Real Questions

While the overall depth of the Ole Miss football team has certainly improved and there is quite a bit of experience returning for the 2014 season, there are still questions, as there are about every team, that will be answered in August and the early part of the regular season. Here are some of those questions and our educated guess on the answers.

Disclaimer: The coaches', and yours, opinion may vary. . . .

What will the starting offensive line be and who will be the top backups?

The givens are LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris and RG Justin Bell. To put it bluntly, Tunsil and Morris are the two most physically talented OL on the squad - future NFL guys by our estimation - and Bell is the most experienced and not bad physically in his own right. Beyond those three, it seems to revolve around three players - Ben Still, Robert Conyers and Fahn Cooper - most prominently for the other two starting slots, center and right tackle. Conyers can play either and could start at either by the time all the dust settles, but our money is on Still getting the nod at center, Cooper starting at RT and Conyers being a swing guy that will back up both. It would also not surprise us, when all is said and done, if Conyers ends up backing up Tunsil as well. For now, the most competent backup at guard appears to be Daronte Bouldin, who has been worked on both sides. Beyond those seven, it's too soon to tell where the others - such as Carlton Martin, Craig Frigo, Rod Taylor, Davion Johnson, et al, fit in. That is for August to sort out, but as things stand right now, the top seven seem to be the aforementioned.

How quickly can Jeremy Liggins learn and adapt to the tight end position?

Having a background of playing a cerebral position - quarterback, and being the type of athlete he is - thoroughbred, we don't look for the transition to take very long. The coaches are bright enough to bring him along at a pace he can handle from a mental standpoint and from a physical standpoint, he's already there. From a cursory look, all signs point to a quick transition and immediate contribution from Liggins.


Ole Miss running back Eugene Brazley.

How is the stacked up running back situation shaking out?

Your guess is as good as ours, but one would have to surmise, at least early on, the coaches will go with the experience of Jaylen Walton and I'tavius Mathers. In running back drills, Walton and Mathers look to be getting the first reps, which is, while not a definitive sign of order, certainly an indication. They are usually followed by Mark Dodson, Jordan Wilkins, Eugene Brazley and newcomer Akeem Judd. In trying to put yourself in RB Coach Derrick Nix's shoes, it could be a matter of who he trusts more right now versus pure talent, and that's not indicating Walton and Mathers aren't as talented as the others, but trust, historically, has been one of Nix's top priorities. He trusts they know the system inside and out and he has seen them produce in the past. It's almost a bird-in-the-hand situation for now.

Who is leading the way in placements and punting right now?

From what little we have witnessed, the two that seem to be the most comfortable, consistent, and effective, at the moment are PK Andy Pappanastos and P Will Gleeson, both redshirt freshmen. All eyes are on Gary Wudnerlich because of his status as the number one kicking recruit in the nation last year, but realistically, he has to be given time to transition to this level. It could happen in August, it could take longer. The leg is there, without question, it's just a matter of when he relaxes and settles in as to whether or not he will displace the current frontrunners. P.S. - From what little we have seen this fall, there is little trepidation if it winds up being Pappanastos and Gleeson as both have the necessary skill set to get it done.

Who will return punts?

The word for now is that it will be junior cornerback, and special teams ace, Carlos Davis. His comfort in fielding punts started surfacing more and more in spring training and he worked diligently in the summer to get even better at it. We have all witnessed his speed in kickoff coverage - usually the first one down, so that should make him dangerous as well. The third factor that gives him an edge over the other candidates - Anthony Alford and Trae Elston - may be his competitiveness. Realistically, Carlos is probably not going to get a ton of snaps at corner unless there are two or three key injuries there. He wants more than to run down the field on kickoff coverage four or five times a game. Punt return is his "in." For those reasons, it says here he wins the job.


Ole Miss linebacker DeMarquis Gates.

Who has been the surprise freshman to this point?

All the coaches are saying about this frosh class is that they haven't seen a "miss" in their evaluations, which is pretty rare. They are limiting their "surprise" talk, but a guy who immediately caught our eye was Linebacker DeMarquis Gates. When you get a signee who didn't play as a senior in high school due to injury, the case with Gates, you have to wonder what you are really getting yourself into. Wonder no more with DeMarquis. He's long, quick, tough and has a bright future at Ole Miss. As an addendum, we have also had our heads turned by two players not highly recruited - WR Dayall Harris and OL Sean Rawlings, both better than their recruiting "credentials" might indicate.

Is there really quality depth on defense or is some of it wishful thinking?

You tell me with basically the current two-deep. LE - Fadol Brown, Channing Ward, Carlos Thompson; DT - Robert Nkemdiche, Bryon Bennett; DT - Issac Gross, Woodrow Hamilton; DE - C.J. Johnson, Marquis Haynes; OLB - Serderius Bryant, Keith Lewis, Denzel Nkemdiche; MLB - D.T. Shackelford, Christian Russell (moving up with a bullet), Temario Strong; Husky - Tony Conner, Cliff Coleman; FS - Cody Prewitt, C.J. Hampton; SS - Trae Elston, Anthony Alford; CBs - Senquez Golson, Derrick Jones, Mike Hilton, Tee Shepard, Carlos Davis. . . Of course, two or three of them need to keep coming in August, but we're pretty sure - based on experience and talent - this is a quality depth chart across the board.

What of Coach Hugh Freeze's statement yesterday that he has been disappointed in the performance of backup QBs - Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan?

We're not making much of that, for now. If he makes that statement in two weeks, there could be an issue. Right now, we believe his statement was more of a motivator than an indictment. QB Coach Dan Werner said at the end of spring the next step for them is to start playing "faster." Easier said than done. It will take some time. Freeze is trying to urge them to take less time than the rate he is currently seeing, for good reason. If something happens to Bo Wallace, it's on them and they need to be ready. Thus, the well-conceived spur to the haunches yesterday, which was not a quote of overall disappointment.


Ole Miss wide receiver Markell Pack.

With Collins Moore, who had as good a spring as any wideout, out with injury for the time being, where is the WR depth coming from beyond the apparent starters - Vincent Sanders, Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo?

This remains to be answered, but a guy we have been waiting to emerge to the next level for some time now is Cody Core, and we're told he is showing more and more glimpses of moving up early in August. Core has it all - good size, speed and toughness. Time for him to be a factor. Don't be surprised if the three freshmen - Harris and Markell Pack and Sammie Epps - figure in pretty quickly as well.

How strong is Bo Wallace's arm, really?

Bo never has had, and never will have, what could be called a powerful arm, aka a Romaro Miller or Michael Spurlock type of naturally strong arm, but his arm is much, much better than it was last year, or the year before for that matter, and he's making throws now he could not make a year ago. Put it this way, last year, for much of the year, his arm was not good enough to do what he wanted to do and he still put up excellent numbers until it finally played out on him toward the end. Now, it is.

Let's see if Saturday's scrimmage, open to the public and the media, backs up the answers.


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