By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Preseason practice in the Hugh Freeze Era begins Saturday, and the biggest question facing the new Ole Miss coach is where to begin.
There are so many areas that demand his attention, so many positions to find playmakers and leaders, so many places to build depth.
It’s easy to point to the quarterback position. There’s no established starter at that vital spot where a two-way competition has emerged.
Surely running back could use from TLC from Freeze right now. Jeff Scott has All-SEC talent, but there’s no experience behind him.
Defensive ends could use some attention. There’s a lot of potential in sophomore C.J. Johnson, but the fact remains, there’s no proven pass rusher off the edge, no guy who stands out on an opponent scouting report.
For Freeze, Saturday will be like sitting at four-way stop with calls from each direction begging you to choose their path.
When the first whistle blows he needs to drive on over to the offensive line.
The new head coach will have a lot to do, but keeping an eye on those guys up front will be a good place to start.
While quarterback is unsettled, and depth is scarce, the Rebels do have some talent at running back and receiver.
What does it really matter, though, if Scott can’t find a crease or the quarterback – either Barry Brunetti or Bo Wallace – hasn’t the time to function.
Offensive line play wasn’t star-quality in the spring, which was something Freeze predicted on the front end, saying that group generally is the last to understand pace and really grasp the up-tempo offense.
Freeze is confident that OL coach Matt Luke will have his players ready. Luke, a former Ole Miss offensive lineman, certainly has passion for the job.
The group has no starts at tackle where junior Emmanuel McCray and junior college transfer Pierce Burton are the starters going into camp. There’s more experience at the interior with sophomore Aaron Morris, junior Evan Swindall and senior A.J. Hawkins from guard to guard.
Patrick Junen, listed behind Burton on the right side, has 11 career starts and has played both guard and tackle.
There are elements of the offense – tempo and spreading things out – that could help a line that right now isn’t going to line up and blow away opposing fronts.
But Freeze estimates only 50 percent of the offense was installed in the spring.
Collectively, this group needs to get really good at the first 50 percent and move forward with the rest of the system.
In a league known for physical play up front, the Rebels’ line must be proficient enough to let Freeze plot, ponder and create on offense and create the scoring machine for which he was hired.
It will take time.
But when the lights click on from tackle to tackle the rest of the offense will fall into place.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.