Wide receiver update -

One obvious, major key to the Rebs' improvement in 2007 will be the production of the wide receivers and the passing game. As it stands right now, depth is a critical factor in that WR equation. Read about it inside.

The immediate future of wide receiver signees A.J. Jackson and Roderick Davis is uncertain due to academic issues.

If those two do not "come through," the depth at wide receiver takes a major hit for the 2007 season.

While there is a lot of talk about the improvement and maturation of the returning wideouts, it's clear there aren't enough of them to have a decent WR rotation and keep players fresh.

A glance at the viable wide receiver candidates already on campus does not take long.

There is junior Mike Wallace, sophomore Dexter McCluster, sophomore Marshay Green, sophomore Shay Hodge and sophomore Michael Hicks who have actually played in games.

Of those, McCluster just got cleared for contact after missing half of last year and all of the contact aspects of spring training due to a lengthy shoulder rehab.

Trying to make an impact on the group are RS freshman Kevin Rolack, senior squad member Josh Zettergren, who had a pretty good spring game, and converted JUCO DB Jocarious Lucas.

"They are working hard, really hard," said Hugh Freeze, in his first year as the Rebs' wide receivers coach after serving as the tight ends coach last year. "Voluntarily, they are working out in 7-on-7 drills this summer and I'm sure that's helping all of them with the chemistry with the quarterbacks, staying in football shape and building unity.

"They are also with (S&C Coach) Aaron (Ausmus) four days a week, so I know they are getting stronger and will be in peak condition when August rolls around. He does a tremendous job. I love the way they work and they will only benefit from that."

Freeze said Hodge had a "tremendous" spring, Wallace improved his overall game to go with his world-class speed, and Dexter and Marshay are "joys to work with."

"Shay was very productive in spring. He's matured and grown as a receiver a lot," Hugh continued. "Mike has all the speed you need, but we are working on getting him to play the game at a faster speed. Getting in and out of breaks and so on. He has to play to his speed level. He started doing that more in spring. If you are a sub-4.5 guy and you play at 4.7, the speed doesn't do you much good. He understands that now and is working hard to play at the level of his speed.

"We know what Marshay and Dexter can do and they will only get better. Nobody outworks them. They add to our speed element and they are fairly consistent in catching the ball. They are very good after the catch.

"And Mike Hicks has worked hard to earn a role in that group."

Freeze said Zettergren "knows everything he has to do and does it to the best of his ability" and Rolack "has some speed and might help with the depth." Lucas only practiced at WR a few days in spring, so the jury is still out on him.

"We need for one or two or them to emerge and we will need to be smart with how we use them in backup roles," Freeze explained.

Freeze will not discuss the lack of depth. He simply says it's his job to coach up the ones available with no excuses, but anybody with an objective eye can plainly see that while the quality of the WRs is adequate, if not better than that, the quantity of quality receivers is not where it needs to be as August drills rapidly approach.

"It's my job to coach who we have up and get them ready for whatever they have to do," Hugh noted. "Every coach wants more depth. I don't know of a coach anywhere who doesn't want to be three or four deep at every position, but not many are. You work with what you have and do the best with who you've got and I've got some great kids who want to be great players. We'll get the job done and we'll get where we want to be.

"Are we SEC-ready yet? No, but we will be."

Freeze played coy with the media in the interview when pressed about the lack of depth. A noble stance, but is it realistic?

If the Rebs try to run many three and four-wide sets, keeping players fresh through grueling practices sessions, where every WR sprints miles a day, and actual games will be a chore unless some more players emerge, or Freeze is the beneficiary of a position change or two, or Jackson or Davis or a late signee find their way to Ole Miss fairly quickly.

While all the available wide receivers are upbeat and enthused with the advances they have made in the last year and the path they are on for even more improvement in the future, the reality is that the Rebel WRs, as it stands today, are thin.

Cross your fingers for no more health issues and for some new WR faces to surface. The guys already in the fold can be good, but the question remains - can they hold up through a long season?

We'll see.

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