You know what to expect.
It's pretty predictable the first couple of days are going to look like an organized fire drill. Chaotic, but controlled.
The next couple of days, usually, settles down a bit where things function a bit more smoothly, younger players figure some things out and get into the routine, and the sorting out process begins, replete with daily evaluations of who does what the best and where do they fit in to the whole scheme of things.
Then, the full pads come on and some separation starts to surface. "Ole so-and-so might be better than we thought," or "ole so-and-so needs more work."
This year was no different in the general landscape of things, but what was abundantly and obviously different was the competition level was more fierce than before at virtually every position.
Translation? While some of it is not ready for prime time, there is more quality depth on this team than Ole Miss types are used to.
A brief breakdown, if you please.
1. Quarterbacks: Frankly, I'm glad I'm not the one making this decision. One day, you say to yourself, Nathan Stanley is the man, he's done absolutely nothing to lose the job, a job he earned in spring and throughout the summer. The next, you shake your head approvingly at the progress and calm of Jeremiah Masoli and wonder how he can not be on the field. The next, you are wowed by Randall Mackey's game, maybe the best pure passer of the three. There's a dynamic going on that is healthy, but sorting it out is a task I wouldn't want, thank you very much. All three of those guys are pushing each other to the brink of their abilities. It's a circle - Nathan is making Masoli better, Masoli is making Mackey better and Mackey is making Nathan better, and every other combination. The competition keeps the circle spinning and the decision-making more complicated.
Whatever the final verdict is, however, one has to believe QB is in good hands. The best of these three will be able to handle the job, and so will number two and three.
2. Running Backs: Maybe even more muddled than quarterback. As if jack-of-all-trades and master-of-most Brandon Bolden, coming-into-his-own Enrique Davis who has found his identity, the combination of power and speed of Rodney Scott and the escapability of Derrick Herman wasn't enough to wade through and sort out, now you have to throw freshman Jeff Scott - he with speed to take your breath away - in to the mix to muddle the picture up even more. Again, how do you distribute the snaps, not just the carries? Good luck, RB Coach Derrick Nix. And that's not mentioning Devin Thomas, who, as usual, just keeps churning and producing on a consistent basis.
3. Offensive Line: All fans "like" to worry, and this - because of the lack of experience - has been worry central. While the feeling is good at the tackle slots, there's been some inconsistency in the middle, so much so that at the end of the week Center A.J. Hawkins was replaced by true frosh Evan Swindall. Alex Washington is "doing better" but needs to keep churning at left guard.
Rishaw Johnson has been excellent at times and inconsistent at others. A couple of backups are starting to peek above the quagmire of "not getting it," namely Emmanuel McCray, Mike Brown, Logan Clair and, surprisingly, true frosh Jared Duke. Not a bad first week, not a great first week. Simply put, this is a work in progress and the progress has to be a little quicker than you would hope. This is a deal where the coaches will have to put the pedal to the metal and see what happens. But, again, you can see some depth starting to surface.
4. Tight Ends: Yep, Ferbia Allen is a bit undersized. Yep, Z. Mason is still developing. Yep, Reggie Hicks is a converted fullback and journeyman for four previous years. Yep, Leyton Jones is a converted quarterback. Despite those things that may be construed as limitations, this position is producing. And that's the bottom line. No, they won't bowl you over with an NFL look, but they are projecting as a competent unit, or at least I have heard no differently.
5. Fullback: E.J. Epperson has grown up. H.R. Greer, Derrick Davis, Nick Parker and Martez Eastland are fighting for the backup time. It's become a healthy, productive situation now that E.J. has matured and realizes the point of attack really means to attack, every play, without exception.
6. Wideouts: This unit, perhaps as much as any, has come leaps and bounds since spring training. Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers, who were not very consistent in spring, have taken on the role of leaders and are doing more things you expect of your seniors. Ja-Mes Logan is becoming more steady. Jesse Grandy continues to make plays when the opportunities arise. Korvic Neat has been a nice addition after spending spring at tailback. Jared Mitchell, a converted safety, has shown a propensity for downfield blocking. But what, to this point, is starting to put this unit over the top is the surprising development of Melvin Harris as a consistent, and dynamic, performer, and the addition of a fine, fine looking freshman in Vincent Sanders. While each receiver is important, those two may be the icing on the cake to make this unit better than expected.
7. Defensive Line: Everything that was stated in spring training holds true today. They have a chance to be extremely good, and why not? Names like Lockett, Powe, Laurent, Scott, Dorsey roll off the tongue easily and with confidence. Now, however, it appears LaMark Armour could be headed for his best year ever and DEs Gerald Rivers and Cameron Whigham have become viable. No beefs at all with this group, and none were expected. The only caveat is staying healthy.
8. Linebackers: For my money, they are most underrated group on the team. You won't see a lot of flash out of them. None of them are All-SEC, yet, but this group is humming. Senior Jonathan Cornell is as valuable as anyone on the team and is playing that way. Allen Walker rarely makes a mental mistake and rarely misses a tackle he's supposed to make.
Joel Kight does exactly what Tyrone Nix wants him to do and does it full speed. And the wild card, D.T. Shackelford, may compete for the pound-for-pound title of best football player on the team when all is said and done and results are compared. Throw in promising freshmen Mike Marry, who made a splash in spring, and new arrival Clarence Jackson in that mix and there's not a whole lot left to be desired.
9. Safeties: If you're wishing, you'd wish for one more to surface quickly, but the base is solid with Johnny Brown, Fon Ingram and Damien Jackson. It's easy to recall when the Rebs had only one you could hang your hat on, but why not get greedy? A fourth needs to emerge.
10. Cornerbacks: Similar to safety. There are three that put you in a comfort zone in Marcus Temple, the best so far in camp; Jeremy McGee, a senior who has been waiting his turn patiently and intends to make a splash; and redshirt frosh Charles Sawyer, he of unlimited potential that is now starting to surface. Converted safety Frank Crawford is also making some noise in zone coverages, and redshirt frosh Ryan Campbell has made a play or two along the way. Again, why not be greedy? A fourth guy needs to step up.
11. Kicking Game: Leaving spring, the field goal kicking looked to be a major problem area. A week into camp, sophomore Bryson Rose seems to have gotten his stinger (confidence) back and has looked very good of late. Funny what a shot of confidence will do for performance. . . His job has been aided by the smoothing out of the holding duties by Richie Contartesi and the addition of Deep Snapper Will Denny, who has done a remarkable job for a true freshman. . . In kickoffs, Andrew Ritter and David Hankins are both very effective. Ritter can kick it through the end zone when he hits it right, which is often, and Hankins would be the main guy for a lot of teams. . . The punting game is paper thin, but the one at the top is a good one - Tyler Campbell. He's worked on his consistency and it's better. Not there yet, but better. . . In the return game, Grandy will be the main man, it appears, but throwing Jeff Scott and some others in that mix certainly spices things up.
That's my view from the first week, few holds barred.
That all sounds good, maybe too good to be true, but it's what I'm seeing. Hopefully, my eyes are not fibbing to me and I'm not relying on wishful thinking. (Also note, most of what was presented were strengths and not weaknesses of each player.)
Where now? What next?
As Coach Houston Nutt said after Saturday's scrimmage, the upcoming week is critical because this will be the last week where the team's focus is solely on football, no classes, no outside distractions.
Having stated a bunch of positives, things that have me excited about this squad, let's not leave the impression that it's a finished product.
From this point on, there will be consistency issues to confront and there will be the arduous chore of sorting it all out, which may not be as easy as it sounds.
And you can add another factor that will pop up in week two - the also-predictable ebb and flow of performance. Some will keep emerging, some will fall back. That too happens every year in fall camp.
Here are two facts, however, to close with.
One, it was a good first week.
Two, to keep churning is a must.