This past Saturday, with Oxford's eternal optimism hanging low over the Mississippi earth like the fog of an Autumn's morning, the Rebels ended their spring practice with the annual Grove Bowl. There were some highlights, some lowlights, and some otherwise meh moments, none of which were taken in my members of the Cup "staff" in person for the first time in years. Nope, none of us were there. We blame the real world, and know that, if you don't already, you'll understand where we're coming from soon enough.
Never fear though, CSS broadcast the game, just as many of y'all saw it in person. What I have below is a compilation of various observations from our very own One Man to Beat as well as y'all (props UMBAI) and other amateur e-pundits sprinkled about these world wide interwebs. Hopefully this will give you enough of an idea as what we can reasonably expect to glean from everyone's favorite glorified practice.
The tidbuggets are bulletted and broken down by position group because it's Monday, meaning we're looking for the easiest way to write something just as you're not necessarily looking for something complex to read. Just admit it and thank us.
Of mention, before we get entirely in gear, are the injuries which sidelined some marquee players for the scrimmage. The two starting halfbacks Brandon Bolden and Jeff Scott were out on offense. Defensive end Wayne Dorsey and linebackers Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford (because fate hates us) missed the game on the other side of the ball. Of those, only DT is not expected to return for fall practices.
- Quarterbacks - Barry Brunetti and Randall Mackey are both gifted athletes, but they are both in need of some time to mature and improve their decision making. Brunetti has some nice zip to his passes, but really missed the mark on a few throws. Of course, he also threw some with pinpoint accuracy so we can chalk that up to youth. Mackey, on occasion, throws a ball with a bit of a wobble, but he does have some good touch and is patient enough to find an open receiver. Problem is though that I worry that both try a bit too hard to make something happen with their feet and extend already broken plays. I saw a lot of shuffling and shifting that probably won't work against the LSUs and Alabamas of the world. Brunetti gives me some serious hope for the future though, if only for his athleticism.
- Halfbacks/Fullbacks: The running back corps is deep, and Devin Thomas stood out in particular, primarily due to injuries as we mentioned before. Brandon Bolden still should have a firm grasp on the starting job though, as no one really showed the endurance or versatility he brings to the table. In addition, nobody on the field is as fast as Jeff Scott, so what really took place on Saturday was an - ahem - thrilling battle for that third halfback spot. Thomas, Enrique Davis, and a very big Nick Parker all seem to be the best options for short yardage plays, but nothing more. Thomas could be a situational, third-and-long type of guy, bu that remains to be seen.
- Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: At wideout, Vincent Sanders has really come a long way in developing from his redshirt year to a freshman ready to make an impact by stretching the field. Sanders led all Rebel WRs on the day with 96 yards on 4 catches. His performance was by far the most impressive of the on either side of the ball, especially how it relates to expectations. Who knows, we might actually sign a wide receiver that lives up to expectations! We can't quite write off Korvic Neat as an option anymore. His 90-yard TD reception from Brunetti showed he has some straight-line speed, but taking that with a grain of salt, it was against a secondary that included some new and walk-on defensive players. With the Rebels already having a couple decent options at WR (Melvin Harris and Ja-Mes Logan - both of which performed well enough, but not spectacularly), plus another three or four receivers entering with the freshman class, this position will be highly regarded and could mean an offensive mindset is about to radically change in the next two years (I doubt that altogether, but it's a fun thought).
- Offensive Line: Our strengths begin and end at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The collective offensive line talent between the two teams who took the field Saturday will be incredibly solid as a unit this season. Their pass protection still needs work (oh yeah that's right, our QBs run 4.5 40's, doesn't matter kthx), but the run blocking was really well done Saturday. Devin Thomas picked his way down the field on a few runs because the o-line finished off their blocks. Bradley Sowell seems to be the leader of the offensive line corps. He bobbed his head around after nice runs and just seemed like a much more confident player than in years past. Matt Hall, Patrick Junen, Bobby Massie, and a handful of others look absolutely gigantic, but that could be an optical illusion or some shit because our skill players are rather diminutive. We even got to see the legend, Terrell Brown, take the field for a number of series. He's large, but he was knocked off the line pretty consistently. I'm just not sure he's ever going to be an every down option for us. But it is cool that a black Paul Bunyan plays on our team.
- Defensive Line: The defensive line had a few bright spots including junior college transfer Gilbert Pena. Another huge body on the team at more than 330 lbs., Pena had a few plays where he just muscled his way through the line and showed a good motor in pursuit. Spring ball is a small sample size for a new defensive tackle, but I think Pena will start or see significant snaps in the fall. Carlos Thompson was another player who was able to make a number of plays Saturday as a young DE. Thompson recorded 5.5 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a sack for the day. Cameron Whigham was solid in pursuit and in pressuring the quarterbacks. He doesn't seem to be as explosive or quick as Thompson, but he is definitely another solid option at end. Hopefully Dorsey and Lockett have these spots secured though, as we'll need their size and leadership to compete against SEC offensive lines.
- Linebackers: The linebackers will definitely benefit from CJ Johnson's arrival. The defense as a whole was slightly better than porous, but no where near average. They did record three interceptions, though one of them was a game ending heave to an end zone. Mike Marry seems like he'll be a solid option for us, but it was still hard to judge where we stand with this position group considering DT Shackelford's and Joel Kight's injuries.
- Secondary: The secondary is depleted, but everyone knew that. Brishen Matthews is a good tackler, and Wesley Pendleton seems to be about as fast as he was billed, but I wouldn't expect a ton out of these guys this season. I just couldn't ever suggest any Ole Miss fan to convince themselves that a good Rebel secondary will be a part of the Ole Miss football experience.
- Special Teams:Tyler Campbell was lauded as one of the best punters, statistically speaking, during this past NCAA season. That was funny. Bryson Rose is a good kicker for us, whereas Andrew Ritter isn't so much (BUT HE COMES FROM A GOOD FAMILY), and he's eating up a scholarship. We ned to fix that.
Oh, and the game ended in a 17-17 tie, which is hilarious.