So, the Rebels begin their last week of spring drills this week, and what have we learned?
Not a whole lot, but we’ll walk through some things here.
Spring football is a little more open for media viewing than the regular season. It’s not like it used to be, but nothing really is.
So from a mix of observations and reading between the lines of coach speak here goes.
Quarterbacks – Who’s No. 2? That’s the quarterback controversy that all teams would love to have because it means they’re secure with their starter. There is nobody pressing Chad Kelly for the No. 1 job at Ole Miss. The Rebels are fortunate to return the top quarterback in the SEC.
You do have to plan for the future and sometimes for the unfortunate present.
My guess is Shea Patterson is the No. 2 quarterback. I don’t want to mislead anyone. It’s not because I have a keen understanding of the nuances of the position and have been breaking down video.
And it’s not because Patterson has blown me away in the competitive sessions we’ve seen. He’s had some good throws and has done some good things.
I’m basing this educated guess on reading between the lines of coach speak. Two things Hugh Freeze has said about his backups have stuck with me. He says Patterson is not a normal freshman, and he says Jason Pellerin needs to improve his foot work.
Patterson is not the first time Freeze has used the “not a normal freshman” line. It doesn’t mean Patterson is ready to do big things in 2016. I think it does mean he’s in the mix for playing time. If “not normal” is truly how you evaluate Patterson – and I take that to mean well above normal and not below it – then he’s ready to help.
If something bad happens to Kelly it may be that Patterson needs to help sooner rather than later or that he needs to help on a scale larger than he’s really ready.
Those are circumstances beyond control.
Had Ryan Buchanan or DeVante Kincade hung around I thought it was possible that one of them would handle emergency quarterback playing time. Say something in early September were to cause Kelly to miss most or all of the rest of the season. I could have seen one of the older guys taking the job at the outset and perhaps transitioning to Patterson later on. Obviously that’s not an option anymore.
Moving Pellerin, a redshirt freshman, is also not an option. I don’t know if that was ever on the table for Freeze, but it could have been.
The second thing Freeze has said about Pellerin is how much he likes him as a runner. The guy is big, strong and athletic. He may be so athletic that there’s a package for him this fall. He can help the team somewhere.
Right now that has to be at quarterback, because there are only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
If foot work is truly an issue it’s one that leads to other problems and will thus hold him back in the race for No. 2.
Pellerin is a good athlete to have in the program. He may ultimately need to decide if he’s OK with playing another position to get on the field.
Maybe he strengthens his technique and beats out Patterson down the road. That would be an upset as far as recruiting rankings are concerned. Not saying it won’t happen. We’ve seen that sort of thing before. …
Offensive Line – Regarding those possible unfortunate circumstances that no one can control.
A big part of keeping Kelly healthy, of course, is protecting his blind side.
Freshman Greg Little, who is not currently enrolled and going through spring drills, is expected to be a big part of that. There’s no question that Little was recruited to be the next Laremy Tunsil. That in and of itself is an unfair statement. I’m not sure there will be a next Laremy Tunsil. It’s certainly too much pressure to place on an incoming freshman.
Freeze says Little has the best feet in America, but I’m still waiting for the Podiatrist report on that. Perhaps, he does, but remember even Tunsil did not start the first game of his freshman year.
Had he arrived with the same dynamic at left tackle that currently exists he might have, but Tunsil had a senior starter ahead of him in Emmanuel McCray.
It would have been great for Little to be a part of spring drills, but since he wasn’t, OL coach Matt Luke got a lot of work done with Jeremy Liggins at Alex Givens.
They were rotating on the left and right sides early in drills, but Givens seems to have gotten more work on the left with Liggins on the right as of late.
Givens has made some progress. He may not beat out Little, but he could be an important backup.
Since his arrival as a sophomore you could predict this path for Liggins. He’s too talented to impact this team only as a reserve blocking tight end in an offense that often splits its tight ends out to the slot.
Liggins would be much farther along if he’d have arrived at the offensive line earlier. That’s water under the bridge now. He’s there, and he looks more comfortable with what he’s doing.
Robert Conyers, held out of spring recovering from ACL surgery, will be back and will be the favorite to start at right tackle.
But the Rebels have gotten better at tackle this spring, and that’s been the primary objective.
Technically Ole Miss is losing a starter at guard in Aaron Morris and is losing a senior who started a lot of games in Justin Bell, but more athletic players are in the wings in Javon Patterson, who started the first half of his freshman year, Jordan Sims, who started the back half of last year, and Rod Taylor, who would have started had he not gotten KO’d in a locker room boxing match in August and injured his shoulder. The effects lingered, and Taylor has been held out of spring following off-season surgery.
To me, the biggest question mark about this offense is the line. The Rebels helped themselves there this spring. How much more they help themselves at left tackle will depend on how quickly Little picks up things in the summer.
Running Backs – Again, the Rebels are losing a starter here in Jaylen Walton. There will be those who in July and August who will see the number of starters lost on offense and will be somewhat star struck.
The reality is two of those losses – Tunsil and Treadwell – would be massive losses at any time regardless of circumstance. Those guys are once-in-a-generation type players.
Ole Miss is much more able to absorb Treadwell’s loss at wide receiver – That doesn’t mean it won’t be felt – than Tunsil’s loss at left tackle.
The Rebels can also absorb Walton’s loss. It’s still a crowded house at running back. Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins were both running well at the end of last year. They’re bigger backs than Freeze has usually had at Ole Miss, and they were winning collisions and gaining yards after contact.
One of those will be the starter. The third guy will redshirt freshman Eric Swinney.
When you talk about winning collisions this guy does it too although he’s slightly smaller at 5-9, 197. He changes directions well and makes guys miss. At least he has this spring.
There will be a role for Swinney, and it might not be the No. 3 back all season.
Eugene Brazley has the speed and shiftiness to be the type of back that Walton was.
While Walton wasn’t very big, he was very experienced and knew how to help in pass protection. That will be a big factor in playing time for any running back.
Tomorrow, what we have learned about defense. …