Spirit's Take

With a revamped offensive line and some players at new positions, the Ole Miss offense started slowly in spring training, but by the end of the 15-day session, improvement had been made and they were giving the Rebel defense all they wanted, and some.

It didn't take someone smart enough to figure out Obamacare to realize spring training would be a work in progress for the Ole Miss offense.

Replacing six offensive linemen who graduated off last year's 8-5 squad was enough of a hint, but throw in a couple of position changes, a crowded backfield and finding the heir to Donte Moncrief and the task at hand for the Rebel offensive coaches escalated.

Obviously, instant production in spring was neither expected nor received. Some early explosive plays were evident, which gave one cause for excitement, but the consistency was absent for a week or so. Turnovers were, for lack of a better word, rampant.

As the revamped and reconfigured offensive line began to gel, returning Quaterback Bo Wallace started regaining the confidence in his previously damaged wing, the receivers and the quarterbacks began showing some chemistry and comfort in their positions and the backs gained some rhythm, things slowly but surely started clicking more and more each day for the Rebel offense.

By the end of spring training, they were – for the most part – going toe-to-toe with what is anticipated to be a salty Rebel defense in 2014.

Laremy Tunsil
Petre Thomas

Being an old school writer, it says here it all started up front under the guidance of OL Coach Matt Luke, who had an enormous task on his hands in spring. Yes, he had his bell cow – LT Laremy Tunsil – returning. Yes, steady Justin Bell was ready, but who would be the center? How would Daronte Bouldin, just a redshirt freshman, progress at right guard? How would sophomore Austin Golson adjust to right tackle after a freshman year at right guard? Where was the depth going to come from?

At center, junior Ben Still, waiting in the wings for two years as Evan Swindall's apprentice, was the most accomplished in terms of knowing the position, snapping the ball in the shotgun formation the Rebel offense employs and being able to make check calls at the line of scrimmage. Still is now pushing 300 pounds, which also helped his cause. Sophomore Robert Conyers, also nearing 300 pounds, was not as smooth snapping the ball, but it was his first time to play the position in live action. A big offseason to gain more strength and be more of a force against SEC nose tackles is needed. Give the edge to Still, for now, who Luke said had "a solid spring." There is still some prevailing thought Bell, who took part in all pre-practice snapping drills, could get a look there in the fall. Either way, the center spot had significant and needed development in the spring, but more is needed when fall camp rolls around.

Bell was solid at left guard. The vast experience he got last year went a long way in making spring training a productive one for the junior. JUCO transfer Chris Frigo also caught Luke's eye due to his toughness. He put himself in the two-deep picture for fall, but he has to have a good offseason and fall camp to stay there when Aaron Morris returns this summer to reclaim that position.

At RG, Bouldin made a big leap forward in his development. As one of the strongest players on the team, and a good athlete, spring was more a matter of learning for the RS freshman and, according to Luke, he learned a lot. The tutoring is ongoing, but he set himself up to be "the man" next fall and, we think, before all is said and done, Bouldin will be a force. Carlton Martin was moved from defensive tackle to right guard. At first, it was all foreign to him, but toward the end of spring Luke was hinting that the move would be beneficial to the Rebel OL. Another explosive athlete will only help the cause.

Golson's transition was about as smooth as one could hope. In fact, it was evident Austin is more comfortable at tackle than he was at guard. What's left to say about Tunsil? If given the opportunity, nobody associated with Rebel football would trade him for any left tackle in the country, and he'll only get better with time.

At tight end, sophomore Evan Engram came off an injury-shortened freshman campaign with a vengeance. Every day, Engram drew gasps with some of the catches he made. Nick Parker and converted DE Channing Ward give the position some muscle and their inclusion to the offense was one reason the run game started getting stronger as the spring progressed. By the time fall rolls around, that position, with the addition of Engram clone Sammie Epps, will be in the best hands it's been in for a while.

Laquon Treadwell
Petre Thomas

At wideout, Laquon Treadwell's transition to the outside from the slot was predictably good. He will be a star and, dare we say, could end up being better than Moncrief. Moving Quincy Adeboyejo inside may have been the best decision the coaches made all spring. He's a natural there and made a lot of plays in spring prior to a groin injury that limited him the last week or so of the workouts. The surprise of camp, and the reason he was named the most improved player on offense, was Collins Moore, who became one of the quarterbacks' prime targets due to his ability to catch the ball in traffic and snag passes that weren't on the money. He did what receivers have to do – made plays – and that's the bottom line. Cody Core also made some noise in spring training. If he could get more consistency nailed down, he will impact that unit in fall. Veteran Vincent Sanders did not participate in spring drills due to a nagging hamstring injury, but the wily receiver will be back in fall camp and will add a proven punch to those positions.

At tailback, take your pick. Jaylen Walton, I'Tavius Mathers, Mark Dodson, Jordan Wilkins and even newcomer Eugene Brazley all brought something to the table that RB Coach Derrick Nix liked. They all have different strengths and can all contribute in 2014. How Nix is going to sort all of that out is vexing, but it's a good problem to have. Our take? Put them in a bag, shake them up, pour one out and give him the ball. Repeat process.

At QB, Wallace had a different look all spring. Confident, healthier than he has been since he first got here, decisive with his decision-making and in control of the offense. He is setting himself up for a fine senior season based on what we witnessed in spring training.

Now the hard part – who is the backup? What roles will be defined for them? Will there be more than two to get action in 2014? Right now, our humble opinion only, Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade are neck-and-neck based on spring production. Kincade makes more happen with his feet and has a strong arm. Ryan has improved his arm, is an accurate thrower, has a good pocket presence and is a quick, usually-right, decision-maker. Flip a coin.

One of the big question marks coming out of spring was the future of Jeremy Liggins. He can definitely get the job done in short yardage situations. Stopping him on third-and-one will be difficult for anyone, but is that where he will stay? To be determined. . .

Overall: As the offensive line started developing and gelling, the offense started clicking more each day in spring drills. There are still some question marks and depth issues, but the hope is that help is on the way and development – with productive offseasons – will continue.

As it stood at the end of spring, the excitement level for the offense should be high, with an asterisk.

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