Ole Miss QBs Ready to Compete

If the 2015 Ole Miss football season started today, redshirt sophomore Ryan Buchanan would be the Rebels’ starting quarterback.

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But the season doesn’t start today. Actually, a full month of practices stands between now and kickoff against UT-Martin Sept. 5, and the quarterback competition remains very much up in the air.

“We’ll certainly rotate them,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “Ryan, day one, will take the snaps with the ones. We’ll just rotate, maybe even rotate drills day one. He’ll take the first snap. All are going to get reps with the ones for sure. We’ll rotate days, chart everything and evaluate the film and see how they do in the scrimmage situations.”

While the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Buchanan appreciated the comments from his coach, he isn’t taking them for granted. He knows he has to separate himself somehow. The time is now.

Buchanan played in every game last season, seeing time as the backup to Bo Wallace. He finished the year 12 of 22 for 75 yards and an interception.

“It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s nice hearing that, but at the same time, we’re still competing. I’ll take the first snap and then they’ll be rotating. It probably doesn’t mean much. In my mind, I’m competing no matter what. I’ve just got to be able to show it.

“The only thing I really look into is what our coaches say and what I see on this practice field and what I do on this practice field. I try to stay away from everything else.”

For now, at least, it appears his primary competition is junior college transfer Chad Kelly, whose past troubles are well-documented. Also well-documented are his accomplishments. Kelly signed with Ole Miss in February as a four-star prospect out of East Mississippi Community College.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Kelly said. “You just have to approach every day and try to get better on and off the field. Keep looking forward, don’t ever look back and wish for the best.

“(The competition) has definitely made us closer. We try to push each other every day, on and off the field. We try to get all As, everybody. We’re trying to push each other in every which way. It’s a competition. That’s what we’re here for.”

Freeze has pushed Kelly as well. In more ways than one.

“He’s pushed me on and off the field a tremendous amount,” Kelly said. “I’m just so thankful he gave me an opportunity to come play for this great university. You’ve just got to look forward. I know people are going to keep asking this and that. You’ve just got to keep looking forward.”

Kelly led EMCC to an NJCAA national championship over Iowa Western last season, completing 40 of 53 passes for 434 yards and five touchdowns. He finished the season with 3,906 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, as well as 446 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

“To this point, I could not be more pleased,” Freeze said of Kelly’s progress. “He had a 4.0 GPA this summer, had a 3.6 in the spring. He’s one of the strength staff’s most favorite kids. Finishes first in every drill. He’s just like a lot of us; he’s made some mistakes in the past and he’s ready to only move beyond them. I think he deserves that opportunity now.”

The competition, a three-way battle which also includes sophomore Devante Kincade, is nothing new to Buchanan. It’s all he’s known since he arrived at Ole Miss as a member of the recruiting class of 2013.

“I’ve had to compete for the backup job, and now for the starting job,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting to do. At the same time, because I’ve been competing for so long, it doesn’t feel like a shock. I knew this day was coming. I could see it, and I’ve been waiting on it. I’m going to show out. I feel like I’m a lot more mature, so I’m ready to go.”

That Buchanan will take the first snaps Thursday when the Rebels open fall camp is significant if for no other reason than he has the trust of his coaches. He’s in the driver’s seat, meaning it’s on one of Kelly or Kincade to supplant him.

But with No. 1 position comes naysayers, as Buchanan is well-aware. He’s heard the criticism of his game, no matter how hard he’s tried to avoid it. Arkansas, when he completed only 1 of 5 passes for 5 yards and an interception, is the game they point to.

“You get thrown in certain situations, good or bad. I’ve heard it from people,” he said. “It’s hard not to see it, even if you’re not looking for it. That game, I didn’t feel like I showed what I really could. When we were playing Vanderbilt, I could move the ball and I could take some shots downfield. With the conditions and everything (against Arkansas), I didn’t really have that mindset to go relentlessly. I know the coaches have seen it in the spring. They’ve seen me do this in practice. I’m ready to show it in fall camp.”

Kincade is out to prove he belongs, too. He played in eight games last season, completing 16 of 20 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. He was 9 of 18 for 93 yards in the Grove Bowl, and he also ran 10 times for 50 yards.

“I always put myself behind to make me work way harder,” Kincade said. “I feel like I’m behind right now, so I can keep a level head and keep a good drive in my body to know I need to keep bringing my ‘A’ game every day. I just need to show my coaches that I understand the offense fully. No hesitation. No second thoughts. Don’t be hesitant about protections and plays.”

Kincade’s ability to run could give him an advantage in August. He could even carve out a role similar to Barry Brunetti two years ago - complimenting whoever is named the starter as the running option in an up-tempo Ole Miss attack.

But he’s not thinking that way.

“I always put in my mind that I’m going to be the guy, regardless of the situation,” he said. “I’m not a runner. I’ve never been a runner, I just have the ability to run. I’m a dual-threat when I have to be.”

Whatever the outcome, Kincade believes the quarterbacks could very well hold the key to a special season for Ole Miss.

“I feel like we’re the captains of the ship,” he said. “If we handle our business and we perform well, the team will perform well. They’re going to feed off us. We’ve got special, talented guys. Once we step up to the plate, they’re going to feed off us.”

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