As the Rebels begin their last week of spring drills this afternoon, a quick look at what they’ve gotten accomplished in various areas.
Quarterback: A lot more has gotten accomplished than has been let on. You can ask the starter question, but there won’t be an answer before a few weeks out from the Sept. 5 opener against Tennessee. (The Martin campus.)
Most of practice has been on lock down, but I’ve seen enough of Chad Kelly to see accuracy and to confirm the strong arm that I’d heard about.
Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade were solid in a recent scrimmage.
If all things are equal in the middle of August Kelly becomes the starter. If Buchanan or Kincade are going to win the job they’re going to have to be much better than Kelly, not only as good as.
If all things are equal that’s where time in the program could work against Buchanan and Kincade.
During recruiting Freeze believed he needed to bring in a juco quarterback. The fact that neither of the third-year sophomores were able to really impress Freeze in practice or in games the last couple of years may make him inclined to go with fresh and new if the competition is equal.
I don’t think it will be equal. I think Kelly will win the job outright, but I haven’t seen enough of practice to say that right now.
Offensive Line: There’s a lot of fresh and new here. Freshman Javon Patterson has gotten a lot of reps, and that’s going to put him in position to help quicker than Laremy Tunsil did in his first year. Tunsil made his first start at Texas in the third game of his freshman year.
There will be a bit of unknown at one guard spot with Aaron Morris coming back from ACL surgery.
Jordan Sims and Jeremy Liggins are interesting names to watch here.
Sims was a four-star prospect out of Birmingham, and, according to Freeze, is a new man after losing 60 pounds. They need to get him in one of those before and after photo shoots. They rave about his footwork. Big guys with mobility typically play.
Speaking of footwork, Liggins has displayed his at left tackle. If he’s truly going to be Tunsil’s backup this year there probably won’t be the opportunity for a lot of playing time. There will be some, however, if they are serious about Liggins as a possible replacement for Tunsil next year, and Liggins wouldn’t be lining up there right now if they weren’t serious.
They have a chance to replace one outstanding athlete at tackle with another.
Defensive Back: The fact that Freeze and Dave Wommack were willing to move Mike Hilton out of a starting corner spot before spring began speaks volumes for what they think of juco transfer Tony Bridges and of Tee Shepard, a juco transfer one year removed.
If those guys cover their coaches think they will a lot of possibilities open up on the back end.
Hilton is out with a broken thumb right now, but he’ll transition easily to Rover.
There’s a lot of young an unproven talent behind experienced starters. Those back-end starters like Hilton and Trae Elston are among the reasons for optimism for this defense, but those young guys need to transition into contributing roles.
Freeze had high praise for sophomore C.J. Hampton last week. The Moore twins are back there, and so is veteran Chief Brown.
Running Back: Just like last year this is a crowded position but with different names since I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson transferred out.
Jaylen Walton is clearly the starter, but Akeem Judd (6-0, 220) is the biggest back Freeze has had at Ole Miss, and it will be interesting to see what that means. The Rebels need a guy who breaks tackles and can enhance the short-yardage offense.
Freeze has described Judd as a guy who can do everything the offense requires, not just a situational player. The key in trying to get a read on Judd will be pass protection.
Jordan Wilkins, who has missed a lot of spring, is listed at 209 pounds. When you can throw a touchdown pass, as Wilkins did in the Egg Bowl, you can endear yourself to you coaches.
Eugene Brazley had fewer carries than others last year but looked good with them. He’s a little heavier version of Walton and looks good on a jump cut.
The wild card is the in-coming freshman, Eric Swinney. Freeze gushed about this guy on signing day talking about vision, balance and a number of other factors he believes will make Swinney a great back.
That’s five names. There won’t be enough carries for everyone.