As inconsequential, contrived, and potentially risky as the entire endeavor may be, if you are a college football fan then chances are that you absolutely love the goings on of spring football practice. And aside from the lack of an actual opponent by which to accurately judge the progress of our Ole Miss Rebels, what exactly is there not to love about spending a few hours watching Hugh Freeze and his staff prepare for what is expected to be an exciting football season in Oxford? It is football after all, is it not?
Thankfully for those of us who will watch football of any sort, regardless of the level of competition or stakes of the contest itself, Hugh Freeze and his staff have opened Ole Miss' spring football practices to the public. This means that we fans will be nearly unfettered in our pursuit of all things Rebel football from the time of this publication all the way until the Grove Bowl, which will be held Saturday, April 13 at 1:00 PM in Vaught Hemingway Stadium.
But what is it that we Rebel fans should watch for in these practices and scrimmages? What is it about Spring football that makes it so interesting and fun? We thought you'd never ask.
First, there are a handful of questions on the offensive side of the ball that remain unanswered through a week of spring practice. For example, who will emerge as Bo Wallace's backup, assuming the quarterback recovers well from offseason shoulder surgery? Will it remain Barry Brunetti, or will Mikhail Miller emerge as the likely go-to guy in a pinch?
Who among the program's young tailbacks will emerge as the most prominent option in the backfield after Jeff Scott? Will it be the shifty Jaylon Walton, the powerful I'Tavius Mathers, or the dynamic freshman Mark Dodson Jr.? Will any of them be able to fill the void left by departing do-it-all man Randall Mackey?
Will an offensive line characterized by inconsistencies and bitten by the injury bug be able to adequately prepare for Southeastern Conference play?
And, most importantly, will Donte Moncrief indeed be fed?
On the defensive side of the ball too there are questions we fans would like to see answered by these second semester scrimmages. Who will fill in the role left by C.J. Johnson, who will be missing the remainder of practices with a fractured fibula? Will defensive end Channing Ward live up to his potential?
Will Lavon Hooks, one of the top junior college defenders in the country last year, be able to step in right away and compete against the top competition at college football's highest level?
Can D.T. Shackelford shake off years worth of rust and finally return to the playing field after a terribly debilitating knee injury suffered in the spring of 2011? Will he return to the potential all-SEC form he was in at the time of his injury?
Will Nickolas Brassell be able to return to the team after a year in junior college with little-to-no controversy and resume the success he saw at defensive back as a true freshman in 2011?
Additionally, and more generally speaking, will this team be able to elevate its defensive play, which last year performed as a middle-of-the-pack type of defense among conference competition? If improvements are to be made, where will that be and to what extent?
Lastly, and uncharacteristically for a coach who prides himself on a high rate of staff retention, the Rebels have a new position coach this season as defensive backs coach Jason Jones has taken over that role in lieu of Coach Wesley McGriff, who left the Rebel program for a gig with the New Orleans Saints. How will coach Jones work with his players and mesh with this staff? And how well does he fit in with the culture of SEC football?
Even for a football team which returns so many players and coaches from a program that ended its last season on such a positive note, there are plenty of new faces to see and questions which remain unanswered. So, if you're within a short drive of Vaught-Hemingway and have nothing else to do in the early afternoon of April 13th, do yourself a favor and head to the Grove Bowl. Or, better yet, head to all the practices you can fit into your schedule leading up to and including the Grove Bowl. There is a lot to see and a lot to learn over the next couple of weeks of football practice, so if you're an Ole Miss Rebel fan you'll be hard pressed to not enjoy yourself as a practice spectator, and you'll definitely be giving yourself something to look forward to for this upcoming fall season.