Spring drills get under way this week. Here’s a look at the offense. Will preview the defense tomorrow.
Who’s Back: Chad Kelly, Jason Pellerin, Drew Davis, Shea Patterson.
Who’s Not: Ryan Buchanan, DeVante Kincade.
Experience: It’s only Kelly. Pellerin was redshirted last year as a true freshman. Davis is a walk-on. Patterson is a signee who has enrolled early.
Kelly was second-team All-SEC last year and finished the season with 4,042 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He rushed for another 500 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Spring Blooms: The biggest thing Kelly needs to achieve in spring is to not get hurt. He needs to develop chemistry and trust behind his offensive line, but the most important piece there isn’t in school right now. Five-star signee Greg Little was recruited to be Laremy Tunsil’s replacement and will start right away if he proves he can quickly adapt to the college game.
The spring experience will be huge for Patterson, another five-star. Patterson could find himself as the starter in 2016 if an emergency develops.
Patterson, though, still has to beat out Pellerin, a talented 6-foot-4, 229-pound athlete.
Spring is a big success if: Kelly walks off the field after the final scrimmage and says, “I feel great.” Hugh Freeze and Dan Werner also want to get strong reads on Pellerin and Patterson. They may be less inclined – if they ever were — to consider a position change for Pellerin after the recent departures of Kincade and Buchanan.
Who’s Back: Tyler Putman, Jordan Sims, Michael Howard, Javon Patterson, Talbot Buys, Sam Johnson, Sean Rawling, Daronte Bouldin, Robert Conyers, Alex Givens, Rod Taylor.
Who’s Not: Aaron Morris, Justin Bell, Fahn Cooper, Ben Still, Laremy Tunsil.
Experience: Conyers, a redshirt senior, gained a lot at both tackle and center over the last two years but is coming off ACL surgery. He’ll miss spring. Patterson was rated the national No. 52 player by 247Sports composite in the Class of 2015. He started four games, tried to play through an ankle injury, but was a reserve at the end of the year. Sims had a great spring last year, continued his improvement and started the last five games at right guard. Taylor has great athleticism but was never fully healthy in 2015.
Spring Blooms: This will be an important time for redshirt freshmen tackles Michael Howard and Alex Givens to impress, especially before freshman Greg Little, a five-star signee, arrives.
Spring is a big success if: Ole Miss can find a center and left tackle that Hugh Freeze trusts. Little is expected to start at left tackle, but that assumes he can grasp the mental increase at the college level to go along with his immense talent. Taylor and Patterson need to stay healthy and prove they can consistently play up to their recruiting coverage.
Who’s Back: Wide Receivers – Van Jefferson, Will Easter, Cale Luke, Derrick Jones, Jordan Gallegos, Markell Pack, Trey Bledsoe, Damore’ea Stringfellow, Damarkus Lodge, Brandon Bell, Quincy Adeboyejo, Alex Weber. Tight Ends – Evan Engram, Teaz Zettergren, Hunter Thurley, Willie Hibbler, Ty Quick, Dawson Knox.
Who’s Not: Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Collins More.
Experience: Adeboyejo leads returning receivers with 38 catches and seven touchdowns last year. Stringfellow (36 catches, 5 TDS) had a huge Egg Bowl but was hurt in the Sugar Bowl. Engram had 38 catches and figures to have more this season especially early as Ole Miss figures some things out at the position.
Spring Blooms: Lodge and Jefferson were rated the Nos. 7 and 13 WRs by Rivals in 2015. Lots of expectations for those two as their roles increase. Jefferson, he son of an NFL wide receivers coach, was noted as a very technique-savvy high school wide receiver during the course of his recruiting. Derrick Jones has shown flashes of big-play ability, and there are a couple of vacancies to fill.
Spring is a big success if: Stringfellow shows he can be the physical go-to target that is similar to Treadwell, not the same as Treadwell, who is a once-in-a-generation type player. Lodge and Jefferson make gains in technique and fundamentals and have very few drops.
Who’s Back: Eugene Brazley, Eric Swinney, Jordan Wilkins, Akeem Judd, D.K. Buford, Nathan Vanderburg, Martin Johnson.
Who’s Not: Jaylen Walton.
Experience: Judd (421, 3 TD) and Wilkins (379, 4 TD) were breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact late in the season. Brazley electrified fans with big runs in mop-up duty. At 5-foot-9, 189 pounds he has a body type similar to Walton’s.
Spring Blooms: Swinney, the lone RB signee in 2015, would likely have played a role if not for a foot injury that forced a redshirt. He was Rivals’ No. 12 RB. He’s healthy now with the first real chance to show what he can do. Hugh Freeze raved about this guy at his signing day presser in 2015. He spoke at length about how he stressed to his staff that they would fully commit to Swinney as their primary running back target.
Spring is a big success if: The Rebels find a multi-purpose guy who can help in the passing game like Walton did. Maybe that’s Brazley. Judd and Wilkins played well last year and will have the edge on the pack. The Rebels need to make sure younger and inexperienced guys are more than functional in pass protection. That’s important always but even more when you’re looking for the next big thing at left tackle.