After Spring: Quarterbacks

Well, if you were looking for a starter to emerge from the Grove Bowl you left disappointed.

But at least you got a leader.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told us Ryan Buchanan was at the top – by an ever so small margin – in the three-way race with juco transfer Chad Kelly and DeVante Kincade, a fellow third-year sophomore, to become the Rebels’ starter.

However, Freeze told us, that was the way he felt through 14 practices leading up to the Grove Bowl. He might feel differently after reviewing Grove Bowl video.

Honestly, I don’t think the Grove Bowl told Freeze anything he didn’t already know about his quarterbacks.

It told me a little bit, but for the most part it didn’t shape any opinions I had going into the game.

I knew Kelly could throw a nice deep ball, and he did that with the touchdowns to Taz Zettergren.

I knew Kincade could make plays with his feet, and he did.

What did surprise me a little bit was Buchanan’s foot work and his ability to spin away from pressure. A starting quarterback doesn’t have to be a dual threat guy all the time, but you don’t want him to be a stiff. Buchanan looked much unlike the latter.

Going just with the numbers Buchanan was the most inaccurate of the three in the scrimmage completing just 5-for-16. There were a number of drops in there. I counted four drops from Evan Engram, balls that he got his hands on and could have made a play.

Kelly was 9-for-19, Kincade 9-for-18. Kincade missed a couple of wide open downfield throws. Freeze referenced those throws in his postgame without mentioning Kincade.

So spring has come and gone, and Freeze knows more about his quarterbacks but is no closer to naming a starter than before. That’s by design. Competition keeps guys motivated.

My guess is the Kelly is ultimately the starter. I think arm strength and mobility get him there. He may not start the opener against Tennessee (the Martin campus), I think that’s how it ends up.

It was interesting to hear Dan Werner Saturday. He said the staff has charted every throw by every quarterback. That’s not surprising. To hear him say, however, that very recently in spring all three were right at 66 percent for the totality of work raised an eyebrow.

You have to peel back the layers there I reckon. Charting every throw means a lot of those throws came in skeleton drills. I’d like to hear the numbers on throws against the No. 1 and No. 2 defense. Plus, the way Werner said it implied that one or two had fallen off the pace lately. I wonder if more live work against those top two units had taken place recently.

I’m thinking Kincade is third in the race, but clearly his athleticism is an asset.

There are a lot of reasons for Freeze not to name a starter right now. First is the fact that an on-going competition keeps players motivated.

Second is that it’s not good thinking to take any player and anoint him “the man” with only a mythical competition. That’s especially true when one of the competitors has a history of making poor decisions.

That approach would not be good for Kelly, but I think Freeze also wants to be as fair as possible to Buchanan and Kincade.

Maybe Buchanan hangs on and wins the job.

If so, it’s likely harder to keep Kelly focused and engaged, but Freeze understands the risk, and, I think, would also understand that it would not be in the team’s best interest to name a starter he had evaluated to be less than his best.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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