While I await September 2nd (less than a month away) with a renewed sense of excitement for some stupid reason, I can’t help but think through some of the questions the coaches and team will seek to answer during this year’s training camp. I had just developed this uncaring attitude re: football season before Hugh Freeze “resigned.” That feeling, is, unfortunately now gone.
Obviously, the amount of shakeup on the staff doesn’t need to be rehashed, but all the changes do make for delightful uncertainty. What if Phil Longo’s offense helps Shea Patterson throw for 5,000 yards? What if, alternatively, it really sucks? Who knows?
And that’s what I live for this time of year — unbridled speculation and ridiculousness. Cue this article about things we can inevitably not know until it’s either: a) a delightful surprise or b) too late.
I’ve had some iteration of this conversation with at least 10 friends:
“But ... like, I know last year was bad, and Ole Miss could be bad again, but ... it could also maybe be good?”
“Yeah, Shea Patterson could be epic with these receivers, or he could be sacked 200 times as the running game rushes for 2.5 yards per carry ... or, like, 5 yards per carry.”
Yay! It’s August! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING TO HAPPEN?
Which injured players will really be ready to go?
Last season, Ole Miss lost its best corner, Kendarius Webster, on the first play of its opening defensive drive against FSU. It lost projected difference-maker Eric Swinney on his first carry a few minutes later. Neither would play another snap all season. Both have been practicing with the team again, but only time will really tell whether they can contribute in a meaningful way against South Alabama, who, as Mississippi State can hilariously attest, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Swinney has a perfect chance to be at least the No. 2 back on the team, but if he hasn’t really recovered from his injury, he could be pushed to the bottom of a problematic position group.
As for Webster ... well?
How does the secondary shake out?
Right now, Webster is playing safety. Myles Hartsfield, starting safety last season, is a starting corner. This could be a sign that Webster lost a good bit of speed due to injury and can’t play corner anymore, but it’s also possible that the coaches are just trying different groupings out in a secondary that couldn’t get it done last year.
Either way, I would guess that the only players set in stone are sophomore CB Jaylon Jones and junior SS Zedrick Woods. Past that, the coaches have to find the right mix to stop the back four from being a complete embarrassment
Will the offense really take away Shea Patterson’s need to read defenses?
Phil Longo’s offense asks the receivers to operate on their own a good bit and read individual coverages they see. In theory, this takes away a lot of the quarterback’s need to be able to make particular reads. But is that something we really want to see happen? I imagine Shea Patterson isn’t too keen on being unable to read a defense when he enters the NFL. Still, with the receiver talent this team has, I’m all for whatever gets the ball in the hands of someone like AJ Brown or DK Metcalf.
What will happen at linebacker?
It almost certainly couldn’t get any worse. I need not remind you what happened last year at this position.
With the suspension of Dietrich Bing-Dukes, freshman Donta Evans is all of a sudden listed as a starter in the middle. Demarquis Gates is slated for the other starting job. How newcomers Brenden Williams and Mohamed Sanogo factor in is anyone’s guess, but both should get at least a chance to compete for the job.
Tayler Polk also plays linebacker.
Is DE Qaadir Sheppard really ready to start?
Sheppard transferred to Ole Miss after a true freshman season saw him earn playing time at Syracuse. He’s 6’3, 240 lbs. and had a strong Grove Bowl. But what does that even mean? He wasn’t particularly disruptive in his stints at Syracuse. Now he’s a starter? I’m hopeful, but this position is anything but nailed down.
Taken together, and with the immediacy of a pre-fall camp very much in flux, and with the extreme newness of a shaken-up coaching staff, and with the return of some much needed faces, and with the one-more-year development of the offense around Patterson, training camp this year in Oxford is the best show in college football.