Freshmen living up to their billing
The incoming class at Ole Miss was rated the #15 class in the country, according to scout.com, and it is easy to see why.
Twenty eight first year players were on display Saturday and twenty one of them were getting regular snaps in the two deep rotation at Saturday's scrimmage.
Think about that for a minute.
When was the last time that 21 incoming players were in the rotation during preseason camp?
Not in my lifetime.
Now some might say, "but doesn't that mean your depth is not where you need it to be if you are relying on that many first year players?"
And the answer would be yes, but it is what it is.
The good news is that these players are not just "fillers", they are truly talented SEC caliber players. The key word here is "SEC caliber" talent.
Finally, the tide has turned in the Ole Miss football program and the key word here is "recruiting."
What did the Bear say? Coaching is 90% recruiting and 10% coaching?
Don't know if I would go that far, but he certainly was on to something.
Did anybody watch that offense yesterday?
Sure, Coach Werner's offensive system is like night and day compared to last year's. The flow of the play calling was like watching the Brave's pitchers during their heyday. It was so hard to predict what was coming next. Beautiful, simply beautiful.
But what if you took out Marshay Green, Dexter McCluster, John Jerry, Brent Schaeffer, Cory Actis, Kendrick Lewis, Shay Hodge, Cordera Eason, and Reggie Hicks from the offense?
Would she look so good?
I doubt it.
And speaking of Dexter McCluster and Marshay Green.
Wow! Have you seen a pair like this since maybe the old days of Vincent Brownlee and Pat Coleman?
If you have, please tell me, because I sure missed them.
These two are what you call, "playmakers". Isn't that what Coach Orgeron alluded to at his press conference when he was hired. Now he has them.
McCLuster and Green can stop on a dime and get back to full speed in a bat of an eye. Sure, the Rebs have had some guys who could fly. But have they had guys who could fly, cut on a dime, and were just as quick as fast?
Not since John Avery and certainly not a pair of them.
Folks, mark it down. McCluster and Green will make a many of headaches for opposing SEC coaches for the next FOUR years. Oh, music to my ears. Four years, not one or two, but four.
Speaking of skilled players, we finally got to see the much hyped Brent Schaeffer in action.
Rebel fans from all over could not wait to get a glimpse of their future starting QB and Brent certainly did not disappoint.
He has the speed, arm strength and savvy that Ole Miss has longed for since Eli departed.
What what I was keying on was this. Did he have the "fearless" attitude that I thought was lacking lately.
Could he run around at full speed and not be "shy".
Brent was not only fearless, he was downright scary fearless.
He would be going in one direction, cut back against the grain with a would be defender running full speed in his direction, and just duck as if he were just bobbing from a drunk man's punch.
That is what excited me. Sure we see a lot of QB's with big arms and low forty times. But what separates the men from the boys are the runs who have the tools to succeed, but also have the mindset to succeed.
Brent is as cool under pressure as James Dean was with the ladies. Yes, sometimes he did try to force a throw. And yes, I saw a a play or two where the receiver and Brent were not in synch, but you know all of that will take care of itself with more reps.
You had to leave the scrimmage feeling good about the QB play you are going to see for the next two years.
OK, but what about that meat? You know, where the games are won.
The ole trenches was in need of influx of talent, especially along the offensive line.
This is where I got excited too.
Last year's recruiting class had all of the ingredients that was needed to make it a well rounded class, but one thing, the offensive line. Well, so I thought.
I guess I was guilty of looking at the "stars" by their names.
Sure, they signed one of the country's more highly rated players in John Jerry, but they needed a few "John Jerry's" not just one.
Well, it looks like the Rebels could have a couple of keepers in, Corey Actis, Daverin Geralds and Don Mosely.
Corey's light looks to have come on, and he was even playing some left guard in Andrew Wicker's absence. Actis was much more aggressive and just seemed to have a little more pop to his step than he did in the Spring.
But what surprised me the most was the footwork of Daverin Geralds. Here is a kid that Ole Miss signed after signing day that choose the Rebels over Duke. Yes Duke has a "name" but how many OL do you sign that choose your school over Duke? Hopefully not many.
As I was watching the flexibility drills before the scrimmage took place, I kept noticing this #72. His footwork was in that "Michael Oher" mold. He was running throw the drills like a linebacker. His flexibility was the second best out of all of the lineman. And when you consider that Michael Oher was the best, that is not a bad thing. I think Daverin, in given time, is going to prove his merit in the SEC.
And what about "Baby J". The offensive lineman who Coach Prunty at Hargrave called, "his best ever", look?
John Jerry, when you take a look at him, has that "Marcus Johnson" frame. You know, the one when you take a first glance, you say, we need 10 more who are built like that.'
This kid, or excuse me, THIS MAN, is all he was hyped up to be. Sure, he will need to learn to play to the end on each and every play, but don't all freshmen. He has all the tools to be a fixture on the offensive line for years to come.
It was no secret that the Rebels were going to need a lot of help from the incoming receivers, as I believe if my memory is correct, there were a total of 2 passes that were caught by the returners.
The play from the receiver group was inconsistent at the scrimmage, but remember, this was the first day they even put pads on as an Ole Miss player.
We have already gone over McCluster and Green, so no need rehashing their abilities again, but think about all of those dump off screens that we have seen in the past few years that netted 1 or 2 yards. You know, that middle screen or out screen that made it 3rd and 8 to go. Or that 3rd down play where you needed 6 yards and the screen netted one.
Think about the possibilities with Green and McCluster in the screen plays. Man, if that does not get you excited, I do not know what does.
Both these players are so quick, and see the field so well, that they can turn any screen into 6 points. That is a luxury that many teams do not have but Ole Miss now does.
Shay Hodge, surprisingly to me, looked to thrive in the post patterns that took him right into the middle of the field with a jaw dropping safety (Jamarca Sanford) waiting to knock his chops off.
But boom, Shay took two of the middle of the field passes and did not hesitate one time in bringing the ball in. Had that "Kerry Johnson" attitude. We all knew Shay was one of the better athletes signed, but I do not think many knew he had that mental fortitude of a fearless receiver. That few would be the Ole Miss coaches who evaluated him.
Kendrick Lewis was never able to get untracked at the scrimmage, but that was more from the lack of plays that went his direction or the two balls that were thrown his way were simply too far behind him. He still almost caught one of the toughest passes you could imagine. I saw Kendrick play several times on the high school level, and his strengths were always his "glue hands", route running, and not being scared to go over the middle. Nothing that I saw from Lewis Saturday changed my mind.
Markeith Summers has that "look" to him, but right now, it looks like he is trying to grasp everything at once and just needs a little time.
Running back had to please all eyes on the field.
Newcomers Bruce Hall and Cordera Eason looked like the real deal out on the field and Reggie Hicks gives more effort than possibly anybody on the team.
Cordera has that "game speed" and power that makes one a big time back. He does not look like he is running that fast, but all of the sudden he is running faster than anybody out on the field. And ask Robert Russell if Eason has any power. Eason simply ran through and over Russell as the two went head on. Big/big things are in store for Mr. Eason.
Reggie Hicks has that toughness and hands that separates the average from great fullbacks.
On the defensive line, Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett played the entire scrimmage with the 1's at defensive end. Of course, the two returning starters at end missed practice, but that lets you know how highly the staff thinks of these two to already be in the regular rotation.
Kentrell is your classic "rush end". He is long and lanky, and when given a year in the weight room, is going to be a beast. He has one of the more explosive first steps I have seen since Derrick Burgess reported as a true freshman at end.
Marcus Tillman already has that veteran look. He is tall (6' 4") and big (250). Very solid looking on the hoof. Marcus will give you that bull rush and is very strong against the run.
But here if your classic case of where "stars" do not always count.
Remember Greg Hardy? He was nationally ranked but not in your Lockett and Tillman category. Well, this boy can play. Gary is just as athletic as any lineman on the team. He already had good size (6' 5", 240) and has motor that never stops.
Remember when Garry Pack entered the program. Just close your eyes and visualize what he looked like on the hoof. Now open them. You are now looking at Jonathan Cornell.
But more importantly, he has that Garry Pack speed and savvy too. Cornell was one of the more highly rated linebackers in the country for a reason and we saw why on Saturday.
We kept reading all of these glowing reports from Coach Orgeron about his new DB's in Cassius Vaughn, Allen Walker, and Jamal Harvey.
Now we see why.
Cassius got in a bunch of reps with the 1's and made a nifty little interception during the scrimmage. Vaughn has great ball skills and already has that knack of knowing where the ball is going. And folks, the kid put on his pads for the first time Saturday.
Jamal Harvey was very active the whole scrimmage. He has the frame you are looking for and the speed and attitude to go along with it. Given a year in the weight room, he is going to be the complete package.
Allen Walker loves contact. That is the first thing that jumps out at you. He also has that "feel" for the game that you long for.
This duo of safeties that was brought in at Ole Miss are as good as any I have seen during my "short" lifetime.
All in all, when leaving the stadium Saturday, yes you left with the feeling that there are some immediate concerns for this year's team, but you knew the light was at the end of the tunnel.
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