PARRISH ALFORD: Football Rebels have spring in their step

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

Coming out of spring drills, there is enthusiasm around Ole Miss football.

The Rebels are clearly a better team, coach Hugh Freeze says.

They look different. They look quicker at defensive end, strong at defensive tackle and have some depth and savvy in the secondary.

At this point there’s hope for the offensive line and exciting potential at wide receiver even though there are depth issues at both positions.

“I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we’re a better football team than we were two years ago or last year. I know that,” Freeze said.

That’s encouraging news for Ole Miss fans, but it stops short of what they want to hear.

Coaches typically steer away from talk of wins, losses and expectations. Who needs the added pressure of having springtime enthusiasm come back to bite you in November if the end result is different from off-season optimism?

Somewhere in their message, coaches like to talk about the strength of the SEC, the incredible challenge of simply being prepared to compete, week-in and week-out.

It sounds so cliché, but cliché often has a measure of truth at its point of origin.

Then there’s this about the SEC: Nobody is standing still. Auburn didn’t win a conference game in 2012 and played for the national championship in 2013.

Arkansas made a splashy hire. It may or may not pay off long-term, but the Hogs are trying to get back in the game.

Freeze picked up this theme quickly when the “E word” surfaced at his Saturday presser.

“I’ll only talk about one expectation. It’s the only one I have. That’s for us to win each day leading up to Atlanta to play Boise State,” he said.

There is reason for excitement around Ole Miss football right now, not the least of which is health.

C.J. Johnson – defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called him his unit’s best player last August – is healthy. So is quarterback Bo Wallace.

There’s more talent by way of transfers, more coming by way of another solid signing class.

Depth is building.

There have been high expectations at other points in the program’s history. Freeze is convinced that Ole Miss football is on the upswing.

“Does that mean that expectations grow exponentially? I have no idea what that means in the won-loss column. I do know this: No one in this conference is going backwards.”

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