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DaMarkus Lodge is ready to prove a point this year

The former four-star will shine in 2017.

NCAA Football: Tennessee-Martin at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Upon arrival in Oxford, the now junior wide receiver was the bell cow for Ole Miss’ 2015 signing class. He was the No. 44 overall recruit in the country and the No. 7 wide receiver in the country. The Cedar Hill, Tex. native had a monster prep career for the Longhorns, catching 141 passes in three varsity years and totaling 2,532 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns. In case you need a refresher, here’s a nice highlight video.

Essentially what I’m getting at is that Lodge was a phenomenal get for Ole Miss and he was expected to follow the lineage of Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell as the No. 1 target in the Velvet Ditch.

But, things didn’t exactly matriculate according to plan.

In 2015, the Under Armour All-American played in eight games and caught one pass. And it was for a touchdown. The following year, he played in 11 games, caught 15 passes and recorded two touchdowns. Not exactly the stat line for a top 50 player, right? Well, according to DaMarkus, everything is a lot more fun now that he has a chance to catch more than 15 passes in a season.

The 6’2, 200-pounder spoke with the Clarion-Ledger’s Antonio Morales about having fun and he seems poised to have a big year.

"When you start touching the ball, you get happier," Lodge told Morales. "I've been having a lot more fun."

Lodge didn’t redshirt his freshman year and he has admitted as much that he probably should have.

"It's frustrating for anyone who would have to sit back and wait," Lodge said. "But at the end of the day it was a learning experience. ... (there) were great guys in front of me that I learned from."

So now that the learning part has come and gone and the opportunity has finally arrived for him to grab the proverbial bull by the horns, it’s time for DaMarkus to be that top 10 receiver. He will be. And here’s why.

Lodge is a hybrid who will be dangerous in Longo Ball.

The name of the game for receivers is simple: Get. Open. And Phil Longo’s offense is something that Lodge can thrive in because of his skill set. He is a 6’2 dude who is long, 200-pounds and can really run. All things that are pluses when trying to get touches in Longo’s new offense triggered by Shea Patterson.

Lodge will also benefit from being put in different places all over the field. Upon arrival, most (myself included) thought Lodge would be an outside receiver who would be a deep threat and someone that Ole Miss could rely on to make that clutch catch on a comeback route on 3rd and long. But, he is much more than that. He can be a weapon in the slot and on the outside because of his route running and hands.

With teammates A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf lining up on the outside, Longo has the luxury of sliding Lodge inside and letting him win one-on-one matchups against linebackers and safeties because of his precision with his feet and length. He is a target for Patterson who will be able to “chase space” and accelerate and separate away from slower defenders who will try to keep up with Lodge when he is lined up on the interior.

Oh, he can still be a deep threat don’t worry.

Don’t let the crowded receivers room fool you, DaMarkus can still be that guy on the outside. If anything, we got a glimpse of this last year in several games. So what better way to start this trip down memory lane than looking at the shellacking of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Here we can see Lodge get vertical against the defensive back and shield him away from the pass and secure the football for six points. He is a deceptively thick individual who is tipping the scales at 200-pounds now and will be tough for defensive backs to handle. And if things get hairy in a crowd, he still has the leaping ability and hands to make a play.

Not only can he get over the top of the defense and make a play, he isn’t shy at all to go over the middle and fight for position and make a catch. This is what is going to get him more touches. Toughness over the middle in the red zone. Patterson will look for him much more with Brown and Metcalf garnering a lot of attention.

He now takes pride in his blocking. Sound familiar?

The receptions and the touchdowns are what show up in the box scores. But, what is really going to take Lodge’s game to the next level will be his unselfishness to help the run game get better. Hell, he’s taking so much pride in his blocking now, he’s asking head coach Matt Luke if he can participate in drills with the offensive linemen.

"He asked me if he could go on board drill today, which is strange for a receiver," Luke said. "But he's just got a good look about him right now. I love the way that he's carrying himself and he's having a very, very good camp."

If this sounds familiar it’s because former Rebel receivers Donte Moncrief, Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow all bought in and really started to focus on their downfield blocking. Thus giving them a more well-rounded look to scouts and helping them land on a NFL roster.

Here’s another refresher on how that went for opponents when they focused on blocking:

He needs to do everything in his power to show NFL scouts that he is a complete wide receiver in order to get a positive draft grade and improving your blocking is something that will definitely set you apart. Not only will making plays downfield earn Lodge respect, but putting your body on the line to willingly make blocks on run plays will get the attention of his teammates and more importantly, Phil Longo. He’s already taking notice.

"You're getting more of an instinctive receiver,” Longo said. “Man, when he can play without thinking, he's really good.”

2017 may not present Lodge and his teammates the opportunity for a championship in Atlanta or postseason play, but he’s already having fun despite all the distractions. And we all know what that means.