There hasn't been much in the way of news filtering out of Ole Miss fall practice (and no news is generally good news at this time of year), but one of the early themes has been Damore'ea Stringfellow beginning to shimmy his way out of Hugh Freeze's dog house -- and potentially back into the competition for the No. 2 wideout spot opposite Laquon Treadwell.
"We've had two really good days from String, which is very pleasing," Freeze told The Clarion-Ledger after practice last week.
"He's big, strong, very, very difficult match up in one-on-one. If you get him in a one-on-one, the throw doesn't have to be perfect and he doesn't have to be wide open. He's just so big and physical, he'll make the catch."
Stringfellow, who sat out last season after transferring in from Washington, landed himself on the shit list in January when he got popped for disorderly conduct on the Square. He didn't do himself a ton of favors on the practice field either, showing inconsistent hands and poor route-running during the spring.
But the dude has crazy size, beastly strength and the speed to work downfield. If he can win a starting spot, it would give the Rebels two monster targets on the outside: the 6'2, 210-pound Treadwell on one end and the 6'3*, 230-pound Stringfellow on the other. As a point of reference, that's just two inches and six pounds shy of the Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery combo the Chicago Bears trotted out last season.
(*Yeah, Cody Core is also 6'3. But he doesn't have the kind of athleticism and go-up-there-and-get-that-damn-ball ability that String does.)
And while I'm not suggesting that Stringfellow is the same caliber athlete as Jeffery, I do think he can play a similar role in the Rebs' offense. When Jeffery had his breakout 2013 season in Chicago, he did so with a superstar receiver pulling coverages away (as Treadwell is bound to do) and a rifle-armed, gun-slinging quarterback feeding him the ball (as Chad Kelly will hopefully do).
Bigger receivers = more touchdowns near the goal line
That kind of size at wideout could do all kinds of good for an Ole Miss offense that ranked 12th in the SEC in red zone touchdowns and dead last in red zone scoring last season. With an interior O-line that couldn't run block and no big back to hand the ball off to, Freeze's play calling was often trepid once his guys got inside the 20.
Not that Freeze didn't use the fade pattern in the red zone ... here it is working to perfection with Treadwell.
But with no run threat up the middle and no other receiver to pull coverages to the far side of the field, it was too easy for opponents to take that play away by shading a safety over the top. By adding a similar threat on the other side of the hashmarks, however, defenses will have trouble covering both.
Here, the Bears line Marshall and Jeffery up on opposite sides of the field, with a slot receiver to further entice the coverage towards Marshall's side.
The Packers shade their safety towards Marshall and the third receiver, leaving the 6'3 Jeffery one-on-one with 6'0 Davon House. Not fair.
The average height of starting corners for the other 13 SEC teams (according to the latest depth charts) is just over 5'11, which should give String and Treadwell plenty of matchup advantages near the goal line.
Threats on the outside open up the middle
Of course, defenses could counter by putting both safeties over the top of both receivers with cover 2. But that then opens up the middle for Evan Engram, who happens to be the ultimate cover 2 killer: an athletic receiving tight end with the speed to eviscerate coverages up the seam. With both safeties sitting outside to account for Treadwell and Stringfellow, Engram would be free to scorch man coverage from linebackers and split the safeties deep.
The defense in the clip below isn't cover 2 -- Bama's playing a single-high safety on the weak side and straight man on the strong side -- but it's nevertheless an example of what happens when Engram is left manned up with no safety help over the top. The deep safety gets sucked into the route on the far side and Engram easily outruns his defender.
You're welcome, Chad
String's size and strength should also be a big help to
whichever quarterback wins the competition Chad Kelly as he adjusts to SEC football. For someone still learning schemes and coverages, there's nothing like a 6'3 safety blanket to chuck it up to when your crumbling offensive line just let a 300-pound DT shoot the gap and you're not sure of your read. And having a target with the catch radius the size of a Yukon XL cuts down on the need for that whole accuracy thing.
And did I mention Stringfellow is pretty strong? When strength coach Paul Jackson posted the top power clean maxes on Instagram back in early June, String had the third highest on the entire team, just behind hulking D-linemen Robert Nkemdiche and Fadol Brown.
Here's what that strength looks like on the field, via a beast mode touchdown for Washington back in 2013:
Of course, there's no guarantee that all of String's natural ability will ever translate to the gridiron. If he can't fix his behavioral issues off the field and his consistency issues on it, he'll sink towards the bottom of what may be one of the deepest receiver depth charts in the country. But if he can shape up and produce, he'll add a completely new -- and deadly -- dimension to the Ole Miss passing attack.