Although he’s coached Ole Miss in 10 games, Tuesday marked the first time a Lane Kiffin-led Ole Miss team embarked on the meandering, month-long journey that is spring practice. Maybe you heard about it, but a lot of stuff in 2020 didn’t happen, including what would’ve been Kiffin’s first opportunity to see his team in live action.
As you recall, that opportunity got pushed to August, and most of us common folk didn’t get our first look at the team until they kicked off against Florida to start the season. With things back on a more familiar schedule, we can cut our wild speculation emissions by 75 percent, as we’ll get to spend March and April getting a feel for what to expect in the 2021 season.
To get that process started, we begin with a review of what we know, kinda know, and don’t know about the 2021 Ole Miss football team.
What We Know
Right way, we know who’s coming back. On offense, Ole Miss returns:
- Our Southern California, Heisman-hype son at quarterback
- Every person with a rushing attempt in 2020, minus Elijah Moore
- Every person who caught a pass, minus Moore and Kenny Yeboah
- Every offensive lineman, minus Royce Newman
We also know that, with the departures of Moore and Yeboah, the offense must replace:
- 47.5 percent of its receptions
- 49.8 percent of its receiving yards
- 46.7 percent of its receiving touchdowns
Of course, there’s no mathematical formula that doesn’t involve Good Will Hunting math to assign a value to Moore and Yeboah’s presence on the field giving other players favorable one-on-one matchups, allowing them to produce roughly half of the returning wide receiver production. Let’s call it the very mathematical term of BIG DEAL.
While the loss of Newman at right tackle is significant because a roster like Ole Miss’ doesn’t have NFL-ready talent ready to replace NFL-ready talent, everyone else is back, which at least provides options. Having options is a far better scenario than, say, our only option being to move backup Senior Offensive Lineman X from guard to right tackle because he played it once in the 10th grade.
On the defensive side of the ball, most of the same players you likely told yourself would get better as the year went along are back. The defense returns:
- Every significant contributor, minus Ryder Anderson
- 93.5 percent of tackles made in 2020
- 84.4 percent of sacks in 2020
- 83.3 percent of quarterback hurries in 2020
- 100 percent of interceptions in 2020
- 95 percent of pass breakups in 2020
Do yourself a favor and don’t look at the total numbers because they’re 100 percent not great! There’s no need for a deep sigh when it’s March (THIS IS MARCH), the weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and we’re on our way back to licking elevator buttons in bowling alleys if bowling alleys had elevators.
However, if you are looking for a pick-me-up, Chance Campbell transferred from Maryland where he was named honorable mention All-B1G at linebacker in 2020, and Jake Springer, a Navy transfer, will play after redshirting last year. And don’t forget the Ole Miss talking point that eight defensive signees from the most recent recruiting class are going through spring practice, rather than arriving in June or on a Brent Schaeffer schedule.
Finally, one last known detail is that Kiffin decided to open the gates and let fans watch four Saturday practices, prior to the Grove Bowl on April 24th. That means you too can observe the team and use some of the following familiar words and phrases when describing what you saw:
- “Showed some flashes”
- “Really flashed”
- “Constantly flashed”
- “Flashed big time”
- “Stood out”
- “Showed some things”
- “Did some stuff”
- “Looks like a different player”
- “Grown man”
- “Locked in”
- “Future star”
- “Will push for playing time in the fall”
- “Possibly capable of dominating the dance floor at The Library”
What We Kinda Know
As mentioned above, the loss of Moore and Yeboah means a lot of receiving production needs to come from guys who didn’t do it last year. Jonathan Mingo, Dontario Drummond, and Braylon Sanders are the top returning receivers and likely the candidates to shoulder most of that load.
But as we saw the Outback Bowl win over Indiana, Kiffin and Jeff Lebby made it a point to get former quarterback sweep specialist John Rhys Plumlee involved as a receiver. One would assume he’ll be in the mix, but we don’t know how consistent he’ll be or if he goes all in on the move.
Other options include Western Kentucky transfer Jahcour Pearson and a handful of sophomore and true freshman receivers who will likely get plenty of shots at cracking the rotation. There’s also the tight end group led by BABY SWAG, who we last saw offering commentary on what a Hoosier is:
These are the players who have to produce for our passing downs god quarterback. What remains unknown is how the pecking order will take shape.
What We Don’t Know
The best way to fire off these questions is to take a deep breath, then engage “Sir, this is an Arby’s” mode.
- What’s the backup quarterback situaish? Assuming Plumlee chooses to change positions, is Kinkead Dent Corral’s backup or will true freshman Luke Altmyer (an early enrollee) make moves in spring practice?
- Will Henry Parrish Jr. continue to see his touches go up? Remember, when Ealy was injured against LSU and didn’t play against Indiana, Parrish got the large majority of touches over Snoop Conner.
- Does Jerrion Ealy’s role in the passing game expand to help replace the production lost there? Or the running backs in general? Last season, Ealy, Conner, and Parrish combined to catch 34 passes, so will that number grow in an effort to take pressure off the receivers?
- Defense: will it become just bad instead of WELL THEY TRY HARD, BOB or are we another recruiting cycle or two away from seeing any improvement?
- Will we commit to being not cowards and get our combined punts and attempted field goals below 30? Last year, we were at 37, which is over three a game. Smh.