Late Monday, the Ole Miss athletics department released official game notes for this weekend’s season opener against Troy, including the first “official” depth chart, along with a list of key players on offense, defense, and special teams.
The word of the day is certainly “OR” as the starters at several positions were not clear just yet. This is nothing new for the Kiffin regime, but obviously fans are desperate to know who will be starting under center. No one knows!
What follows is a shotgun blast of bullet points detailing our observations, reactions, likely overreactions, and blazing hot taeks on these lists. Buckle up!
- The quarterback battle between Luke Altmyer, Jaxson Dart, and (to some extent) Kinkead Dent has been at the forefront of pretty much every piece of Ole Miss football coverage since Dart officially joined the team in January. While reports have suggested Dart has perhaps distanced himself in recent practices, he is coupled to Altmyer on the depth chart with a capital, italicized -OR-... something we’ll see quite a bit of all season. And for what it’s worth, Altmyer is listed first on both the depth chart and the “key players” sheet… though he is both a returning letterman, and ahead of Dart alphabetically.
- On the key players sheet, five offensive linemen are listed, led by Jayden Williams, the redshirt freshman from Arkansas who has taken nearly every snap at first team left tackle since the Rebels’ first fall scrimmage on August 13. The media guide says Williams “Had an outstanding fall camp to earn starting position…” However, on the depth chart, Jeremy James is listed as the starting left tackle, backed up by Williams; Western Kentucky transfer Mason Brooks is listed as the first team right tackle. In recent practices, Brooks has worked mostly with the second team at right tackle and right guard. Why the discrepancy between the key player sheet and the depth chart?
- In addition to Altmyer, Dart, and the five starting offensive linemen (Williams, Nick Broeker, Caleb Warren, Eli Acker, and Jeremy James), the offensive players on the key player sheet are running backs Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley IV, receivers Jonathan Mingo and Jaylon Robinson, and tight end Michael Trigg. Kicker Jonathan Cruz is also listed along with the offensive players.
- Back to the depth chart: among the wide receiver positions, Mingo is listed as a starter, with Dannis Jackson -OR- Dayton Wade backing him up. Wade, a non-scholarship transfer from Western Kentucky, picked up some fans last week after appearing in a post practice media session, where he spoke glowingly of Oxford and Ole Miss, and candidly discussed the personal journey that led him here.
- The other two receiver positions are manned by: Miss. State transfer Malik Heath -OR- Louisville transfer Jordan Watkins -OR- Mizzou transfer Jalen Knox; and by UCF transfer Jaylon Robinson -OR- JJ Henry -OR- Qua Davis. Two immediate observations: it’s interesting to see Qua Davis – a 2021 junior college signee who did not log a catch last season – listed with the -OR- designation alongside Robinson and Henry, both of whom are expected to play major roles. It’s also curious to note the absence of Bralon Brown, a former 4-star 2021 signee who at one time looked like a star in the making. The depth of the wide receiver room has been a major talking point this offseason, so Brown and fellow 2021 signee Brandon Buckhaulter could well make their way into the rotation at some point.
- Junior tight end Casey Kelly is listed as a co-starter alongside Michael Trigg, though he does not appear on the key player sheet. I’ll be paying very close attention Saturday to how both Kelly and Trigg are utilized, but it is encouraging to see Trigg listed as a co-starter and a featured player, following some early concerns that he wasn’t standing out in camp quite as much as anticipated.
- The running backs listed on the depth chart are Evans, Bentley, and freshman phenom Quinshon Judkins; not listed is the lone returning rusher from 2021, Kentrel Bullock. Does that suggest more of a three man rotation at running back, with Bullock on the outside looking in? Or do depth charts with four or more players per slot just look stupid?
- The key players listed on defense are linemen Cedric Johnson, KD Hill, JJ Pegues, and Tavious Robinson, linebackers Austin Keys and Troy Brown, safeties Otis Reese, Tysheem Johnson, Isheem Young, and AJ Finley, cornerbacks Deantre Prince and Miles Battle, and punter Fraser Masin.
- On the depth chart: along the defensive line, Johnson and Pegues are listed as starters at DE and DT, backed up by Demon Clowney -OR- Brandon Mack and Jamond Gordon -OR- Tywone Malone, respectively. However, Hill is listed as a co-starter at NT with Isaiah Iton, and Tavious Robinson shares his starting end position with Georgia Tech transfer Jared Ivey.
- Both linebackers listed on the key player sheet also bear the -OR- designations alongside their starting positions; Keys sharing with TCU transfer Khari Coleman, and Brown sharing with senior and longtime reserve Ashanti Cistrunk.
- One would assume that with the Rebels’ depth at defensive back, there will be a ton of substituting… but at the same time, it will be hard to pull any of the six DBs listed on the key player sheet off the field for too long. Still, the second team corners listed on the depth chart are Markevious Brown and freshman Davison Igbinosun (who shares an -OR- with Miles Battle), while backing up Isheem Young, AJ Finley, Otis Reese, and Tysheem Johnson at safety are Trey Washington, Vandy transfer Dashaun Jerkins, MJ Daniels, and Ladarious Tennison.
- I was somewhat surprised to see Fraser Masin listed as the starting punter. Late pickup Charlie Pollock is still listed on the roster, but Kiffin’s comments at the time Pollock joined the team seemed to indicate Ole Miss was in a really tough spot at punter, with Masin out with injury.
So naturally, now that I’ve spent an hour of my life analyzing these game notes with a fine toothed comb, Lane Kiffin is going to throw most of this out the window Saturday and do what he does best: score points and thumb his nose at the media.