Ole Miss Football: 5 Players with Most to Gain in Spring Practice
While there is a boatload of talent headed to Oxford this summer in Hugh Freeze's No. 5 recruiting class (ESPN), spring practice provides the perfect opportunity for current Rebels to show coaches what they're capable of doing in 2013.
With starting Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace sidelined following a recent shoulder surgery, QB Barry Brunetti may just have the best opportunity of anyone wearing the red and blue this spring. A senior in 2013, Brunetti needs to find a place to consistently fit into the offensive scheme for the Rebels.
Beyond the backup senior QB, there are a host of Rebels who also stand to gain a lot from spring ball with solid performances. Some other players to keep an eye on this spring include QB Mikhail Miller, WR Collins Moore, TE Christian Morgan and DE Channing Ward.
Let's see why these men have so much to gain during spring practice.
QB Barry Brunetti
Starting QB Bo Wallace will be out over spring practice, as he recovers from recent shoulder surgery.
Outside of the 6'0'', 202-pound Barry Brunetti, no other QB on the Ole Miss spring roster has any real experience. That explains why Hugh Freeze signed two solid young QBs in his 2013 class: Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade. However, neither of the two freshmen will be on campus until the summer.
Therefore, expect Brunetti to be the starter this spring in Oxford. The other man he'll likely share snaps with will be sophomore QB Mikhail Miller. The 6'2'', 240-pound Miller has only attempted six passes in his career at Ole Miss. On the other hand, Brunetti has gone 42 of 71 through the air for 340 yards and one score. On the ground, he's rushed 93 times for 387 yards and three touchdowns.
A highly touted QB out of high school and as a transfer from West Virginia, Brunetti hasn't really lived up to his billing the past two seasons in Oxford. With true freshmen Buchanan and Kincade arriving on campus this summer, not to mention the return of Wallace, the chances of Brunetti even being the top reserve QB for the Rebels this fall is doubtful.
So what can he do this spring to position himself well heading into summer and fall?
More than anything, Brunetti is a physical, athletic football player. While his chance to see significant playing time behind center in 2013 is unlikely, he remains a great fit within Freeze's dynamic offense. Where exactly Brunetti can fit in on a consistent basis remains to be seen. Nevertheless, spring practice is a perfect time for the senior, sharing QB snaps with Miller, to get some true looks at various positions within the Rebel offense.
The coaching staff is well aware of the potential QB situation this fall, which may not even involve Brunetti. So while he will likely be the spring QB by default right now, the coaching staff will be keeping a close eye on the senior to judge not only his potential in various alignments but also his attitude.
With the physical RB/WR Randall Mackey graduated, Brunetti could end up fitting in like Mackey did for Ole Miss in 2013: Playing various positions in any given contest.
QB Maikhail Miller
The reserve or co-starter at QB this spring for Ole Miss will be Maikhail Miller.
Outside of Oxford, there's a good chance nobody has heard of Maikhail Miller.
Well, this spring his name is sure to be talked about a great deal. With starter Bo Wallace recovering from surgery, the sophomore Miller will likely share snaps behind center with Barry Brunetti.
Miller was named the No. 20 quarterback in the nation by ESPN out of high school. A bigger, more physical quarterback than usual at Ole Miss, the 6'2'', 240-pound Miller is a dual-threat option. During his senior year of high school, he threw for 1,636 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 1,148 yards and 22 scores. He provides a bigger, more bruising option behind center than the Rebels have had in a while.
Does Miller have a shot to be the eventual backup to Wallace this fall? It's quite possible.
This spring, he'll get a shot to show the coaching staff exactly what he can do for the Rebels.
In an ideal world, Wallace returns as healthy as a horse, Miller gets the backup job and Hugh Freeze is able to red-shirt both of his talented true freshmen gunslingers (Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade). As for Brunetti, the bottom line is he can best serve the Rebels by falling into place at other positions on offense in a variety of different formations.
If Wallace doesn't come back entirely healthy, the development of Miller this spring and summer becomes of dire importance to Ole Miss. The pieces are in place for the Rebels on offense to be very productive in 2013, but for that to happen, efficient quarterback play must also be present.
Either way, Miller should figure into the mix this fall. He's got the size and strength to come in around the goal line or on short third downs to make a difference for the Rebels.
It will be interesting to hear Freeze evaluate Miller after getting a chance to watch him this spring.
WR Collins Moore
Heading into the 2012 campaign, sophomore WR Collins Moore figured to be QB Bo Wallace's primary receiver in the slot. Unfortunately, Moore saw only very limited action over the course of three games last season due to injuries.
This spring, a healthy Moore returns to the field with renewed fervor. While the Rebels return starting WRs Donte Moncrief, Ja-Mes Logan, Vince Sanders and Korvic Neat, a true slot guy was missing last year. With Moore returning, Wallace will now have one more offensive weapon this season.
Not looking too far into the future, Moore is aware that a handful of talented true freshmen WRs will be coming to Oxford this summer. Headlined by the nation's No. 1 wide receiver out of high school, Laquon Treadwell, among the true freshmen wide receivers expected to compete for playing time are Quincy Adeboyejo and Derrick Jones. There will be no shortage of talent at the position.
However, Moore should return as the starting slot receiver. As long as he shows no drop-off from what coaches saw heading into last season, the junior should be able to solidify his starting position within the Ole Miss offense prior to summer practice.
As fast as Freeze likes to run his offense, Ole Miss would love to play seven or eight wide receivers each game, and they may be able to do just that this season. Moore should return and look good this spring, possibly even being able to ease back into the starting role if someone like Brunetti can also develop skills at the position.
The biggest challenge for Moore this spring will be staying healthy. If he can do that, then the upcoming season should be a great one for the young man.
DE Channing Ward
Defensive end is one position in which Ole Miss is well positioned heading into 2013.
Before the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, DE Robert Nkemdiche, even arrives on campus this summer, there are several current Rebels prepared to fight for the spots this spring. Not only do starting DEs C.J. Johnson and Cameron Wigham return in 2013, so do quality reserves Channing Ward and Carlos Thompson. The competition this spring will simply be a prelude of what's to come when Nkemdiche puts on a uniform. Are you ready, as Rebel fans ask?
The No. 5 defensive end in the country (ESPN) out of high school, Ward saw action in 12 games last season, recording 21 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. The Aberdeen, MS native was able to provide quality minutes behind Ole Miss starters last season, but more will be expected of him in 2013.
C.J. Johnson has become a star on the defensive front for the Rebels, and he is one of the rising young stars in the SEC. While Nkemdiche will obviously have a learning curve moving from high school to the SEC as a true freshman, there's no question Ole Miss will look for him to step in early and often.
Ward will be a key piece to the defensive end rotation this season, as defensive coordinator Dave Wommack hopes to be able to keep fresh legs on the field each game. Ward certainly played well last season, but his play in 2013 may be the difference in whether or not the Rebel defensive line is just good or great. Defensive line coach and scout.com 2013 recruiter of the year Chris Kiffin will have a close eye on the work of the sophomore Ward during spring ball.
So, Channing Ward, this spring it's all you. Prior to the younger Nkemdiche brother coming to town this summer, spring practice will provide you with a prime opportunity to showcase the skills that made you such a highly sought-after recruit out of high school.
TE Christian Morgan
True freshman TE Christian Morgan, already enrolled this spring at Ole Miss, probably walks into the best situation he could have imagined. Both Rebel starting tight ends from last season, Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley, have graduated, and the cupboard is empty at tight end.
Understanding the need for tight ends in his up-tempo offense, Hugh Freeze signed three tight ends in his 2013 class. While TEs Evan Engram and A.J. Jackson won't get a chance to display their skills until this summer, Morgan has the luxury of being able to take part in spring ball for the Rebels.
The former Florida State commit could actually leave spring camp as the solid starting tight end ahead of the arrivals of Engram and Jackson. At 6'4'', 254 pounds, Morgan has the potential to not only be a great receiver but also an outstanding blocker. While Allen and Mosley combined for 23 catches, 309 yards and one touchdown last season, Morgan could easily surpass those numbers by himself in 2013.
Let's not forget the two other skilled tight ends, Engram and Jackson, who will arrive this summer, also aiming to grab a starting job. There's no question all three true freshmen will want to see action in 2013, but Hugh Freeze is sure to redshirt at least one of the young men, which is actually a good thing.
This spring, Morgan will get nearly all the looks at tight end and should be able to position himself very well to avoid a redshirt himself. For an already loaded offense in Oxford, efficient tight end play in 2013 could truly be the difference between six or seven wins for Ole Miss or eight or more.
All of the stars are aligned for the Plano, TX native. Now he just has to show it on the field this spring.