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Projecting Ole Miss' 2015 depth chart after the Grove Bowl

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Spring practice is behind us, so let's take a guess at who will be starting where in the fall. (Before you ask, yea, we have Chad Kelly on top at quarterback).

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With spring football behind us, we're busy trying to milk a few fleeting observations all the way into Fall camp. While we won't pretend to know much more than the casual observer, what's abundantly clear is this: Hugh Freeze has done a tremendous job building this roster. Recruiting top-end talent is one thing (Freeze has done this very well, with some notable misses), but building depth requires more vision and patience, especially at a mid-tier SEC school, where 4 star players haven't traditionally lined up to play a reserve role. In a few short years, we've seen Freeze go from having many back-up quality starters trying to play over their heads for an entire season of SEC football, to having starter-quality backups, eager to get in the game.

With that in mind, let's take a look at what the depth chart might look like heading into fall camp. This list is compiled based on a combination of past in-season performance, deciphered coachspeak, and observations from the Grove Bowl. Take with as many grains of salt as you desire...

Quarterback

  1. Chad Kelly
  2. Ryan Buchanan
  3. Devante Kincade

If I'm ranking based on Grove Bowl performances alone, I'd honestly put Kincade ahead of Buchanan. As "in control" as Buchanan looks while standing over center, his passes were put in dangerous places all day; he just had trouble throwing passes that gave the advantage to his receivers. Buchanan had the worse of the two offensive lines, so that's not to be discounted. Hugh Freeze's endorsement of the Frat Cannon cannot be overlooked either.

Kelly looked great at times, and made some plays that didn't end up counting in the stat line. He certainly gives Ole Miss the most upside, and looks to be the only one with a deep ball good enough to really punish a defense. Worth noting, we didn't get to see Buchanan or Kelly run the read-option. We can assume that Kelly has the advantage there, but we don't know how either compares to Bo Wallace, an extremely underrated runner when healthy.

Kincade is a mystery; I can't remember a time where I've seen him stand in the pocket and deliver a pass. He's always scrambling, rolling out, or throwing screens. As such, it's hard to judge him against the other two. I'd bet that Kincade has a role in the Ole Miss offense as a change of pace guy, something that worked really well with Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti.

Running back

  1. Jaylen Walton
  2. Akeem Judd
  3. Jordan Wilkins
  4. Eugene Brazley

The running back depth chart is going to be one of the most fluid on the team, along with the wide receivers. Walton will probably get the most snaps in every game, but there will likely be games where both Judd and Wilkins lead the team in carries and/or rushing yards. Both look like quality SEC backs, but neither looks good enough to totally displace the other. Brazley may have a hard time getting on the field this year, but may just be good enough to step right in for Walton next year. For the group as a whole, the emphasis on north-south runs this year looks to be paying off nicely.

Wide receiver

Making a guess here is borderline impossible based on what we've seen. We can safely assume that Treadwell will get as many snaps as he can handle, then maybe Cody Core, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, Markell Pack, and Derrick Jones fight it out from there. It looks like Quintavius Burdette and Dayall Harris might very well be involved, too. That's a rotation of eight, not including Collins Moore (who I didn't notice Saturday), and not including two incoming top-100 caliber freshmen in Damarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson. Drops have to be at least something of a concern, but naming a starting QB will likely help with rhythm and consistency.

Tight end

  1. Evan Engram
  2. Taz Zettergren
  3. Sammie Epps

Engram actually had a pretty bad spring game by his high standards, with three drops on admittedly tough passes from Buchanan. It also looked like he was generally surrounded by three defenders when the ball came his way. Maybe Buchanan was zeroing in on Engram, or maybe he just commands that much attention? Regardless, he's far, far ahead of the other two tight ends on this list.

Zettergren has been mentioned by coaches several times as a player who could receive decent playing time behind Engram. His touchdown reception was more of a defensive breakdown than a big offensive play, but he certainly looked comfortable catching and running.

Epps' talent has been praised by both players and coaches, though he struggled with some tough catches during the Spring game along with Engram. I'm giving Zettergren the nod as the No. 2 guy for now, but that could easily change.

A final factor to consider is the ever-changing way that Freeze uses the tight end position. Will Jeremy Liggins play at times as a sixth offensive lineman? Will something like a fullback position emerge at times? Freeze has shown that he's comfortable getting weird with the TE position, so after Engram, all bets are off.

Offensive line

Is making a depth chart here really possible? I don't know if the coaches would feel comfortable doing that, much less a guy who watched the Grove Bowl on his laptop while making a grilled cheese sandwich. What I can tell you about the offensive line is that, split in half, and down to precisely zero backups, they were able to actually play a football game against one of the deepest defensive lines in the SEC. I don't know if we can credit the faster tempo, or increased emphasis on conditioning/speed/toughness/whatever, but I was really shocked that the offensive line even allowed for a decent scrimmage. That's a great sign. Freeze and Matt Luke have a lot of interesting decisions to make next year. Perhaps they'll be tempted to open up the rotation a little bit more, to build experience behind the five returning 2014 starters who all depart after this season.

Defensive line

Weakside defensive end
  1. Marquis Haynes
  2. John Youngblood
  3. Victor Evans
Strongside defensive end
  1. Fadol Brown
  2. Channing Ward
  3. Garrald McDowell
Defensive tackle
  1. Robert Nkemdiche
  2. D.J. Jones
  3. Breeland Speaks
Nose tackle
  1. Issac Gross
  2. Woodrow Hamilton
  3. Herbert Moore

Another wide-open rotation where the depth chart pretty much doesn't matter. Look for C.J. Johnson to get into the mix as well while not playing middle linebacker. Apparently, Jones might slide over to nose tackle at times in order to get on the field alongside Nkemdiche. The fact that Speaks is essentially a third-teamer is freaking absurd. He looks like a monster. Coaches have had great things to say about Fadol Brown's progress, and hopefully they know by now to just throw in Channing Ward occasionally when they need someone to be huge, fast, and pissed off.

Linebacker

Outside linebacker
  1. Denzel Nkemdiche
  2. Terry Caldwell
  3. Tayler Polk
  4. RayRay Smith
Mike linebacker
  1. C.J. Johnson
  2. Demarquis Gates
  3. Christian Russell
  4. Temario Strong

Wild cards abound in this group, with Johnson's role at defensive end unclear, and with Gates splitting time at both linebacker positions. The linebackers arguably have an edge in depth and athleticism compared to last year's veteran group, but the sheer experience lost makes this position worrisome.

The linebackers didn't appear to make a bunch of plays in the Grove Bowl, so it's hard to single out individuals who may have improved or hurt their stock. To be fair, the same could be said for Ole Miss' linebackers in general for most of last season. As a group, they collected bunches of tackles, but aside from a Keith Lewis scoop-and-score vs. A&M, it's hard to think of many huge plays. Whether this is a hallmark of Wommack's defensive scheme, or whether Freeze is failing to recruit difference makers in the middle of the defense, isn't totally clear.

Cornerback

  1. Tee Shepard
  2. Tony Bridges
  3. Kendarius Webster
  4. Kailo Moore
  5. Carlos Davis
Husky
  1. Tony Conner
  2. A.J. Moore
  3. D.K. Buford

These guys are good; no worries here as long as everyone stays healthy. It will be interesting to see how often Moore and Davis get into the game at corner. We've heard that Moore has made tons of progress with his understanding of the position, and is ready to contribute, but you have to think it will be difficult to push Tee, Tony, or Kendarius off the field.

Safety

Free safety
  1. Trae Elston
  2. C.J. Hampton
Rover
  1. Mike Hilton
  2. Chief Brown
  3. C.J. Moore

Again, a pretty good situation here in the secondary. The safeties will have a different look than last year, but that new look might be even better in passing situations, essentially replacing Cody Prewitt with Elston and replacing Elston with Mike Hilton. Hilton's year and a half spent as a starting corner shows that he has elite man coverage skills, which will hopefully be a great asset against multiple receiver sets. It's also pretty great to have two or three starter-quality backups in Hampton, Brown, and Moore.