Questions

Every year about this time, I get excited to see the unveiling of the makings of the foundation of next year's football team via spring training - those 15 days of intense drills, installation, personnel evaluation and discovery.

This spring training, which starts today at 6:30 p.m., is no different.

Granted, with this spring, Coach Hugh Freeze's third, there doesn't seem to be as many things up in the air as his fist two, but there are still plenty of questions to be asked and answers to be gathered.

From a unit standpoint, I find it interesting Freeze is closing some of the spring practices, which is usually not the case, but I was given a good explanation. The Rebs will be changing up "a lot of things" in their tempo offense.

While a lot of it is expected to be subtle and not discernible for the average fans, or reporters for that matter, eye, Freeze wants to try some things out in private before unveiling them to the world. Understandable.

On defense, DC Dave Wommack has been very open about his intentions – to field a more aggressive, attacking defense in 2014. It's his style, but he was hogtied from doing too much of that last year due to key injuries and personnel issues. He feels he can be more aggressive with his calls next year, but spring training will help him determine to what degree.

Shifting back to offense, the biggest question, I'm claiming, is who will end up being the starting center, one of the most important positions on the field? As OL Coach Matt Luke pointed out in last week's interview on this site, it appears it's down to three – Ben Still, Robert Conyers and Justin Bell. Spring will, most likely, give us the answer and the battle, it says here, will be intense.

Almost as big a question mark is right tackle, where steady-Eddie Pierce Burton graduated. Sophomore Austin Golson will move there in spring, and Luke believes RT is the talented second-year man's natural position, but how will that pan out? It's important the move clicks for Golson. Stability there prior to August practice is critical.


Laquon Treadwell
Josh McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

How quickly will redshirts Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson matriculate into reliable guys Luke is not "afraid" to put in a game? Pretty crucial stuff, for sure. Luke, and the OL, needs them as viable options in '14 to be the kind of OL we all want to see. And to that end, sort of, will converted DT Carlton Martin adapt quickly enough to help? He's certainly explosive enough to.

Who will replace Donte Moncrief? Most likely Laquon Treadwell will be moved outside, but that begs another question – who will take Treadwell's slot position? Treadwell was terrific in the slot in 2013 and while it's our thought he can fill Moncrief's shoes outside, who fills his inside? Jordan Holder, who did yeoman's work there last year, is gone too, it should be remembered. The coaches have already moved the Q-boys – Q. Mireles and Q. Burdette, but will they also move a Vincent Sanders or Cody Core or the other Q, Quincy Adeboyejo?

How much impact will redshirt Jordan Wilkins have on the running back corps? He certainly fills the "big back" need from the look test and from how he developed during his redshirt year going against the first-team defense last fall, but where will he end up fitting in a crowded backfield? Along those lines, how much progress will sophomore Mark Dodson have made since the Music City Bowl? He started coming on in practice the second half of the season. Will I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton be able to hold them off and keep their top spots? One ball, a bunch of backs wanting it.

Where will signee Jeremy Liggins fit in? Is he a QB? A TE? A DE? I've bumped into a few defensive players around town and asked them about some recent 7-on-7 drills and their eyes get big when they talk about Liggins' passing in those sessions. Hmmmmm. . . .

Who will emerge as the backup QB, assuming, as we probably should, Bo Wallace is still on the throne entering spring? One would think, from fall results, it would be redshirt Devante Kincade, but some people I have talked to on the inside indicate it would be premature to crown him yet and that Liggins and redshirt Ryan Buchanan will have a say in that result. QB Coach Dan Werner has assured us all will get equal and ample opportunity to win the job.

And what of Wallace himself? Toward the end of the 2013 season he was getting by on half a wing and guts. His arm was as weak as the proverbial kitten. How has his offseason rehab gone? How much of his arm has he "gotten back?" How much will he even be able to do in spring? All intriguing points to be played out.

There are certainly more questions than those on offense, but those are the highlights, but what about the defensive side of the ball? There are questions there as well.

On offense, the center runs some of the show. On defense, it's most certainly the middle linebacker. Mike Marry has, almost flawlessly, handled those important chores for a while. He's gone. Will it be wily veteran D.T. Shackelford, MLB-in-waiting Temario Strong, specialty LB senior Keith Lewis or newcomer Christian Russell who takes the position by the neck and puts a stranglehold on it? Whoever it is will determine a lot in Wommack's spring eval.


Robert Nkemdiche
Chuck Rounsaville

At rush end, how much will C.J. Johnson, injured last year, be asked to practice in spring and how healthy is he? Ditto Carlos Thompson. Will D.T. be in that mix as well? And what impact will freshman Marquis "Quis" Haynes have on that position. From the offseason reports we've been getting, Haynes has been running in the 4.4s and has put on 15 pounds of muscle since his arrival. He could be a blur off the edge, or he may end up in an outside LB position.

At thud end, who replaces steady Cameron Whigham? Channing Ward? John Youngblood? Or could it be Liggins when all is said and done? What about Fadol Brown, who wowed coaches and observers last year during his redshirt? Will he stay outside or play some on the inside too? It would seem the coaches have that option with a man his size.

Inside, how much growth has Robert Nkemdiche made after finishing strong against Georgia Tech and having most of a full year under his belt? How healthy is Issac Gross, gimpy much of last year? Will Bryon Bennett re-emerge after a slump year? How much impact will redshirt Herbert Moore have on the unit? Now that the transition from JUCO ball is over, will Lavon Hooks have a Gilbert Pena-like senior season? The makings of a very good inside group are there, but spring should give us a big hint as to how effective they can be in 2014.

How disruptive to the defense will it be with the suspensions of OLBs Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant and how much will they be allowed to participate? How much progress has redshirt Ray Ray Smith made? There is some excitement in camp about how he has matured physically. Will Haynes end up there? He's certainly athletic enough to.

In the secondary, it would appear Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson, Tony Connor, Trae Elston and Mike Hilton, all proven vets, would have an inside edge, but what about Anthony Alford now that he is eligible for games? It's been hammered and hammered and hammered again that Alford is one of the best athletes on the team. It seems unlikely he won't be on the field, but where? In whose spot of the guys who played last year?

Will Derrick Jones live up to his budding "star" prediction? Wommack thinks he'll make millions in the league at cornerback. If so, this spring could be his coming out party, of sorts.

And what about promising newcomer C.J. Hampton? Reports from offseason camp are he is a smooth operator and very mature in the way he approaches the game. One has to be excited about his arrival/potential/prospects.

Will Kailo Moore go from RB to corner? There's been talk of that. We'll see. . . Is CB Carlos Davis ready to contribute more? What of Chief Brown being moved to Husky behind Connor? Good position for him?. . . . Where does redshirt Eugene Brazley fit, RB or CB? . . .

There will certainly be a lot of "traffic" to direct in the secondary and the competition will be fierce for playing time. Who will be on top when the dust settles?

There are some big questions on special teams as well.

Who will replace PK Andrew Ritter, not only kicking off but with placements as well? The list of candidates is intriguing, but how it will shake out, nobody knows. Repeat the question on the replacement for veteran P Tyler Campbell. Repeat the pre-spring answer as well.

Punt return, a thorn in the side last year when Jeff Scott got hurt, is another major spring-will-be-the-time to find out question mark. Some say Alford is likely. Live bullets will help clear that picture up one way or the other, but those bullets won't be fired until deep into spring training, most likely.

So there are the questions that pop out quickly. There are more and you probably have a bunch besides these yourself.

Questions.

They pop up every spring.

The answers? TBD.


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