a lot of deep shots and some intermediate throws, but, really, swing passes were everywhere. They weren't terrible plays; a back would motion out of a shotgun package and Wallace threw it there, leading the back well, but I just don't know how often that's going to work in SEC play. It's a readable play that could burn us in the future. Against this defense, it usually got five to six yards.
Donte Moncrief is the best offensive player we've got on the team. He did a great job getting open and making plays whenever the ball was thrown his way. Two touchdowns against Dehendret Collins speaks for itself as Collins was the DB who picked off Wallace on a very athletic play.
Also of note, we didn't notice any looks to the tight end at all, which has got to be disappointing for Jamal Mosley and Ferbia Allen. Devin Thomas did not carry the ball much. Those of us who thought this might be his year... welp, it doesn't look that way.
The defense looked more dynamic and athletic than we remember them looking last year, but it will still be difficult to find 11-SEC ready starters out of this group unless some significant (and perhaps illegal*) conditioning work is in order this fall. Cameron Whigham did a good job of plugging up the middle on a few run plays. Carlos Thompson and Jason Jones provided some solid pressure from the defensive end position. The other side of the coin is that offensive line play was fairly inconsistent throughout the entire game so who in the hell knows how good these ends actually are? One likes to think that the light has clicked on for Thompson, Jones, Whigham, and company, but their size and inexperience raise significant question marks.
At tackle, we've got a ton of size and not a lot of technique. Gilbert Pena is gigantic, but slow and oafish. Carlton Martin and Byron Bennett have a good push, but don't move terribly well, especially laterally. We're all really interested to see where Channing Ward and Isaac Gross fit in as freshmen, and we hardly doubt that they'll contribute to the defensive front.
The linebackers weren't particularly notable outside of CJ Johnson and Mike Marry. We do remember a couple of good pursuit plays by Johnson, and think he could occupy a bit of a LB/DE tweener role. Marry is also most likely going to be the backbone of the defense. He was energetic and seemed to be more plugged in to the game as a whole. Ralph Williams made a nice play in the backfield on a designed blitz. Joel Kight had few remarkable plays, but he was in on a lot of gang tackles and showed good awareness. I expected to see more out of Serderius Bryant. Really, we're still really hurting at that group without DT Shackelford healthy and in the lineup.
Charles Sawyer and Dehendret Collins actually look the part in the defensive backfield. Collins did allow Moncrief to have a great game, but his INT came in the red zone where he broke on the pass, tipped it and caught it at about the 2-yard line. It was a really heads up defensive play for a JC who just arrived a few months ago. Frank Crawford and Cliff Coleman both looked capable in the defensive backfield as well.
Really, this Rebel secondary is Charles Sawyer and what seems like a dozen other guys capable enough to play in the SEC but not talented enough to separate themselves from the pack. Aaron Garbutt, Brishen Matthews, Denzel Nkemdiche, Tanner Burns, Cody Prewitt... they all showed athleticism and some defensive skill, but none of them were particularly remarkable.
The overall enthusiasm and energy seemed to be really high at the start of the game, and there were guys flying around a lot to start. By the second half though, you could tell the conditioning just hasn't kicked into a "fall football shape" just yet. Lots of guys with hands on their hips, and we're talking about a two hour scrimmage with a 20 minute break.
The only other impressive note was the field gaol kicking. The kickers easily hit two 45-yard plus field goals, with one of them being easily good from 55 yards by Bryson Rose. He really does have an excellent leg. Tyler Campbell and his Heisman Trophy candidacy might have taken a step back, as his punts looked pretty weak when compared to what he showed himself capable of last season. We're not worried, though. We still feel that our special teams will be some of the most capable in BCS football this season.
Attendance at the game was about what you would expect. Maybe 20,000 or so and a good bit of folks heading out to the baseball games after the first half.
I think we've got 20-25 guys who can play and be competitive, but if we have any kind of injuries, suspensions or the like, we're looking at a subpar team right now. The effort was there for most of the game, the players seemed to display a higher football IQ, and the playcalling was certainly more interesting, but the talent gap between this team and the rest of the SEC is still too wide.
*We kid. Sorta.