When one side of the ball is producing, that usually means the other side is not.
There's no way around that.
When the defense gets a QB sack, it's great for the D but something on the offensive side has gone awry.
When the offense connects on a big play, it's jubilation time for the O but something's askew on defense.
It's sometimes confusing to know exactly how to feel.
Sometimes it's just best to go by your gut and listen to what it's telling you.
For what it's worth, here's what the gurgling in the pit of my stomach is signaling to me.
Quaterbacks: Sophomore Nathan Stanley has had a good fall camp. The party line is that he's number one for now because he manages the game, knows the playbook best and has taken care of the ball, for the most part. From my cheap seat, Nate's also made plays. In Saturday's scrimmage, he made several very good throws and reads.
He also ripped off a long TD run. His most impressive moment may have been a perfect pass to WR Melvin Harris from his own one for a long gainer, getting the offense out of trouble with their backs to the wall. Bottom line: Nate can play for me anytime, any place and in any situation.
Having said that, how can anyone deny the playmaking ability of Jeremiah Masoli? He can crush a defense's hopes with his arm and his feet and do it from situations that would bury a normal QB. When things look the bleakest during a particular play is when he seems to be at his best. He's a master at improvisation, learned from a couple of years of having been there and done that. His experience at this level shows time and time again, and as he learns more of the offense - which he grasps quickly - he'll only be more dangerous. How can he not be on the field?
And then there is Randall Mackey. Boy, that guy can be special. He has been on every level he's ever played on and there's no reason to believe he can't be at Ole Miss. But, personally, I don't believe his time has come. My worthless opinion? Randall, take a redshirt. Yes, you could help this year. Yes, you have proven you are a playmaker and one of the most talented athletes on the team, but you need seasoning in this system. Masoli doesn't have that luxury. He's got one more year and that's it. You have three. Use them to your advantage. Don't waste one of them in 2010 when there's so much potential on the other end to be "the guy" for two years.
Regardless of what the coaches decide, and they will decide pretty quickly, what was - just weeks ago - looking like a potential sore spot on the team has rapidly developed into a source of confidence. Whatever is decided, quarterback should be just fine.
Offensive Line: Which is it? The OL still has a ton of work to do as the season races toward them or our studly defensive line is making them look bad at times and will do the same to every OL they face? We'd like to think it's both.
Here's the deal, folks. Our centers - both of them, Evan Swindall and A.J. Hawkins - have never played a down in this league and they are tackling the most difficult mental position on the offensive side other than QB. Let that soak in. Understand what experience means. The "needs experience" line is guffawed by some fans, but it's as real as mosquitoes in the Delta. Sure, everyone can cite examples to the contrary, where first-year players make an immediate impact at any position, but that's not the norm. The only way to gain that experience is to live it. What "we" are asking of those guys borders on being unfair, but it's the hand they have been dealt and they'll have to play it. A degree of patience will be required, and that applies to LG Tank Washington as well. Yep, he's a junior, but, again, no reasonable experience.
On the flip side, they've all improved. They've all had their moments of production, even against our top defensive line. And those moments are coming more often. What does that say? They can do it. It's not a physical limitations deal. That's a good sign, one that bodes well for the future.
Bradley Sowell has had a marvelous fall camp.
There's a prime example of what experience does. He's twice the player he was a year ago. RT Bobby Massie has continued being a physical presence in the run game and is trying to overcome lapses in pass protection. Rishaw Johnson has, perhaps, the best physical tools of them all, but is searching for more consistency.
In the meantime, some will have to learn the hard way, under fire, but most players on this level do. As a side note to that, the word in camp is that Hawkins has taken his "demotion" to heart and is playing like he wants the job back. It will probably be a back-and-forth battle to the end, and that's good. Stiff competition will make both better and make both grow up faster.
From an overall standpoint, the OL has gashed the Rebel defense some for big plays, more than we have seen around here in some time. They have also been gashed and given up more sacks and minus-yardage plays than one would like on that side of the ball.
So, back to the original point. Is the defense that good, or does the OL need more work? Again, both.
Skill Players: Fall camp can be hard to decipher at times because it's an equal opportunity venture, for the most part. The coaches are urgently trying to find guys who can make plays, but they do so while tempering what they ask of the already-proven players so as to not get key players injured.
Sure, Brandon Bolden has to get in some work to stay crisp and sharp, but Rodney Scott, Jeff Scott and Enrique Davis got the bulk of the full contact reps to this point in order to hone their skills and allow the coaches to sort things out more thoroughly.
Point being, what you see in open scrimmages will not be what you see when the games roll around. The number of players who will be counted on strongly will be reduced somewhat and more defined roles will be determined for the lot of them.
With that in mind, there's been an emergence of players who have come out of the woodwork, somewhat, to show they can be counted on to make plays, and that's the name of the game.
The most prominent, without question, is Wide Receiver Melvin Harris, who, to this point, has elevated his game beyond most sane people's expectations. In short, he's been the best receiver of all of them in fall camp. My apologies to the rest of them, but he has.
Korvic Neat, Derrick Herman and Jeff Scott have added speed and elusiveness in very usable quantities to the running back and wideout slots. It's cliche', but you can't teach speed. And speed mauls.
None of that is intended to take for granted the fall contributions of guys like Jesse Grandy, Lionel Breaux, Markeith Summers and Ja-Mes Logan. They, too, have had productive camps and have shown playmaking ability. Grandy is one of the most valuable players on the team because of his speed and all he does in the return game and at wideout. Freshman Vincent Sanders has also made an immediate splash and should contribute in spots.
What has surfaced, in these eyes, is the Rebels have a lot more viable options for playmakers than was once thought. How it sorts itself out is anybody's guess, but it's not the issue it was once thought to be.
Tight End/Fullback: "Competent" doesn't sound like a big compliment, but it beats the alternative, incompetent.
At fullback, E.J. Epperson appears to have matured and is starting to make veteran-type plays. H.R. Greer has become reliable as well and true frosh Martez Eastland has excellent pop. At tight end, Ferbia Allen is a threat in the passing game and has improved his blocking a great deal. Reggie Hicks provides stability there and Z. Mason is coming along nicely.
All those guys have moved into new roles, but they are coming along fine. Right now, they are competent. In a few weeks, they very well could be more, much more.
Defensive Line: There's no new news here. They are good. They are supposed to be good. They will be good - barring injury.
Wait, there is this tidbit. The backups have made excellent strides forward, in particular DE Gerald Rivers, and guys who may not play much but need to get ready for the future, like Corey Gaines, have also shown flashes.
Also, the freshman crop, which is key since several of these guys are heading into their collegiate swan song, looks to be outstanding with the likes of DTs Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett and DEs Cameron Whigham, who will play a lot this year, and Carlos Thompson.
Linebackers: A very healthy mix of young and old, this unit might be a bit overlooked by some right now, but it shouldn't be.
Led by wily old head Jonathan Cornell in the middle, who is flanked by Allen Walker, he of very few mistakes, and sophomore buzz saw Joel Kight, who is as intense as any player on the team, the linebacking corps has a chance to be extremely productive.
When you throw D.T. Shackelford, the human energizer bunny, into the mix, things just look that much better. D.T., by the way, is a franchise type player. If trades were allowed in college football, he'd be one of the untouchables.
Then, include Mike Marry, who has been injured but has already shown his potential, and true frosh Clarence Jackson, who has shown Kight-Shackelford freshman level maturity, and linebacker is looking salty.
Secondary: The top three safeties and the top three corners have the faith and trust of the coaches.
They don't hand out trust casually.
Playing behind the Rebel front seven certainly helps their cause as well. Many times this fall, their jobs were made easier by the front causing havoc.
At cornerback, Marcus Temple has consistenlty proven he's got the goods. Charles Sawyer and Jeremy McGee have not been as consistent, but they've done the job expected of them and continue to hone their craft and improve. It's been said before, but Sawyer has the opportunity to be a beast of a corner in his career.
Frank Crawford's move from safety has added some instant depth, even though he's still in the learning stages. Ditto for Ryan Campbell. Now that Tony Grimes is on campus, what impact will he make? He was highly-touted out of high school and a welcome, albeit overdue, addition.
At safety, Johnny Brown, Fon Ingram and Damien Jackson have been the carriers of the torch and they've done it well. The question is who is number four? Right now, hard-hitting frosh Brishen Mathews has the inside track. He popped some leather in Saturday's scrimmage. Bright future, to say the least.
Specialists: We have to be frank here, coming out of spring, we reported some placekicking woes that worried us all summer. So far, Bryson Rose has alleviated most of those concerns with his fall camp performance. It's amazing what confidence can do for a player.
Andrew Ritter and David Hankins have done very well in kickoff duties and both have shown improvement with placements as well.
Tyler Campbell has picked up his consistency in the punting game - experience and appearing more relaxed has helped with that.
Grandy is the man in returns. He has the potential to be dynamic. We saw flashes of that last season when he was a true freshman, but if he needs a rest, remember the "other" speed, Korvic Neat, Jeff Scott, Derrick Herman, et al.
Overall, thus far, the Rebels are further along than I anticipated they'd be at this point of the long season.
From a team standpoint, the developing depth is as exciting as any aspect.
Alas, there are still concerns.
There is still a lot of sorting out and decision-making to do.
There are some thin areas on this squad that may not be remedied in the near future.
But this team has a chance, a chance mind you, to surprise and it's going to be a fun ride to see if that plays out.