PARRISH ALFORD: Depth softens the blow for Rebels

OleMissLogoOXFORD – The first week of Camp Hugh has been noteworthy for the players off the field as much as the players on the field.

The good fortune with injuries that helped Ole Miss along in Hugh Freeze’s first year as coach kind of caught up with the Rebels in the off-season.

Some guys who were playing banged up are coming off surgeries. There was the surprise spring injury of defensive end C.J. Johnson and now the camp injury of wide receiver Vincent Sanders.

The good news is Johnson – called the defense’s best player by coordinator Dave Wommack – is slowly being worked back into camp and is expected to play in the Aug. 29 opener at Vanderbilt. Also, Sanders’ injury will cause him to miss several early games, not the season.

For now, most position groups have at least one name on the injury list. Joining Johnson in that regard along the defensive line has been quick-strike nose tackle Issac Gross.

There is a glass half-full side of things, too.

Cornerback is a position where depth is alarmingly thin, but as projected starters Senquez Golson and Charles Sawyer are out of action, Quintavius Burdette and Dehendret Collins are getting first-team repetitions.

Third-year sophomore Woodrow Hamilton is bursting at the seams to get on the field. Gross’ injury has given Hamilton the chance to thus far spend all of camp with the first team.

The Rebels may have a hidden jewel in Hamilton, who gives them a 300-plus pounder to offset the 250-pound Gross and who plays with more athleticism than Gilbert Pena, the big guy who filled that role last year, brought to the table.

The Rebels were already short of depth at wide receiver. The idea of freshmen receivers getting in the playing rotation is not something that has only come about at the beginning of camp. However, the loss of Sanders heightens the need for freshmen Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo.

These guys need to do more than just get in the rotation. They need to produce. They need to play at a level worthy of their recruiting coverage. With Sanders, the new guys might have been brought along more slowly. Times have changed.

The bottom line is a lot of players who are missing reps right now are expected to be ready to play later this month.

But when you miss weeks of camp you’re not at peak conditioning for game day. Even if you can play, you may not play as effectively for long.

That’s where the depth comes in. The Rebels are building that right now, and plenty of young guys will face an SEC challenge right off the bat.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs at InsideOleMissSports.com.