Five More to Watch, again in random order.
C.J. Johnson: Johnson’s move to middle linebacker is really interesting. The Rebels need help there, and he gives them an experienced playmaker to replace D.T. Shackelford.
They need a solid starter because the guys behind Johnson on the depth chart right now, Christian Russell and Temario Strong, have not distinguished themselves.
Johnson played linebacker at Philadelphia High School where he became the state’s top recruit, but that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
When healthy Johnson’s numbers have been good, but they don’t take your breath away. He has been consistent and has played well in big games.
What he really brings, though, is a personality that says “Follow me.” Teammates respond to C.J. Johnson.
There is so much talent ahead of the linebackers and behind them that it’s OK if Johnson isn’t an All-American.
I don’t think C.J. Johnson will be an All-American, but I think he’ll be a dependable asset in the middle.
Aaron Morris: There are five starters returning on the offensive line. That’s usually a good thing, but beyond Laremy Tunsil it was quite an average Ole Miss offensive line a year ago.
The run game wasn’t consistent, but pressure against the quarterback was.
Tunsil has allowed only two sacks in two years which means the other starters and occasional reserves were responsible for most of the 2.38 sacks allowed per game, a figure that ranked 12th in the SEC and 85th in America.
Right now Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze gets pumped up when he talks about Morris even though Morris is coming off his second ACL surgery. Freeze says Morris was in poor condition last year after his first rehab and carried around 345 pounds most of the year.
According to Freeze Morris has slimmed down in his second rehab, and the media guide lists him at a more nimble 313 pounds.
If extra weight was truly Morris’ only issue last year he should be in much better shape to utilize the experience of a fifth-year senior.
If he doesn’t there could be a mid-year transition between Morris and freshman Javon Patterson.
Damre’ea Stringfellow: The Washington transfer sat out last season, and there was a lot of anticipation for him in spring ball.
He was a big part of the Huskies as a freshman with 20 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown and starts in the last three games.
But in the spring Freeze said he needed to see more consistency from Stringfellow.
There’s no question that Laquon Treadwell is the leader of this pack, but Stringfellow (6-2, 220) has similar physical numbers.
If reduces his drops and finds the consistency his coach says he needs he’ll be a big part of group that can be explosive beyond Treadwell.
DJ Jones: There has been a lot of talk about redshirt freshman defensive tackle Breeland Speaks and rightfully so.
That extra awareness may come from fans who followed his recruiting. He was a big-pick-up for Ole Miss.
So was Jones, a mid-year juco transfer from East Mississippi.
Jones has enviable quickness for a guy carrying 324 pounds. And he’s not just quick. NFL.com. Calls him the 14h-strongest player in college football.
With a lot of experience and talent ahead of him it will be easy to overlook Jones, but remember this guy and expect him to make some plays.
Gary Wunderlich: If Ole Miss fans are honest with themselves many didn’t think a 23-17 lead against Alabama would hold up in the final seconds after Wunderlich and Andrew Fletcher both missed a PAT – Fletcher after a penalty gave Ole Miss a second chance – that would have given the Rebels a complete seven-point lead against the Tide.
Maybe Wunderlich, a freshman then, would have been a little more seasoned had he been playing more by that fifth week. Instead, he and Fletcher were doing the long-guy, short-guy thing.
Wunderlich has more experience and therefore could be more settled as the place kicker this season, especially if he has a confidence-building August camp.
He was 6-for-8 on field goals last year with a long of 47. His only misses were from 50-plus.