Hey, remember this? It's our off-season series of posts on what we expect to see out of each of our football team's position groups this season! And this time we're talking about wide receivers who maybe, with a bit more experience and some Hugh Freeze offense learnin', could become an asset as opposed to a liability - as has been the norm in Oxford.
"Basketball on grass" is what Hugh Freeze calls it, and he doesn't mean that in a "Dundrecous Nelson" type of way. It's a faster paced football offense, predicated around the pass being used as a weapon to set up the run, that requires athletic, intelligent, and reliable wide receivers to carry much of the offensive onus. Who are these wide receivers, and what are they capable of?
Well, for starters, they're not Nickolas Brassell, and that's a shame. As a true freshman, "Snoop" (How many players across Ole Miss sports do we have nicknamed "Snoop" anyway? Ten? Eleven?) received 24 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He also saw significant time as a punt returner and had a couple of starts at cornerback. Brassell, last season, proved himself to be the all-around athlete he was billed to be after a successful career at South Panola High School. Unfortunately, the "student" part of the "student-athlete" moniker wasn't lived up to, as Brassell has since transferred out of Ole Miss due to academic reasons. I still have hope he'll end up back in Oxford after junior college, but there's no way to know that right now.
The only player ahead of Brassell last season in receiving statistics was a fellow true freshman, Donte Moncrief.
Stop now, and realize the weight of that statement. Two true freshmen were the leaders for this team in receiving. Not only is that an indictment against the talent acquired and retained at the receiver position over the past several years, but it is - or rather was - an indicator of great things to come. Two years ago, Houston Nutt signed what many people believed to be the #2 receiver class in the country. Fast forward. Two of the three four-star receivers are off the team in Brassell and Tobias Singleton. TJ Worthy, also part of that group, is now at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Still, Moncrief is an incredibly adept wide receiver who is arguably, despite being only a true sophomore, the most valuable player the Ole Miss Rebels have offensively outside of perhaps halfback (Jeff Scott or Randall Mackey depending on who you believe). Last season, he had 454 yards and four touchdowns on 31 receptions. If practice reports are any indication, the offense should rely on him heavily this fall. Considering that and the offense Hugh Freeze hopes to run here in Oxford, there's legitimate potential for Moncrief to set several Rebel receiving records before he is finished playing football at Ole Miss. In fact, it's almost a certainty based sheerly on the number of offensive plays we will run per game. Almost certainly not this season, but likely before Moncrief graduates, he will have set at least one receiving record.
Across from Moncrief, the most likely player to be our second receiver is Ja-Mes Logan. Logan seems to be very hit or miss. His name hasn't popped up much in Fall camp after turning in a strong Spring. I still think that his size and physicality make him a likely target to finish second or third in receptions this season. He has a strong vertical and can make circus catches. Unfortunately, he also drops some balls.
The starter in the slot appears to be one of Korvic Neat or Philander Moore. I think this gives us a look at what Freeze wants to do out of the slot, that being, get the ball to the receivers quickly and see if they can make defenders miss. Neat and Moore are both good candidates for that, though I'm not sure they're actually very good receivers. Once they get the ball, I have little doubt that they can make moves in the open field. I'm just worried that may be tougher than we think.
As for other names to watch out for, VIncent Sanders appears to be heavily involved in the rotation out wide (he's the primary backup at both spots). I've never seen him separate from defenders all that well, but he does have a nice catch radius and stuck out to me last year as running crisp routes. Don't hold me to that, as I try to forget a lot of last season. Cody Core is the other name to watch. The freshman got on campus with little hoopla then saw his targets regularly increase. Apparently they'd love to redshirt him, but that may not be an option. He's doing things daily to suggest he deserves time on the field.
Collins Moore is an intriguing player as well. He was the likely starter in the slot before getting hurt. He's likely to miss time, but there's no way to really know how much at this point.
On a recent Rebel Sports Radio show, receivers coach Grant Heard stated that Hugh Freeze's offensive scheme, to operate at its full potential, will need no fewer than eight capable receivers. That may seem like a lot, primarily because it is, but when considering the speed of this offense and its use of the passing game, it would make sense to think that receivers are likely to rotate on and off of the field often, requiring fresh, capable athletes in spades for that position. Ole Miss is not close to that yet, as it will take a couple of years worth of recruiting to reach that end, but the core of this receiver group is a solid one which could have a rather successful 2012 campaign, all things considered.