A Deeper Look

Ole Miss Sports Information recently released an updated depth chart for the season opener Thursday against Vanderbilt in Nashville. There were no major surprises, but there are still some loose ends to tie up in he next few days.

**CLICK HERE for the Rebel depth chart as released by Ole Miss Sports Information.**

Based on what we have witnessed in practice since the first of August, the recently-released Ole Miss depth chart for the season opener at Vanderbilt Thursday night holds no major surprises. A few minor ones, but nothing out of the blue.

Nine newcomers, including eight true freshmen, have broken into the two-deep, and three - DE Robert Nkemdiche, TE Evan Engram and Slot Receiver Laquon Treadwell - are listed as starters.

LT Laremy Tunsil, RT Austin Golson, WR Quincy Adeboyejo, TB/Return Kailo Moore and Huskie Tony Connor are listed as number twos, along with JUCO transfer DT Lavon Hooks.

Let's take a little closer look.

At wide receiver, it was a no-contest deal with Donte Moncrief, arguably one of the best in the nation, but it was significant to find a quality backup for #12 in an up-tempo offense. Sophomore Cody Core was the most logical choice, it seemed, but Core started August in a bit of a slump. Recently, however, he has been able to string together several good days and has earned the tag as a trusted backup to Moncrief, sorely missing last year. (It's one thing to be listed on the two-deep, it's another to have the trust of the coaches.)

Some casual observers felt Tunsil might beat out senior LT Emmanuel McCray. Knowledge, experience and chemistry have won out in terms of starting, but look for the Rebels to use Tunsil quite a bit to spell McCray, who has a history of chronic knee tendonitis and will need some rest. Also, Tunsil, according to the coaches, has earned playing time, so this is no gift - he deserves it. Add to that the plan could be to rotate three tackles, using McCray at RT to give starter Pierce Burton a breather sometimes when Tunsil is inserted at LT.

Justin Bell
File Photo

At right guard, Justin Bell is listed as the starter ahead of Patrick Junen. Junen has not been able to practice much due to rehabbing from offseason toe and wrist surgery. Many felt Junen would be the heir apparent to graduated A.J. Hawkins - the only difference in this year's starting OL from last year, but Bell has stepped up ably. Whether Junen ends up beating out Justin or not, Bell has gained the confidence of the coaches and the position has a healthy two-deep, which is not necessarily the case across the board on the OL.

At center, the quick departure of Austin Douglas as the backup center to Evan Swindall has left the Rebs in a bit of a bind. The coaches were wanting, in a perfect world, to keep grooming sophomore Ben Still and converted tackle Robert Conyers, but they don't have that luxury now. If anything were to happen to Swindall, most likely the next up would be Still due to his experience in the past at center and Conyers' still in the early stages of learning the position.

At tight end, a position that will be played by committee most likely, Engram has been a quick study and has impressed the coaches situationally, but Nick Parker, Jack Nuismer, Justin Bigham, and quite possibly in time, Christian Morgan, who has made a quicker-than-expected comeback from offseason knee surgery, might also factor in here and there and everywhere.

Slot receiver is one of the most intriguing. Treadwell was moved inside when Vincent Sanders went down with a broken collarbone and Ja-Mes Logan was moved outside in Sanders' place. Treadwell took an obvious liking to his new position and has made daily strides in his development - enough to earn a starting role. But just as interesting has been the emergence of senior Jordan Holder, a seldom-used journeyman who has had a very productive camp and has earned quality playing time. (Also, expect to see Collins Moore, coming off double shoulder dislocation surgery in the spring.)

At running back, Jeff Scott is the definite number one, but a pair of rookies from last year have emerged as his able backups. Jaylen Walton has had a solid camp and is more tuned in to the offense this year, which will allow him more opportunities. I'tavius Mathers has been slowed by an ankle injury and it is not known yet how much time he will get against Vandy, but up until then he was having a productive camp as well. Don't be totally shocked if there isn't also a package for Moore, who has speed to burn and will probably be used in the kickoff return game as well.

Charles Sawyer
File Photo

At QB, Barry Brunetti came out of the fray as the backup behind Bo Wallace. What role he will play has been defined by the coaches, but will not be revealed until they get into the season and see how things play out. Meanwhile, Coach Hugh Freeze has indicated that if anything did happen - heaven forbid - to Wallace, the race for top gun would open back up again to include the two promising freshmen - Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan.

On defense, there is a myriad of subtle questions.

How much will DE C.J. Johnson be able to play? He's had to take some days off with Achilles problems and resulting soreness. When he's in there, he looks good, but what level of durability will he have? A question that cannot be answered until the real action starts. Trust this, however, with C.J. in the lineup, the Rebel stoppers are better.

How will Woodrow Hamilton do in his first extensive (starting) action and how much will Issac Gross, coming off troubling groin issues, be able to go? Woody has had a terrific spring/summer/fall camp, so the confidence level is high there. Gross has been going through all practices the past week or so, but does not quite look the same as when he burst on the scene last year as a disruptive true freshman. Hopefully, he regains full form quickly.

Who will get the bulk of the backup work behind DT Bryon Bennett, Hooks or Carlton Martin? Martin has finally come out of his cocoon and has done some good things in fall camp. Hooks is still learning the ropes. Both are physically capable. Most likely, DL Coach Chris Kiffin will use a five-man tackle rotation and judge from there.

How much does Robert Nkemdiche really know? Apparently enough to gain first-team status over veteran Cameron Whigham, but it says here Whig is not out of the picture. We look for this to be about as true a split in playing time as any position. Both will be valuable in the big picture. (Channing Ward and John Youngblood are also lurking and are viable options if anything goes wrong.)

The linebacker - Mike Marry, Denzel Nkemdiche, Keith Lewis, Serderius Bryant and D.T. Shackelford being the main guys - and safety - Cody Prewitt, Trae Elston and Chief Brown - roles seem well-defined and in good hands at this point, but what of the cornerbacks? With Senquez Golson missing so much time in fall camp and Charles Sawyer just now coming back at full speed, how much playing time can those two get in the opener? If they can't go, the Rebs will go with Dehendret Collins, who has impressed the coaches in fall camp, and Quintavius Burdette, a rookie at corner with good skills but zero experience. The corner situation made everyone a little nervous with a full arsenal. With the health question marks, it can be downright scary.

At Huskie, Mike Hilton knows the defense and position inside and out. He's tough, he's fast and he's a good football player. The Rebs are solid there, but what of Connor? He's a star in the making and will be hard to keep off the field. In fact, he won't be kept off the field. Look for him and Hilton to share that position.

Yes, the two-deep is out and it's about what most expected.

Overall, the Rebs appear deeper than a year ago, but there is still work to be done in that area. After all, twenty percent - roughly - of the players listed have never played a down of Division I football. And several others may as well be making their debut with the limited action they have had in the past.

The good part is that there are twenty or so who have played a lot of football on this level and they will help pull the newcomers through.

It's time for some football!

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