We've learned that Hugh Freeze's offense requires the offensive players to be sharper and in better shape than they actually are.
So, in an attempt to consolidate our basest observations - themselves ultimately meaningless - from the past week-and-a-half of Rebel football practice, Ghost and I conducted a two person roundtable of sorts (So a "line segment table?" A desk?) and compiled that into what immediately follows this introductory paragraph. We tried to keep it pithy, but might have gone a bit stray here and there. We're also liable to have overlooked a point or two. Please fill us in and correct our mistakes in the comments thread.
Ghost: Neither Barry Brunetti nor Bo Wallace is good enough to take over the starting spot. I know, I know, some people are saying "oh man, they're both so good that they're neck-a-neck" or "coach ain't naming a starter as a motivational tactic" or "Bo Wallace has girl hair", which is nice and all, but likely isn't the truth.
Juco: Cody Core just may play a lot this year. Cupper Ole Faulkner suggested as much in comments long ago, but I have to say I'm very surprised that Core is making a move. I don't think we're in a great situation at receiver by any means, but Core appeared out of nowhere when we signed him without good offers. Always good to see someone like that showing up early in camp.
Ghost: With the receivers, we've also heard some mentions of Philander Moore, Vincent Sanders, and Ja-Mes Logan, but at this point it's the Donte Moncrief show at wideout. Grant Heard recently said that he felt we would need eight (count 'em, EIGHT) capable receivers to run Hugh Freeze's offense effectively. Right now, we have like one-and-a-half.
At halfback, I wouldn't be shocked at all to see I'Tavius (I almost want to go all Steve Jobs here and call him iTavius) Mathers and Jaylon Walton, the two freshmen backs, getting a lot of work this fall. iTavius almost looks the part of an SEC back as a true freshman, and Walton has great moves and hands by all accounts. I think we'll definitely see the latter in a special teams role at the very least.
Nick Parker is still slow.
Juco: It has also been pretty surprising to see Randall Mackey actually prove useful at halfback/wide receiver. When I heard Mackey would be moving to halfback, I pretty much assumed that was it for him. Moves like that generally just don't go well. Then we get word that he's really playing well in practice. Then we see him throw two touchdown passes in the grove bowl off of sweeps. Now we see him score two touchdowns in the first scrimmage, playing all over the field. It's encouraging. I can't say whether he will be able to abuse SEC defenses, but I'll be happy if he just helps us win the games we're supposed to and has one or two big SEC games.
Ghost: On offensive line... Do we have to go over this?
Ugh, okay. Look, we've got some big bodies. We've also got some young, promising guys like Aaron Morris (who missed some practice with a strained Achilles because somebody stepped on his heel GREAT GOING YOU GUYS). But, as a unit, they're thin, inconsistent, and out of shape. I think that we may see them progress as the season goes along, but there will be struggles early. Also, Pierce Burton has got to step up. There's no reason for a highly-recruited Juco guy to struggle in competition this fall against this depth chart.
Maybe I'm harsh, but I really think that our offensive line and quarterbacks are huge weak links on this team right now. That's not exactly a bold statement, but it is worth stating because, if we're going to struggle on offense, that will be why.
Juco: I think the defensive line is probably coming along a bit. I know, that sentence wasn't passive at all, was it? Anyway, it seems that CJ Johnson is proving to be an effective pass rusher at end, and you have to be pleased with freshman Isaac Gross' ascension to the starting unit at defensive tackle. Last season, our line had trouble rushing the passer. The improvement of CJ and addition of Gross (should Gross continue playing heavily in the DT rotation) might help remedy that. It's certainly impressive that Gross is earning first team reps considering that means a roster that didn't lose any defensive tackles from last season can't beat out an undersized true freshman. Whether you like our other DTs or not, it's a strong showing of Gross' potential.
Ghost: I also like hearing that Gilbert Pena has lost weight and is showing no signs of his prior hand injury. He will certainly be a situational type of defensive tackle, but if he's quicker and stronger than he was last season, those situations are likely to see him serve in a more effective role than he was.
Regarding linebackers, what we wouldn't give for a healthy D.T. Shackelford. Mike Marry is proving that he's still Mike Marry, meaning that he'll be a force in the middle - and likely nowhere else. But that's okay, considering the speed shown on the edges in pursuit by Aaron Garbutt, Ivan Nichols, Denzel Nkemdiche, and others. Ralph Williams is also allegedly in some sort of hybrid DE/LB role, where he'll see a few plays with his hand on the ground, a few in coverage, and everything else in between.
The MPSA All-Stars are going to be fine. Andrew Ritter may redshirt, but that's really the only noteworthy development out of special teams players we've gathered thus far.
Juco: It was encouraging to see Senquez Golson step right in and earn a starting job. I was slightly worried that he would be lost due to not having the Spring. He is an elite athlete who has to be on the field. Our secondary all around looks to have had a good August, but that could all be due to poor quarterback play. Brishen Mathews seems to be settling in to his role, and the coaches seem higher on Chief Brown and Cody Prewitt than anticipated. Freshmen Trae Elston and Quintavious Burdette have also garnered high praise from the staff.
I realize much of what we have said has been positive, but that's because it hurts our souls to think about how bad this team could truly be.
Also, maybe the positive vibes will heal Charles Sawyer's ailing quadriceps. Typically, we're not into hokey-pokey "positive vibes" nonsense, but after a 2-10 season, we'll take whatever we can get.