Balancing Act

In the past month or so, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze has openly talked about the lack of "balance" in the current Rebel roster. Here, he goes into a little more detail about how he envisions next year's offensive personnel.

There are two problems with a roster projection prior to spring training.

One, Freeze cannot discuss incoming players until after they sign, so his evaluation will have some blanks.

Two, he's not going to indulge, publicly (yet), some of the personnel changes he's contemplating until he has had a chance to discuss those ideas with the players involved. That's only fair to them.

But within the framework of those limitations, Freeze gave some insight into the 2014 roster, starting up front on the offensive side of the ball.

"Anything I say about the 2013 offensive line, I want to preface with this - those kids gave us all they had and we are grateful to them. I also think (OL Coach) Matt (Luke) got the most out of the offensive linemen we had available," Freeze began. "Having said that, we have a long way to go up front.

"We can build around Laremy Tunsil, Austin Golson and Aaron Morris, and Justin Bell has a lot of experience that will help, but we're going to have to find a center and a right tackle and depth is a major concern. Overall, we have to become more athletic up front than we were in 2013. I think Daronte (Bouldin) is going to be really good, maybe in a hurry. We're pleased with Davion (Johnson) too, but he's not quite as far along as Daronte right now."

Laremy Tunsil
Ole Miss Athletics/Josh McCoy

At center, Freeze said Luke will be looking at several candidates - Robert Conyers, Bell, Golson and Ben Still.

"We don't know who will emerge from that group, but it's critical one of them steps up in a big way," Freeze noted.

The Rebs have two signees joining the team in the spring semester - UCLA transfer Christian Morris and JUCO OT Fahn Cooper. Obviously, they're being counted on for immediate help, but the appeal for Morris to gain immediate eligibility is crucial.

Highly-touted incoming freshman Roderick Taylor is also someone who will get a strong immediate look in August.

"We've made it a point to go after more athletic offensive linemen in recruiting and feel confident we have done well there," he stated.

Out wide, Freeze is comfortable, even with the departure of junior Donte Moncrief, who announced late Saturday night he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

"From the standpoint of our wideout group being stronger, of course I would have liked to see Donte come back, but we all wanted him to do what was best for him. Even though he's leaving, I still feel pretty good about our wideouts," Freeze noted. "We might move Laquon (Treadwell) back outside. We've got Vincent (Sanders), Cody Core, Collins Moore and Quincy (Adeboyejo) returning. Those last three got better with Ja-Mes (Logan) and Vincent missing bowl practices and them getting a lot of quality reps and I'm sure they'll continue along that path this spring."

The Rebels have also committed 4-star WR Markell Pack out of Purvis, Miss., and All-State 3-star Dayall Harris out of Jackson (Miss.) Callaway, a pair expected to make an impact quickly.

"We're also shuffling around the idea of moving Q. (Mireles) and Quintavius (Burdette) to the slot to shore up that position," Freeze stated.

At tight end, there's still a gap of talent. 2013 standout freshman Evan Engram fills a big chunk of the hole and Charles Standberry out of Montgomery, Ala., is a commit. A big piece of the puzzle will be Greenwood's Sammie Epps, who the Rebels are expected to sign, but a player who recently opened up his recruitment.

When Freeze was at Arkansas State, he ran a lot of '12' personnel - one back and two tight ends, but they weren't traditional tight ends. They were more like Engram and that's what he hopes to get back to more with the right signee(s).

Sammie Epps

"It's time to balance out things at tight end. I feel certain we can transition someone there from another position who is more physical and can be used in short yardage situations, but I also like us having two guys like Evan where I can line them up anywhere, motion them, slot them, whatever," explained Freeze. "If you have two guys like Evan, who can run, catch and block, it's very difficult on defenses."

Obviously, that is the thinking with the Rebs' hot pursuit of Epps and there is also a possibility JUCO transfer Jeremy Liggins could be a factor in both capacities.

At running back, Freeze sounds fairly content with the returning players, but he's also got two commits who should fit in nicely to the scheme - "bigger" back Akeem Judd out of junior college and Lafayette speedster D.K. Buford.

"I think I-Train (I'tavius Mathers), Jordan Wilkins and Mark Dodson give us some punch there and Jaylen Walton and Kailo Moore give us a different look with more speed," Freeze added. "We like them all and they fit into what we do."

With Bo Wallace coming back for his senior season - hopefully healthy and 100% for a change, quarterback seems to be in good hands, but Freeze also has viable options besides Wallace.

"Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan will get a lot of reps this spring. We want to see what they can do against live bullets," Freeze stated. "We're also going to look really hard at Anthony Alford as our Wildcat guy."

And let's not forget Kendrick Doss, who is a midyear high schooler who will be here during spring training. At 6-2, 215 pounds, don't discount his possible impact on the position.

Next: A quick look at the 2014 defense and kicking game.

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