Rehashing August

It's game week, finally. Time for the Rebels to show what they have done since the win over Georgia Tech in Nashville to end the 2013 season. What have we learned since August began? A pseudo list.

Disclaimer: We fully understand the "rosiness" of this offering, but when everything is compiled about the 2014 Rebels, there is a lot of be excited about. . .We'll let you decide.

* WR Laquon Treadwell, a Freshman All-American last season and the Rebels' leading receiver in 2013, was moved outside from the slot position to wideout. Quon has added 6-8 pounds of lean muscle mass to his frame and is now playing at 223 pounds. Out side, he gets more one-on-one matchups. The indications are that he will overpower a lot of corners with his size, strength and length. Anticipate a good year from #1.

* The season-ending injuries to CB Tee Shepard, CB/PR Carlos Davis and Husky Chief Brown have been getting some downplaying, of sorts, because the Rebels do have more depth than in previous seasons, but make no mistake, they sting. Tee was being counted on to provide some length and size to the corner position to tangle with the bigger WRs that are in vogue these days. Carlos was not only going to be the best special teams player on the team, he was the nickel and dime DB in those packages. Chief was a reliable, versatile player who could back up Husky Tony Conner, FS Cody Prewitt or SS Trae Elston. He was being counted on to be the Husky in a lot of passing situations. The coaches have plans to replace them all, and their plans are viable, but make no mistake, these three injuries have taken an early toll, not insurmountable, but a toll nonetheless.


Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt.

* OLB Denzel Nkemdiche will not play in the opener versus Boise State due to a suspension carry over from last year, but make no mistake, Denzel is back and, it says here, better than ever. Take away something that someone loves, when they get it back, they treasure it more.

* Denzel's baby brother, Robert, is a beast. There's little else to say.

* S/QB/PR Anthony Alford probably won't "start" at any position - unless punt returner is a considered a starter - but make no mistake, he is very valuable to the Rebel cause in many ways. How many times in recent history have the Rebels had an athlete as versatile and talented as Alford to lean on situationally in so many capacities? As MasterCard says, he's priceless. Not only that, but he has, by breathing down his neck, motivated Elston to a new level of play just so Trae could keep his SS job.

* QB Bo Wallace has never had what anyone would categorize as a cannon of an arm, so don't expect miracles Thursday night, but to a man, the receivers have talked about Bo's arm - thanks to summer rehab - being much better and him being able to make throws he couldn't make last year. Bo is bigger, stronger and, for the first time since he's been a Rebel, healthy. Not only that, but his offseason commitment to the film room has made his decision-making quicker and more accurate. In the tempo, quick-hit offense the Rebs employ, that's as important as any ingredient.

* Not a lot has been written about sophomore Husky Tony Conner, also a Freshman All-American last season, this camp. Why? Good question. The quiet Conner just shows up every day with his hard hat on and goes to work. He lets his pads do his talking. This year, there's no hesitation in his play. He's got his position down pat and he does his job without a whole lot of fanfare. But there 11 Tony Conners. . . one can only dream.


Ole Miss husky Tony Conner.

* In this writer's opinion, and I'm not alone, there are many excellent players on the Rebel defense, but there are three - with due respect to the others - that are indispensable, for lack of a batter word - Prewitt, who runs the whole defense; R. Nkemdiche, the force in the middle; and DE C.J. Johnson. All one has to remember about the latter is how much the Rebs suffered without him a year ago, as in virtually no pass rush.

* The Rebels, as you know, are blessed with a stable of running backs who RB Coach Derrick Nix trusts. So how does he sort it all out when game time rolls around? Here's an educated guess. He will go with experience - Jaylen Walton and I'tavius Mathers - first and fill in the blanks from there, starting with RS freshman Jordan Wilkins and sophomore Mark Dodson. Look for JUCO transfer Akeem Judd to redshirt, even though all acknowledge he could help this year, but mainly in the same capacity as Wilkins, who has been in the system longer and fills the "big back" role for now. P.S. - Wilkins has a chance, again, a chance, to carry on the tradition of other Rebel greats wearing the coveted #22 jersey. We'll see. . .

* Out side, the presence of senior Vincent Sanders has been stabilizing for that unit. Vincent missed last spring with a bad hammy, but is now back and doing his thing. Perhaps the most underrated player on the team, but you look up at the end of the game and he's got 5-6 "quiet" catches for 80n yards. . . Quincy Adeboyejo has had a little bit of a slump with his ball skills in August, but there's too much talent there for him not to snap out of that. . . Cody Core has taken his game to another level, hence, most likely a starting spot in the slot A big target with speed. . . Freshman Markell Pack has also made a mark here lately and will, most likely, be eased into the rotation. . . Collins Moore, who had a terrific spring but injured his knee in the offseason, was anticipated to be out for a few games, but he is ahead of schedule in his comeback and may see action pretty quickly.


Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil.

* LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Aaron Morris and RG Justin Bell anchor the offensive line and that's a good place to start. Tunsil and Morris, most believe, are NFL bound when their collegiate days are over. Bell rarely makes a mistake and has a ton of experience. Ben Still has won the center job. He's paid his dues and should be ready to step up. JUCO transfer Fahn Cooper is athletic and has won the right tackle battle. Robert Conyers can play all five OL positions, has proven his value and will play a lot. On the cusp of being "game ready" are tough JUCO transfer Craig Frigo, very athletic freshman Rod Taylor and RS freshman Daronte Bouldin, one of the strongest players on the team. While the jury is still out on the OL, and only games will tell the real tale, it has shaped up better than some anticipated.

* At tight end, if sophomore Evan Engram is not a candidate for All-SEC, it will be a surprise. Bigger, faster, stronger and more knowledgeable than a year ago when he burst on the scene. That adds up to a banner year. Senior Nick Parker, a former running back, is steady, versatile and reliable. The wild card is 280-pound Jeremy Liggins, who has the potential to be an outstanding prototype TE. How quickly will that happen? Nobody knows yet, but he is making progress. Also, a player to keep an eye out for is Matt Brown, who will be in the Engram role at times.

* "Who is the backup QB?" That is one of the most frequently asked questions, no doubt. That may be complicated. Every down guy? Probably RS frosh Ryan Buchanan, who has, at this point, run the offense a tad more efficiently than fellow RS freshman Devante Kincade. While both have progressed, Buck's decision-making has graded higher at this point. Situationally? Alford. He has dynamic qualities with the ball in his hands and he has not forgotten how to play QB.

* Johnson and R. Nkemdiche are not alone when it comes to prowess on the defensive line. Senior DT Bryon Bennett has had a very good August, his best yet. Woody Hamilton and Lavon Hooks are also in the mix and have proven hard to block. When Issac Gross can gets healthy from a neck issue, we all know what he can do. Freshman Marquis Haynes can be another C.J., if not better. He is that type of dynamic talent. Carlos Thompson, if he can stay healthy, will add a pass rush dimension as well. Fadol Brown will figure in heavily at DE and he's not just as an anchor - he can pass rush too. Channing Ward, moved back to DE after a spring at TE, can also anchor an end slot. Jack-of-all-trades John Youngblood has also proven his value. When is the last time there have been 10 DL on the Ole Miss campus that the coaches trust and will count on? Uh, never?

* At MLB, sixth-year senior D.T. Shackelford has led the way and is solid. A backup coming into August camp was the concern. Two have emerged. JUCO transfer Christian Russell had trouble, as expected, with the defensive calls last spring, but he spent countless hours learning - with D.T. mentoring him - in the offseason and the results have been impressive. He adds speed to that position. Also, true freshman DeMarquis Gates has made himself viable as an MLB option. Mark it down - he is the MLB of the future for the Rebels.

* At OLB, Serderius Bryant returns as the Rebs' leading tackler from a year ago and has picked up where he left off. Senior Keith Lewis is reliable and will be used in several different roles. When the Rebs employ three LBs, Keith is the "other" OLB. And then there is Denzel. . . see note above.


Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant.

* At Husky, with Brown out, the coaches have been scrambling for a backup to Conner. The ace up their sleeve is CB Mike Hilton, but they'd rather leave him at corner for now. They have also schooled Cliff Coleman, who also plays corner and FS, on the position. Cliff is a veteran and a reliable performer who had a very good spring and fall camp. But it appears another true freshman, A.J. Moore, has sent notice he wants to be the guy. So far, the coaches agree.

* Despite losing Shepard and Davis, corner should be pretty salty. Hilton and Senquez Golson are proven commodities and have the trust of the coaches. It's been argued here that Hilton is as good a football player as the Rebels have, and little dispute has been offered. DC Dave Wommack charts everything and he will be the first to tell that Golson simply doesn't get beaten often, which is the bottom line for any corner. Derrick Jones gives the Rebs the length they desire against bigger receivers. Kailo Moore is coming around after a kidney injury as a viable option. Freshman Kendarius Webster will play, and by the time the season is in the meat of the schedule, he may play a lot.

* The safety slots are well-manned - duh. Prewitt is a returning First-Team All-American who has done nothing but strive to be even better his final Reb campaign. It has shown in August. Elston has amped up his game since Alford came on teh scene. Alford, as previously mentioned, will be a stud. True freshman C.J. Hampton had an early August slump, but in the last week or so has shown why he was so highly-recruited.

* Deep Snapper Will Denny is gold. Has been for two years, will be this year. It looks as if Buchanan will handle the holding duties for placements and he has been flawless in camp. That important operation appears to be in good hands, literally.

* Perhaps the biggest question mark on the team at this juncture is the kicking game. It's brand new. It's unproven. August has shown the talent for field goals, kickoffs and punting is there. The question is how will they perform under the lights? Will Gleeson, it appears, has won the punting job for now and is very versatile in what he can do with his foot - actually both feet. Freshman Gary Wunderlich has shown a strong leg in field goals, punts and kickoffs, but may be on a shelf for a while as he matures and becomes more consistent. Andrew Fletcher has earned the job as the field goal kicker from the 43 and in - he's been the most consistent, but Andy Pappanastos and Wunderlich will be the choices for long field goals. Nathan Noble, who has been around for two years, will most likely handle the kickoff duties. He's very capable. Again, doing it in the games is the key.


Ole Miss safety Trae Elston.

* In the return game, we can't minimize the loss of Davis as the punt return man. He had the job locked up until he tore his ACL and, we believe, he was going to be dynamic in returns. It looks as if the job will fall on the broad shoulders of Alford with Elston and Pack waiting in the wings. Pack may be the smoothest of the three, but he may need to get his feet wet at wideout before being entrusted with that important task. . . . Walton, Dodson, K. Moore and Elston are the deep return men on kickoffs with Walton and Dodson getting the nod in a two-deep set.

* When is the last time the Rebels were able to redshirt players, to name a few, of the quality of Breeland Speaks, Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell, Judd, Dayall Harris, Sammie Epps, Kendrick Doss, D.K. Buford, and Jordan Sims? Speaks of the Rebel depth and appears to be the early plan. That's a good sign of the growth of the program, for sure.

* P.S. - Not every viable player on the roster was listed in this too-long narrative. Guys like DT Herbert Moore, freshman S C.J. Moore, OLB Tayler Polk, OL/DT Carlton Martin, MLB Temario Strong, WR Trey Beldsoe, OL Chase Hughes, to name a few of the more than a dozen, will most likely pop up in "roles."

There you have it. Our "glimpse" of the Rebels during Game Week 1.

Only one thing left to say - Play Ball!


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