A key to the Rebels' success again this season will be maintaining and even improving special teams. Little is set in stone there currently, but as Coach Houston Nutt said last week about the overall team, there's a ways to go and just enough time to get there before the opener.
Rob Park is gone and punting duties will now go to either veteran Justin Sparks or newcomer Tyler Campbell.
"Justin Sparks has really come a long way as far as consistency," Shibest said. "Tyler Campbell, the freshman from Little Rock, boy he can boom it. He's got to get better at some little things as far as staying in the pocket and what have you. But he's got an unbelievable leg."
Campbell showed his leg strength during special teams work Thursday. Some of his punts went 65 to 70 yards, with a little help from the wind. But Shibest said Campbell is capable of that and more without a wind.
"He came to our camp a year ago, and he kicked about two or three 80-yarders. So that wrapped that up pretty quick," Shibest said, with the coaches convinced then he could be the Rebels' punter for the future. "But he's got to work on his hang time. He kicks some low liners and that really puts a lot of stress on your coverage. So we're just working on some things. As far as leg strength, he's one of the best we've seen as coaches."
The placekicking chores are in good hands. Joshua Shene returns for his senior season following a strong junior campaign when he was first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press.
He's the SEC's active leader in field goals made with 42, and his current streak of 74 extra points made is the second longest in UM school history.
"He's just a consistent player," Shibest said. "In game situations he just seems to be so accurate. He handles pressure well. He's rated highly around the country right now. We've just got to keep him focused on the next kick."
That shouldn't be a problem for the veteran. He's been around and understands his role. And the coaches have confidence in his distance and accuracy.
"You know, we really didn't have a lot of long ones last year," Shibest said. "Get around that 50-yarder, Coach (Nutt) likes to go for it sometimes, too. Joshua can make it from 55-57 with no wind. If you get in that situation right before the half or even late in the game, we feel confident with him hitting the long one."
Shene, whose longest made field goal at Ole Miss was 52 yards vs. Northwestern State as a freshman, was 17-of-21 in the field goal department last season to lead the SEC in field goal percentage at 81.
As for kickoffs, Sparks and freshman Andrew Ritter are both capable of handling that duty, as is sophomore David Hankins.
"There's another situation with good competition," Shibest said. "(Andrew) Ritter out of Jackson is going to be a big factor there. Obviously we've got Justin (Sparks) coming back. A lot could play out here, too, as to who starts at punter. If Justin ends up being our starting punter, we may go with another guy there (on kickoffs). Hankins has done a really good job, too. So we've got some good problems right now, and it looks good, too, for us down the road in the future."
As for kick returner, Shibest feels there are several capable of contributing.
"We've got a lot of candidates, which is a good thing," he said. "The bad thing is we really don't know who is going to do it at this point. We're going to try to go (Brandon) Bolden and Tom Simon and Cordera Eason. That's what we're looking at right now. There are two or three others. Of course Marshay (Green) is always a factor there if we need him. Possibly a Korvic Neat, too. But we don't know right now. It's probably going to be something we find out throughout the season. But if we had to start today, it would be Bolden and Eason."
The punt return situation is a little more in focus.
"It will be Marshay Green back in punt return," Shibest said. "And we could go with Dexter (McCluster) in there, too. But Marshay just does a great job making decisions. He's experienced doing it. I think he's going to have a really good year. But it's good to have Dexter, too. Obviously the two young ones (Neat, Jesse Grandy), looking down the road, they're going to be nice to have, if you've watched those guys run around out here."
Shibest on Special Teams
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