Injuries forced more than a few key players to miss time at some point or another during the 15 Spring practices that Ole Miss concluded on Saturday. Issac Gross, Tony Conner, Robert Conyers, Rod Taylor, Fadol Brown, Chad Kelly(missed the final two weeks) and others were held out, opening up reps for younger players and backups. That certainly helped the Rebels in many ways, including establishing depth at many spots.
However, in some areas it could be considered a real hindrance. With the key offensive linemen that missed time this Spring that unit was unable to begin to build chemistry that will be so crucial to them in the early going of next season when they will face Florida State, Alabama and Georgia in their first four games. Though, Rod Taylor, who was set to work at tackle this spring, being out also allowed Jeremy Liggins and Alex Givens to shine bright over the course of the 15 practices.
At other spots, the situation was different. For instance the receiving group is replacing Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core. So it was important that an alfa emerge among the group of talented guys at the position. Well, Quincy Adeboyejo seemed to have done just that this Spring.
Though, he will certainly be helped by the likes of Van Jefferson(who has the look of a future star after a productive spring), Damarkus Lodge, Derek Jones, Damore’ea Stringfellow, Markell Pack and others. The same could be said of the linebacker position. Sure, the well-established Demarquis Gates provided no surprise by proving to be the best the Rebels have there, but the emergence of Willie Hibbler was an unexpected bonus. Speaking of Gates, he should become a household name this fall.
It will be no surprise to those that follow the Rebel program, but others around the league and college football land are likely to be taken aback at how the talented the defensive line will be next season. With Robert Nkemdiche gone, some likely expect the talent-level to drop off. However, in DJ Jones and Fadol Brown, Chris Kiffin will again be putting guys in the NFL Draft again next year.
Even beyond that Breeland Speaks is a stud and likely headed towards a career on the next level, as well. In addition to those guys, Marquis Haynes will be back for his third season and appears to have yet again progressed to another level. Coming along nicely is Ross Donelly, who will be a sophomore this fall. Then there’s no way to miss the presence of veteran John Youngblood, who was named the winner of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award on Saturday and will wear the prestigious 38 jersey in his senior campaign.
Overachieving youth was another promising sign for Hugh Freeze and his staff this Spring. The early enrollees all seemed to have exceeded their expectations, while many redshirts from last Fall proved they can provide a new element that was not present before their arrival. The newer faces had to emerge big for the program this Spring and need to continue to do so this offseason due experience and talent leaving the program.
Here are a list of names, by position that performed well this spring:
QB – Chad Kelly, because he showed that he can be even better in year two. But Shea Patterson and Jason Pellerin also go down here, because they had some bright moments against a good defensive unit.
RB – We’ve seen what Jordan Wilkins, Akeem Judd and Eugene Brazley can do in recent seasons and springs, but redshirt freshman Eric Swinney stood out in this group the most this Spring.
WR – Adeboyejo and Jefferson were the most consistent and impressive forces at the position during spring drills. Engram can also go here with the pass-catchers, as he was a favored target of Kelly during the practices he was involved in.
OL – Liggins, Sean Rawlings, Daronte Bouldin and Alex Givens. Freeze almost mentioned being confident in what they will get out of Javon Patterson and Jordan Sims.
DL – Haynes, DJ Jones, Speaks and Donnelly.
LB – Gates, Hibbler and Terry Caldwell.
DB – Tony Bridges, Ken Webster, Kailo Moore, CJ Hampton, AJ and CJ Moore, Montrell Custis and Myles Hartfield.
The Spring practices were fierce and competitive, despite not being capped with a traditional spring game due to renovations being done to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. These 15 practices really set the table for a big summer of improvement and a crucial month of August when the team reassembles for Fall camp.