In an effort to better equip fans on the makeup, abilities, and scheme of our team, I will somewhat accurately explain the way we'll likely use certain players on offense and defense in the coming football season based on what I have seen and heard over the past several months. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive season preview. It is instead a look at what we will or should do schematically with what we have on our team.
What follows ia a brief position-by-position breakdown and a short description of the offensive outlook.
The Rebels have two quarterbacks contending for the starting job in JR Randall Mackey and SO Barry Brunetti, a West Virginia transfer. Both are promising players who have shown the ability to scramble and throw relatively well. Brunetti has taken fewer than 100 division one snaps. Mackey has taken zero. Quarterbacks obviously play a large part in the success or failure of any team, but I wouldn't count on us to lean on either very much this year. Houston Nutt recently remarked that he simply wanted someone who wouldn't lose the game for the team.
As far as how we'll use whichever one wins the battle (I personally believe Brunetti to have the edge at this point), we're basically going to try and mirror the way we used Masoli last year. Because of the speed at the quarterback position, we're probably going to run a decent amount of the spread option (sproption) stuff we saw last year. The zone read will be a staple as will end arounds. One diffrerence between Masoli and these two quarterbacks is that neither Brunetti nor Mackey appears to have the bulldozing ability that Masoli showed some last year - with a slight edge in the "droppin the shoulder into a defensive back" category going to Brunetti. They're going to run away from defenders and not through them. While this should result in a few more long runs, it also makes picking up tough yardage a little bit more difficult.
Luckily, we have a halfback in SR Brandon Bolden who can churn out tough yards. As we did last year, we'll use Bolden in very typical halfback ways. He'll pound the ball up the middle or run off tackle. Bolden has always been a threat out of hte backfield as well, and I hope we utilize that ability even more this year with so much inexperience in our passing game. he's a reliable guy who is extremely likely to finally hit the 1,000 rushing yard mark. Bolden is our bruiser, but he's got better speed than many think. If he gets a chance to break away against teams without defenders with elite speed, he's gone.
But not as much as sophomore Jeff Scott. Scott proved himself to be a home run hitter as a true freshman last year when he averaged 6.5 yards per carry. That's an exceptional stat, but I think that Scott can improve his game a good bit even if some of it results in that YPC stat dropping. He was very much a boom or bust back last year and only averaged 39 yards per game despite single game results of 134 against Auburn and 74 against Fresno State. In the season ending loss to Mississippi State, Scott managed just twelve yards on six carries. He needs to become more consistent if he's going to increase his carries much. We (hopefully) will use Scott in non-traditional ways. As I mentioned in the shameless NESTEA (have you bought your tea yet?) promotion post, I want him coming out of the slot, running the wild rebel, and playing a sort of h-back position every now and then when additional blocking isn't paramount to a play.
The coaches will be sure to use InRick Davis every now and then to make fans wonder what they're doing, but the aforementioned Bolden and Scott will certainly be the primary ball carriers.
I'd be lying if I said I knew much about the way fullbacks are utilized in our system (other than that they block), but the two to look for are the double-initial-for-a-first-name wonders HR Greer and EJ Epperson. Epperson, if you'll recall, imagines himself as a "bowling ball filled with knives" at the fullback position, so we'll give him the nod if only because the image of an anthropomorphic ball filled with sharp things scares us.
At receiver, the Rebels return several options and added great pieces in the freshman class. Junior Melvin Harris is a tall, lanky receiver who, at 6'6", has the potential to create huge mismatches against cornerbacks. We will use him to stretch the field some, but Nutt also likes to throw him screens (which makes no sense at all). I think that ideally Harris would be a player we relied more on for possession situations instead of deep balls, but we're going to throw deep to him some as well due solely to his height.
Sophomore Ja-Mes Logan is a solid possession receiver who was our most reliable target by the end of the season. If you paid attention, you noticed that his number was called much more than any other receiver's on third down in the final few games last year. He's not incredibly fast, but he can get open. As of right now, he's a poor man's Shay Hodge.
Incoming freshmen receivers Nick Brassell and Tobias Singleton are likely to be used as situational deep threats this season while fellow freshman Donte Moncrief (if he doesn't redshirt) will probably be a possession guy. Brassell will immediately be our fastest receiver and should be running deep posts and fades from the get go. What remains to be seen is whether the coaches will be calling plays where he goes underneath the coverage successfully. Also, Brassell has suspect hands. Singleton has a great deal of speed, but he's no Brassell. He's more of a well rounded receiver than Brassell at this time, since he shows the ability to go deep, appears to run routes well, and has reliable hands. The problem for Singleton may be in the fact that he doesn't possess elite skills at any one aspect of playing receiver. Of course it's impossible to tell how that will translate to college ball. Moncrief is purely a possession guy right now, but I know that the coaches are really excited about his ability.
As for the slot, we'll likely see a lot of snaps from sophomores Korvic Neat and Philander Moore who are the small, shifty guys that Nutt likes to give the ball to in open space. Many of our fans gave up on Neat after not being Dexter McCluster as a redshirt freshman. Our fans are dumb like that. I think it's way too early to discount him, and he's a versatile player who probably frustrates opponents who simply count personnel. He takes significant snaps at receiver but enough snaps at halfback so that personnel counters can't rely on us going four wide when three receivers and Neat enters the game. He's very shifty but quite small and liable to fumble the ball. Moore is an unproven commodity who was brought in as a sophomroe from junior college in order to return kicks. Word out of Spring practice is that he was better than expected in the slot, but there's no way to know much until he sees nickel corners who didn't make Jacksonville State look all world.
If OC David Lee's recent history with the Dolphins is any indication, we can expect to see the tight end thrown to two to three times a game. Juniors Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley are the real players at the position, and all we know for sure is that Allen is decent - except for a dropped surefire touchdown against Vanderbilt this past season, a drop for which Ghost may never forgive him. Allen started for the Rebels last season and wasn't horrible [ED: Aside from the aforementioned drop.]. Mosley heads in from JUCO after playing some snaps at Oklahoma State as a true freshman. If we're going to have a star at the position (which we're not), it will be Mosley. He has the ability to be a dynamic playmaker at the position. Now we just have to see how much we'll throw to the tight ends. As for blocking, we'll rely on them heavily to get to the second level quickly on running plays and help our tackles handle blitzes or just difficult defensive ends regularly in pass protection.
The Offensive Line is the strength of this entire unit, and it starts on the outsides. Senior Bradley Sowell and junior Bobby Massie are the tackles that get the ground game moving. They're the best offensive linemen on the team, and our offense will lean on them all season long. Both have displayed adequate pass protection skills, but they excel in run blocking. It's no fluke that Jeff Scott was able to get around the edge so often last season. He had a lot of help from both of these players. Sowell still struggles with false starts and holding penalties, but that's probably because he's outmatched in pass protection as a left tackle. If he has a place on the next level, it's at right tackle for a team that likes to pound the ball at the opposition. Massie is reliable but would also struggle if he were ask to defend the quarterback's blindside.
Because I think this piece is already probably too long and i would be repeating myself, suffice it to say that the rest are adequate pass blockers as well but better at run blocking. Do you sense a trend here?
Because we struggle to pass block, have new quarterbacks, and have young receivers, it makes sense that we will heavily rely on our running game. Brandon Bolden should get more carries than he ever has, and I'm guessing he'll have a real breakout year. That may not translate to a lot of wins, but it can't hurt.
In the Spring game, we showed willingness to throw the ball downfield in order to keep defenses honest. With our inbound receiver talent, I would guess that will become more of an option. If we can complete a decent amount of deep passes early in the year, we may be able to keep defenses from putting eight in the box every play. Let's hope that's the case.