Predicting the future for any incoming freshman is virtually impossible, but with the much-heralded class of 2009 now on campus, let's peer into the crystal ball to see which newcomers could possibly make an immediate impact this fall.
I'm sure when Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt breaks down the Rebel roster, it's hard to find any glaring weaknesses among the starting crop. But as Nutt has admitted, two areas of concern are depth along the offensive line and in the secondary.
"We desperately need help in two areas - offensive line and secondary," said Nutt. "Our numbers are not where we want them there.
"We have 22 seniors and need to have some kids ready at those positions for backup and for next year. Those are two of the harder areas to learn. There is a lot on DBs and OL to learn what you have to learn to be ready to play on this level."
Enter Bobby Massie, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound tackle, who easily tops the list of potential impact freshmen this season. Rated by Scout.com as the top prep school player in the country, Massie already finds himself on the second team at right tackle, with senior John Jerry firmly entrenched as starter.
However, with Bradley Sowell manning the left side with limited experience and the ever-developing Rishaw Johnson at right guard, Massie could quickly find himself in the starting lineup if either falters.
Further, a sixth-man ala Darryl Harris is desired in case of injury or simply for rest. Senior Reid Neely can play multiple roles, but who is able to step in to fill the void in his absence is still an issue as camp opens.
Wildcards for playing time are Emmanuel McCray and Michael Brown, who each will get a look at tackle initially. Both are impressive physically, with heights of at least 6-foot-5.
"Emmanuel McCray, Massie, Brown – they'll be thrown into the mix early. We need them to get after it," Nutt said. "Bobby (Massie) looks great, but I'm sure he is behind in his conditioning. We have no idea who is mature enough to handle the task this early, but we will find out."
In the secondary, Charles Sawyer and Frank Crawford come to mind as potential contributors at cornerback, as each will get a healthy look during practices.
The conclusion of this season will see the departures of starters Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn, leaving Jeremy McGee and Marcus Temple as the most experienced veterans. Playing time can be had, as fellow frosh Ryan Campbell will also have a chance as Nutt attempts to restock the cupboard.
"Charles Sawyer, Frank Crawford, Ryan Campbell and Jesse Grandy, who will start at wide receiver, are guys we will be trying to develop quickly, not for the right now, but for down the line," Nutt said.
For most freshmen, the mental transition to the college level is of equal difficulty as the physicality. Grasping the playbook can prove difficult, as it contains a multitude of plays and formations for all gametime situations.
It should come with good reason then, the Wild Rebel presents a perfect opportunity for some freshmen to see the field early.
"(Brandon) Bolden is next in line," Nutt said of Wild Rebel candidates after starter Dexter McCluster. "We said yes to a lot of them in the living room and the ones who have the desire to learn the position will get a chance to. (Raymond) Cotton, (Rodney) Scott and (Patrick) Patterson – let's see what you can do and if you can handle it. If they can, let's roll."
As a dual-threat quarterback, Cotton appears to be an ideal fit for the formation, after passing for over 2,300 yards and rushing for another 700 as a senior at Meade Senior HS in Maryland. He finished with 35 total TDs for the season.
"What we'll do with him very, very early is give him a package," Nutt said." Maybe not so much the whole book, but a package of things we want him to do – one of them being the Wild Rebel. The guy can throw. Just give him a certain amount of plays where he doesn't go crazy thinking about an entire playbook."
While this is a small preview of players who could very well contribute come fall, many others will have an opportunity to show their worth.
Depth at linebacker is thin behind starters Allen Walker, Jonathan Cornell and Patrick Trahan, with only Lamar Brumfield holding valuable experience. Jason Jones and Lekenwic Haynes will certainly get their respective shots, but the likes of D.T. Shackleford, Joel Kight and Tim Simon will also be in the mix.
At wide receiver, the loss of speedy Mike Wallace hurts, as he ranked second all-time in all-purpose yardage, third all-time in TD receptions and fifth in receiving yards for his career.
Shay Hodge and McCluster are cemented as starters, with Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers next in line. But Patterson could see the field quickly considering his athleticism and sure hands.
We could go on and on. Seeing how it plays out, however, will be the fun part.
"We tell them all to come in here ready to contribute and let's see what happens," said Nutt. "Don't worry about redshirting or not. We need the best 11 starters and backups on offense, defense and special teams, so some of them will have an impact. Just come in and play. It'll take care of itself."
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