But how far off is mediocrity?
Before the Rebels can consider greatness they need to return to average. What can Hugh Freeze get done next season?
He will not inherit NFL-caliber talent as did his predecessor, Houston Nutt. Many blame Nutt’s demise on his recruiting. His troubles, though, stemmed not from his inability to sign players as much as his inability to retain them and keep them in good disciplinary standing.
Those are areas Freeze will work to improve down the road.
The first exit along the journey is marked “2012 Season.” There is lack of depth at most positions, but there are numbers and experience along the offensive line.
Experience isn’t necessarily a good thing if the talent level is poor, but I don’t think that’s the case with so many options available.
Behind the starters this year were Jared Duke who was rated the No. 8 player in Tennessee, Emmanuel McCray the No. 10 player in Mississippi.
Duke played in nine games and started five as a true freshman in 2010.
Add to that number freshmen Justin Bell, Ethan Hutson and Mitch Hall were redshirted this year. Hutson and Hall were rated among the top 10 players in their states. The son of a coach, Hutson was a U.S. Army All-American.
In addition to these young players, four interior starters and two tight ends return.
Then there’s A.J. Hawkins. The starting center last year, Hawkins was named to the preseason Rimington watch list, the award which goes to the best at his position, before he was stung by the suspension bug and ultimately lost his job midway through.
Perhaps there’s an offensive line coach coming who can redirect and motivate this group. That should be the first “it” for Freeze and his offensive staff.
If he can fix the line he can find a quarterback to run the spread, choosing from three with different styles. Randall Mackey – who may require greater effort to keep focused – is a quick running quarterback, Barry Brunetti more of a runner who gains yards by making good reads. Zack Stoudt is a pocket passer.
All three did good things this season, all three looked bad at times, and all three lacked consistent protection.
Depth at running back is terribly thin, but assuming speed back Jeff Scott returns, the possible move of freshman wide receiver Tobias Singleton to the position carries possibilities. Freshmen Donte Moncrief and Nick Brassell had passed Singleton at receiver, and Singleton’s athleticism needs to be utilized.
It’s possible a fresh start with a new coach could mean good things for players who weren’t getting playing time like former South Panola star Nick Parker. He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 235. Could be a load to tackle with a screen pass.
It would not hurt to add a solid junior college running back on signing day.
I would expect to see the numbers jump for tight end Jamal Mosley. He has NFL skills, but Nutt just never threw to tight ends much at Ole Miss.
Mosley averaged 15.1 yards on 12 catches this year and had as many touchdown catches – one – as offensive tackle Bradley Sowell did in 2008.
Defensively, the Rebels need to become better fundamental tacklers and to become more physical at getting off blocks along the line of scrimmage.
The lack of speed in the secondary was addressed in the 2011 signing class, and it’s one of the few areas with meaningful depth and options. Perhaps Freeze will elect to play Brassell full-time at corner.
Making the Rebels immediately competitive and positioning them for a run at six wins and bowl eligibility in 2012 is a daunting task for the new coach, but new coaches aren’t typically handed easy assignments.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.