Allow us to offer some quick takes as to what we and some good friends of the Cup have observed regarding the Ole Miss Rebels thus far in spring practice. First, some good news:
- Mark Dodson might be as good a freshman back as the Rebels have had since perhaps Brandon Bolden's freshman season. We certainly expect the early enrollee freshman to see the field early and often this season, as he will work in a rotation with Jeff Scott, iTavius Mathers, and Jayon Walton.
- Speaking of Walton, he and Dodson have seen some time in the slot. If they can be as versatile as Jeff Scott in the passing game then they should be fairly productive contributors this fall.
- Vince Sanders has looked very good. During last Saturday's scrimmage, he made Nick Brassell look lost on a touchdown grab which itself is a bit of an accomplishment with how well Snoop's been performing in the spring (more on that in a bit). If he can stay healthy, the Rebels should have some semblance of depth at wideout, even if it's not to the level that coach Freeze wants.
- Cody Core has also shown up as a legitimate threat at wideout. The 6'3" flanker continues Hugh Freeze's design of an offense whose receivers are built more around size than speed. Core uses his body well and has a proven ability to pluck passes from well above the heads and shoulders of his defenders.
- Lavon Hooks has the build to be a legitimate SEC defensive lineman, so it is just a matter of conditioning and learning the system at this point. It's not out of the question to think that he could leave Ole Miss for the NFL after this one season.
- Coaches have been praising the work of some second string defensive linemen this Spring, including Woodrow Hamilton, Carlos Thompson, and John Youngblood.
- DT Shackelford just might play football for the Ole Miss Rebels this fall. I wouldn't bet on it just yet, but it seems like he is finally recovering from his torn ACL and could be ready to contribute. If that is the case, then he, Mike Marry, Keith Lewis, Bird Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche make up a linebacking corps that, while thin, is made up of smart players and capable tacklers.
- Anthony Alford can lay some wood at safety. He's definitely the athlete you'd expect the former top high school quarterback in Mississippi to be.
Let's talk a bit about Anthony Alford and his transfer here, and what it says about the Rebel program right now. Alford, as you may recall, was a four star quarterback out of high school who signed with then-Larry Fedora and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. He was also a top baseball prospect and is technically still a member of some MLB organization (the Rays maybe? I'm too lazy to look it up). His first year at Southern Miss wasn't exactly stellar, but he was sharing time in the backfield as a true freshman quarterback in his first season of NCAA ball, so you can't really hold it against him for only amassing 664 yards and two touchdowns as a Golden Eagle. Also, he was working then under head coach Ellis Johnson after Fedora left for North Carolina. Southern Miss goes 0-12, Johnson is fired, and Alford decides to leave Southern Miss (and his scholarship) behind to walk on at Ole Miss, where he has found a place at safety.
So a guy who could have become the starting quarterback for Southern Miss, has instead decided to pay his own way onto the Ole Miss football team to play a backup safety role. And there are still people who believe that Southern Miss is a part of some mythical "big three" in Mississippi college football?
- Chief Brown has developed into a pretty good safety in his own right. Among him, Alford, Trae Elston, Cody Prewitt, and the incoming Tony Connor, we should have a
prettylegitimate group of safeties this season.
- Nick Brassell really, really needs to get eligible. He could become one of the best cornerbacks to play at Ole Miss in recent memory. He's rangy, fast, long, and inhumanly athletic.
- As is typical in Spring drills, the defense has largely dominated.
But it hasn't all been rosy:
- And we really need Bo Wallace to be healthy for this offense to work. Furthermore, we need one of our incoming quarterbacks to be capable-to-good because Barry Brunetti and Mikhail Miller have struggled. Miller, at times, has looked like a capable backup, but he ins't ready to carry the load of leading an SEC team. It is fortunate that Wallace's shoulder injury gets the both of them reps that they wouldn't otherwise get, but still, it's apparent why Wallace was put in charge of this offense last season.
- To be fair though, dropped passes, especially by second and third string guys, hurt a lot of offensive progress during drills.
- And speaking of injuries, we were recently asked on Rebel Sports radio to name the best player for Ole Miss that is currently 100% healthy. The obvious and easy answer is, of course, Denzel Nkemdiche, but the point of the question was well received. Injuries have been a big problem this spring, and they've disproportionately impacted our first string. Guys like Bo Wallace, Donte Moncrief, and Aaron Morris are laboring through bum shoulders. Freshman tight end Christian Morgan recently went under the knife for meniscus repair. Issac Gross has a groin issue that won't go away. CJ Johnson broke his fibula. And the list goes on.
- I do appreciate the coaches not encouraging players to play through injuries (Moncrief's shoulder, for example, is something he'd play with were this the fall.) in hopes that they'll recover quickly and be able to condition over the Summer.
- Can any of y'all play tight end? Wanna walk on?
- The offensive line is thin. There are some talented Rebel offensive linemen beyond the injured Aaron Morris and Patrick Junen - guys like Pierce Burton, Evan Swindall, and the emerging Robert Conyers - but the fact remains that we just need more big bodies up front. On the bright side, the coaches are recruiting offensive linemen well, so hopefully in the coming season we will see an offensive line where today's underclassmen will be capable veterans, backed up by a platoon of talented underclassmen. That, unfortunately, will not be how we describe the 2013 Ole Miss offensive line.
- Channing Ward hasn't yet emerged into the dominant defensive end most of us expect him to be. To be fair, he is behind the learning curve a bit as he is only a true sophomore who enrolled late as a freshman to begin with, but his raw athleticism and strength still leave something to be desired. He needs to become more of a thinker and a student of the sport if he is to become a major force at defensive end, because in the SEC raw talent alone can't always cut it in the trenches. (This isn't to say that we do not remain optimistic about Ward, because we do.)
- Depth at linebacker and cornerback is hard to come by at Ole Miss right now, so expect a lot of S/CB and S/LB type of tweener guys to come into play this fall.
This Saturday, the Ole Miss Rebels will finish spring football practice with the annual Grove Bowl held inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at 1:00 PM. If you can, we implore you to attend, watch, have fun, and maybe get a bit of a preview of what is to come this fall. If you can't, then watch the game on ESPN3 and, as I will do, lament the fact that you're not in Oxford.