Matt Luke addressed the media today for his spring football press conference. It was your usual “we’re looking for folks to step up and be leaders” type deal, but there has been some movement here and there, on the roster, a few injuries, and even a few position changes.
In case you want to watch the entire press conference, we got you fam.
But for now, we are just going to take a look at each position and discuss how things stand as of now, the 27th of February.
Jordan Ta’amu a.k.a. The Throwin’ Samoan (EDITED), is the starter, no doubt. He tossed for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns. And he even scampered for four more scores on the ground. Behind him, you’ve got the four-star signee, Matt Corral, and backup Alex Faniel fighting for second team reps.
You know what you got from Ta’amu so this Spring is certainly going to be about who will take ownership of second string. Faniel has yet to play a down for the Rebels so one would think that it’s Corral’s spot to lose.
Gone is Jordan Wilkins. The future pro ran for 1,011 yards (first 1,000+ yard rusher since Dexter McCluster in 2009) and nine touchdowns. Who will replace him is arguably the No. 1 question this spring. The JUCO All-American and No. 2 junior college running back in the country is the favorite, but Luke mentioned that he will be dealing with a bit of a nagging injury at the start of spring practice.
Behind Phillips will be returners D’Vaughn Pennamon, D.K. Buford, and Eric Swinney. Isaiah Woullard is off the grayshirt scholarship and ready to compete as well. The biggest question marks for those listed above is will be Swinney be back to his old self and can Woullard actually provide quality depth. Pennamon is still a question mark after his injury against Texas A&M last season.
The wild card is former safety Armani Linton. He played running back in high school and is terrific athlete. The 6’2, 218-pounder has the frame and speed (4.56) to provide quality but can he learn the terminology, playbook, and blocking schemes to keep Ta’amu upright? That’s the question.
Jacob Peeler has three bonafide All-SEC, All-American candidates in A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, and D.K. Metcalf. After that, sophomore Braylon Sanders appears poised for a breakout year after coming on last season and essentially taking over for the now-departed Van Jefferson. And signee DeMarcus Gregory (6’1, 209-pounds) looks like a Damore’ea Stringfellow clone.
The Big 3 snagged 155 catches for 2,596 yards and 25 touchdowns. After that, the ball will be spread around to Sanders, Gregory, and fellow newcomers Elijah Moore and Miles Battle. This is a big year for those three because Ole Miss could lose the Big 3 after 2018.
Dawson Knox is back, but won’t be participating in spring practice due to injury. He is the main attraction, no doubt, but behind him is a bevy of options. Octavious Cooley, Jason Pellerin, Michael Howard, Jacob Mathis, Gabe Angel, and Nick Haynes will all be waiting in line to be Fort Knox’s backup.
Despite some early struggles, this was one of the better groups in 2017. They helped pave the way for Wilkins’ banner year and kept Ta’amu clean in the homestretch of the SEC slate. All-SEC left tackle Greg Little is back, as well as Alex Givens, Javon Patterson, and Sean Rawlings.
Jordan Sims is also back, along with Ben Brown, Tony Gray, Bryce Mathews, Royce Newman, and Chandler Tuitt. Eli Johnson is also back but he will be held out due to injury. Rod Taylor is gone but that’s good because now no one will try to be entered into the next Rough N’ Rowdy.
The all-time sacks leader Marquis Haynes is gone, so is Breeland Speaks. They combined to collect 115 tackles and half of the Rebels’ sack total last season. But returning are contributors Victor Evans, Qaadir Shepard (out for spring), Markel Winters, and Ryder Anderson. Former linebacker Brenden Williams has been moved to Freddie Roach’s room and should provide depth with his athleticism IF he can learn the playbook.
Freshman All-American Benito Jones is back. Also back is Twitter hero and rising star Josiah Coatney. The Keyboard Killer had 65 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season and should be even better in 2018. Austrian Robinson, Ross Donelly, and Sincere Davis also return and should be healthy backups for Jones and Coatney.
Signees Noah Jefferson and Hal Northern should play immediately. And if James Williams makes it to Oxford instead of Jones County, he could add significant depth with his 6’5, 285-pound frame.
Enormous question No. 2 for Spring is who will replace Demarquis Gates and his 114 tackles. In line to do so will Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler. Behind them, returning bodies Josh Clarke, Donta Evans, Zikerrion Baker, and Mohamed Sanogo will be salivating to be the next star for Jon Sumrall.
Good news is they won’t be alone. Signees Jacquez Jones, Jonathan Hess, Luke Knox, and Kevontae’ Ruggs will all be ready to make their case. But it won’t be until the Fall.
Ken Webster, Javien Hamilton, Myles Hartsfield, D.D. Bowie, and Montrell Custis will be back and ready to roam the third level. Hartsfield and Webster are the known commodities back there (71 total tackles) and they will have plenty of company in the Fall when Keidron Smith and JaKorey Hawkins make it to Oxford.
At safety, Zedrick Woods (64 tackles), C.J. Moore (51 tackles, three interceptions), Jaylon Jones, Cam Ordway, and C.J. Miller (out for spring) are back. JUCO All-American signee Vernon Dasher will technically be a safety but will be an outside linebacker hybrid. His 6’1, 200-pound frame will be a nice thing to see at the Star position. Cam “With a C” White will report in the Fall.
And the last on the list of all-timers is Gary Wunderlich, the Rebels’ all-time leading scorer, is gone now. But, Aussie Will Gleeson is back and should handle punting and holding duties. Luke Logan does return and could be in line to replace Gary. Jaylon Jones should be handling kickoff return duties after he averaged 25 yards per return in 2017 and newcomer Tylan Knight, the reigning 6A Player of the Year in the Magnolia State, was a weapon for Pearl in the punt return game and once he gets to campus in the Fall could steal a spot.