Ole Miss kicked off Spring football on Tuesday, with Lane Kiffin making a brief appearance in front of the press afterwards. Since actual practice was closed to the media, and since Kiffin is a master at side-stepping the “talk about…” questions the Sprivals writers tend to lob his way, we don’t really have a lot of information to go on right now, aside from a few quick videos released by the official Ole Miss football Twitter account. Based on those videos, Ole Miss will win the national title, at minimum, in 2023.
In the absence of actual news from practices, we have seen reports that former four-star wide receiver Bralon Brown has officially exited the transfer portal. With only one career catch in two seasons of action, Brown is hardly set up to be a shoo-in contributor this season, but there is cause for optimism. First, the competition to man the outside receiver spots should be wide open, with transfer portal acquisitions Tre Harris and Chris Marshall both learning a new system, and with no other experienced wide receivers on the roster besides slot players Jordan Watkins and Dayton Wade, Brown will have a lot more opportunities to work his way into the rotation. Plus, Brown clearly has some physical tools; in addition to his four-star pedigree, he’s made several highlight catches captured on video in Ole Miss practices.
In other decidedly good news, Lane Kiffin did confirm that Oklahoma State quarterback transfer Spencer Sanders was throwing the ball in practice Tuesday, after being limited in pre-Spring workouts. There was some concern (at least on my part) that Sanders was going to end up being a non-factor in Spring ball due to injury, a development that would have put Lane Kiffin in a really odd position. If he brought in Sanders to push Jaxson Dart and compete for the starting job, what happens if that competition is put on hold until Fall camp?
With the actual news out of the way, let’s get back to the blind speculation! Here is my list of five Ole Miss returners who have an opportunity to step up and make a bigger impact in 2023.
- Ulysses Bentley IV: After transferring in from SMU last offseason, Bentley had a great Spring, and really flashed as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield, providing a different running style than Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans. However, his 2022 season was marred both by injury, and by being stuck behind the best 1-2 combo of running backs Ole Miss has ever had. This season, the quick-footed Bentley will get to work under a new running backs coach in Kevin Smith, and will be the unquestioned backup to Judkins, who really, really needs some depth behind him. Ideally, Bentley will get at least 10-15 touches per game in 2023. If he makes the most of them, it will go a long way towards boosting the offense’s productivity when Judkins is on the sidelines.
- Michael Trigg: Speaking of Ole Miss players who had a strong Spring football camp in 2022, Michael Trigg absolutely dominated the Grove Bowl, and had us thinking he might lead the team in receptions for the 2022 season. Well, somewhere things got woefully off track for Trigg, who logged 17 receptions in 7 games played at tight end last year. The ridiculously athletic USC transfer flashed his potential at times, but more often looked lost, as if the speed of the game and a new offensive system was just too much. Ole Miss brought in Memphis tight end Caden Prieskorn, whose experience and production make him a likely day-one starter. Counterintuitively, the addition of Prieskorn might actually open up some opportunities for Trigg. With Prieskorn filling the role of an every-down, in-line tight end, Trigg could be used in a more specialized role, or a more limited set of packages. With the pressure of being THE guy at tight end removed, maybe Trigg balls out in 2023.
- Tywone Malone: Malone arrived at Ole Miss two years ago as the crown jewel of the class, a scary-quick 300-pounder and top 100 recruit. However, through two seasons Malone has logged just 13 tackles in 14 games of action. Malone’s slow start could be blamed on a lot of factors, but the 3-2-6 defense might have been the most detrimental to his development. The formation calls for a true nose guard, and two larger defensive ends, while Malone seems to be more of a nimble defensive tackle. Without a good schematic fit, Tywone played mostly at defensive end, where he wasn’t super effective coming off the edge. Now, he looks to be a key part of a four-man rotation at two defensive tackle spots, playing alongside JJ Pegues, Zxavian Harris, and NC State transfer Joshua Harris.
- Trip White: A starting quarterback and starting defender for Parkview High School in Arkansas, White was recruited to Ole Miss as a rangy linebacker. Listed at 6’4 and 205 lbs, White definitely needs to add some weight, but with his quickness and athleticism, has the potential to add a dimension to the linebacker group that it otherwise lacks. White looked good and racked up several tackles in early season action against Central Arkansas and Georgia Tech, but was mostly shut down for the rest of the season to preserve his redshirt. White’s biggest obstacles to getting on the field this year will be four players with a ton of experience in Khari Coleman, Ashanti Cistrunk, UCF transfer Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, and Louisville transfer Monty Montgomery. Also joining the team this summer will be five-star all-everything linebacker Suntarine Perkins. If White wants to make a move up the depth chart, now might be the time.
- Taylor Groves: A redshirt freshman safety from East Robertson HS in Tennessee, Groves was a four-star recruit that has flown under the radar due to the depth and experience Ole Miss had ahead of him at safety. Well, a huge chunk of that depth and experience is gone. Further, the only three safeties with any experience (Isheem Young, Ladarius Tennison, and Trey Washington) all appear to be better playing close to the line of scrimmage. With the departure of AJ Finley, Ole Miss needs someone who can play as a high safety, and Groves looks like he might have that skill set. Listed at 6’2 and 195 lbs, Groves logged several interceptions in high school and also starred at wide receiver. Ole Miss might try Young and/or Washington at the free safety spot, and might even move Miami (OH) cornerback John Saunders over to safety, but Groves has a chance to make some moves this Spring.