Looking ahead to bowl practice and the spring.
Fourth in a series …
In some ways this position resembled the offensive line in August came. There was one elite player and then head coach Hugh Freeze calling on others to step up.
That elite player – LaquonTreadwell – was very, very good. The strength of this group overall going into spring drills depends on how he returns from a broken fibula and dislocated ankle.
If there are no complications and Treadwell is full strength he’s as good as there is in the country.
Prior to the start of this season the question was who would help him when defenses made stopping him a priority.
Freeze at times in camp appeared frustrated with his slot receivers, calling one someone to step up.
Junior Cody Core, seldom used previously in his career, became that guy, beating out a four-star recruit, sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, in the process.
Adeboyejo got better too. And Vince Sanders did his thing, which was to provide consistency and effort.
Before a hit out of bounds against Mississippi State in the second quarter of the Egg Bowl ended his career, Sanders had become the team’s leader in yards per catch and tied Core for receiving touchdowns with six.
Moving forward this is an interesting position with great potential.
So much of what this group can be hinges on a full return from Treadwell. He’s a take-over-a-game type of player. When the ball’s in the air, he’s going to be the most physical player most of the time. When he gets a clip screen he’s got make-you-miss ability and is always just one missed tackle from a big play.
Don’t sleep on the absence of Sanders either. He’s not as big as Treadwell, not as fast, but the effort and consistency he brought to the position are intangibles that at this point you just don’t know will be replaced by the young guys coming up.
The problem facing Ole Miss receivers in the immediate future, the Peach Bowl, is that they have neither Treadwell nor Sanders and most of the exciting possibilities for 2015 are still being redshirted right now.
There are young guys coming up, however, and lots of them.
The most talked-about in the off-season was Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow. Physically, at 6-3, 229, he’s a clone of Treadwell, who is listed at 6-2, 229.
He had 20 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown at Washington as a freshman. His appeal for immediate eligibility was denied in late August, and he sat out this season. Practice access being what it is, we didn’t see much of Stringfellow in action. He certainly looks the part.
Freeze redshirted two of his 2014 signees and raved about both of them at different times. He began camp by touting Jackson native Dayall Harris, who was listed at a slim 185 pounds on his 6-3 frame when he arrived. Harris never really challenged for playing time this season, but Sammie Epps did – until an arrest bumped him down the depth chart.
Epps had been running second team at slot receiver at the time. He signed as a tight end, and at 6-6 and 215 can create matchup problems for other teams.
Freeze liked the consistency he saw from Harris in camp, and Harris will no doubt benefit from a year of strength training.
Markell Pack was considered the leader of last year’s three signees and played a role on this year’s team. He’s got 10 catches for 118 yards right now, and not all of them have been easy.
There was no need for Pack to be targeted much when Treadwell and Sanders were around. Now they’re not, and that makes Pack a wild card of sorts for the Peach Bowl. He’s a guy who’s off the radar right now but could jump up and have a big game.
Clearly when Sanders went out against MSU, tight end Evan Engram became No. 1 option. He has wide receiver skills and is a tight end in name only.
The point is, there’s very little depth to as the Rebels prepare for TCU. Expect Pack to be a bigger part of the plan for the Peach Bowl, and an even bigger part of the plan for 2015.
So confident in their talent on campus are Freeze and his staff that wide receiver hasn’t been a top priority for the 2016 signing class.
There’s only one commit right now, and Sardis athlete Willie Hibbler (6-6, 224), like Engram, can play tight end or receiver.