First Impressions

Our exposure to the Ole Miss football team has been limited in the first three days of practice, but we have had enough time to draw some first impressions. Some will pan out, others will change, but either way, something to chew on.

First impression notes from the first three practice sessions.

* The Look - Kudos to Strength & Conditioning Coach Paul Jackson and his staff for the work done in the offseason.

When Jackson came to Ole Miss from Southern Mississippi, he was, frankly, dismayed at the strength levels and body composition of the team.

After his first evaluation, he stated - publicly - that it would take "at least two years and some good recruiting" to get the Rebels where they need to be from a physical standpoint.

Check and check.

Now, after three offseason cycles, this team looks like an SEC team is supposed to look physically, particularly the players who have been here for Jackson's entire tenure.

Jeremy Liggins was one of the many players to benefit from Jackson's S&C program this summer.

Granted, recruiting a higher-caliber athlete has helped that cause, and made Paul's job more doable, but regardless of how it was attained there is a definite overall difference in the body makeup of a majority of the players on this team.

Lots of men, very few boys. . .

* Quantity - Coach Hugh Freeze and his staff have been playing with smoke and mirrors for two years in terms of quality depth.

There's still some of that here and there, but the depth chart looks so much better than it did in August of 2012 that there is no comparison.

There seems to be a lot less breath-holding and finger-crossing by the coaches during contact drills in regard to having to keep everyone healthy.

Certainly, the staff still needs to be smart with the amount of contact they ask for - there's still that can't-afford-to-get-hurt factor - but there doesn't seem to be as much anxiety about getting after it in practice as before.

The depth chart, which we will post when it becomes more solidified, has more and more players that can step in if an injury does happen or in relief roles and the team not miss a beat.

Again, the depth needs to continue developing, but where "they" were to where they are now is night and day.

Jordan Sims (70) and Christian Morris (71) are two of the impressive crop of newcomers.

* The Newcomers - Dare I say it? Counting the transfers, JUCOs and freshmen, this is the best class - from a quick evaluation - that Freeze has brought in from top to bottom.

The 2014 crew may not have the star power of the 2013 class, but I truly see no misses in evaluation.

It may not be soon on some of them, but I will go out on a limb and predict that every kid they signed will help this team sometime during their career, barring career-ending type injuries.

Certainly, some of them are not ready for the SEC right now and they will all develop differently, but there is a positive vibe - already - about every one of them.

I'm not sure we can say that about the 2013 class that was ranked in the Top 10 in the nation by every recruiting service. . .

* The Bo Factor - There's no question, from a QB standpoint, this is Bo Wallace's team.

And there is no question that we are already seeing a different Bo, but it didn't start three days ago.

The senior signal-caller has been on a mission since that fateful fumble in Starkville that ended the Egg Bowl on a sour note, and it shows.

Physically, Bo has gained good weight and has worked hard to get his surgically repaired shoulder in top form. He looks more fit than at any time in his Ole Miss career.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace.

Mentally, his grasp of the offense and his comfort in it was noticeable even to a novice.

A healthy Bo does not have what could be termed a powerful arm, but from the limited throws we have seen he definitely has a competent, good SEC arm capable of making all the necessary throws on time and with accuracy.

' The fact that he has overthrown some streak routes in the early going of August practice is, in itself, encouraging.

* Maturity - The physical maturity is tangible, easily seen, but another noticeable attribute is a more mature approach to the task at hand.

It's difficult to definitively state each and every player is on the same page when you are dealing with over 100 young men, but it's accurate to state a high percentage seem focused, intense and single-minded.

In the handful of interviews we've been able to conduct, the theme is the same - the players have higher goals and expectations and they have put in the time and effort, to this point, to reach those goals.

Also, he younger guys who played last year are no longer wide-eyed. They learned, sometimes the hard way of getting their hats handed to them on a platter, what it takes to succeed on this level last year and are applying those lessons this year with a more mature approach to the task at hand.

Even with brief contact, the more mature approach is evident.

* Leadership - In over three decades of covering the Rebels, I have never seen a better leader than MLB D.T. Shackelford.

Now that his status on the team as a starter and main cog has been reestablished, his leadership skills are blossoming again.

Ole Miss linebacker D.T. Shackelford.

DE C.J. Johnson has also become a more vocal leader and every defensive player listens when FS Cody Prewitt talks. Ditto DB Mike Hilton.

On offense, Wallace has been waiting his turn to lead beyond what is required of every quarterback. This season, he seems more vocal and more forceful with his leadership.

Even though he is just a sophomore, WR Laquon Treadwell is a born leader. He just has a knack.

I'm anxious to see who emerges along the offensive line as the vocal leader. My guess, and it's just a guess, is that it will be junior Justin Bell.

Overall, I see good leadership in the key positions and that's a positive sign.

Freeze made it clear at SEC Media Days that he expects the Rebels to be a better team than they were last year.

From the early look of things at the first few practices, it's apparent why he feels that way.

He was also clear in stating he did not know what that would mean in terms of wins and losses as it is his belief "everyone else" will be better too.

From what this hack has seen so far, I'll take my chances with this team.

So far, so good. . .

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