Hugh Freeze revealed the first casualty of fall camp on Thursday, noting to reporters that junior wide receiver Markell Pack sat out of practice for what could be a serious injury to a tendon in his hand.
“That’s probably the most concerning if there is one [injury] that is concerning that could be a lengthy period of time,” Freeze said, per The Rebel Walk. “That’s probably one that concerns me the most.”
Freeze didn’t elaborate on how lengthy that time might be or if Pack is in danger of missing the opener against Florida State on Sept. 5.
You never want to lose a veteran receiver on a pass-happy offense, but the truth is that Ole Miss can afford it. Even with the departures of their top two receivers from last season, Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core, the Rebs figure to have one of the deepest pass-catching corps in the SEC, if not the country. Pack, who has 45 catches for 553 yard and three scores in two seasons, has struggled to distinguish himself from that group.
The most significant mitigating factor isn’t any fault of Pack’s, however—it’s the emergence of redshirt freshman Van Jefferson, who’d already passed Pack on the depth chart as the starting slot receiver. Jefferson has flown under the radar a bit since arriving in Oxford, probably because fellow four-star Damarkus Lodge was rated higher on National Signing Day and didn’t redshirt last season. But it’s been Jefferson who’s been impressing coaches on the practice field, being named the most improved offensive player after spring camp,
“He’s the best route runner we have, as far as getting in and out of breaks, and his hands are very, very steady,” Freeze said of Jefferson during a press conference on Monday. “He’s got adequate speed to stretch the field. In tight quarters, when he gets out of a break, his separation is as good as any I’ve coached here, and that’s his gift.”
The fact that the 6’2 Jefferson is that good of a route runner is pretty damn exciting (or terrifying, if you happen to be employed as a defensive coach in the SEC). Remember that one of the biggest knocks against Treadwell and Core (6’2 and 6’3, respectively) during the NFL Draft process was their route running.
Jefferson should know what makes a good pro—his dad, Shawn, is a 13-year NFL vet who’s currently the receivers coach for the Dolphins.
“You can tell he’s been coached—of course his dad is a wide receiver coach in the NFL,” Freeze said. “But when you start watching one-on-ones and grading those one-on-ones, the guy is very difficult to guard in and out of breaks in a one-on-one situation. He understands the spacing, understands when to tone the route down, when to speed through a zone. He kind of just has a feel for it.”
So yea, it’s unfortunate that Ole Miss might lose Pack for a significant amount to time, but Jefferson’s ascendance means you probably won’t notice any drop-off in offensive production.