Ole Miss Football: 3 Areas of Focus After Spring Drills
2013 is shaping up to be a great year for the Ole Miss Rebels.
While there's good reason to believe the reigning Compass Bowl champions should have a solid sophomore campaign under Hugh Freeze, the Rebels do have a few areas to think about ahead of summer.
The difference between winning and losing can be razor-thin in college football, so every weakness needs to be shored up as efficiently as possible before opening kickoff.
That being said, let's take a look at three areas of focus for the Rebels after spring drills.
The most glaring weakness on the Rebel defense last season was an inefficient pass defense.
Out of 14 teams in the SEC, Ole Miss finished 11th in passing yards allowed per game (246.5 YPG).
New cornerbacks coach Jason Jones hopes that figure decreases dramatically this season. While Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson return at corner for the Rebels, less-experienced corners like Nick Brassell, Carlos Davis, Dehendret Collins and Anthony Standifer should add much-needed depth outside.
Bruisers like free safety Cody Prewitt and rover Trae Elston should also have added depth this time around behind players like Chief Brown and Quintavius Burdette.
Defensive coordinator and safeties coach Dave Wommack was pleased with the progression of reserves during spring and he hopes the trend continues over the summer.
The unit as a whole looked stronger and deeper this spring, but there can't be a drop-off this summer.
The key will be for top reserves to become more comfortable on the field and for starters to continue to fine-tune their skills this summer before traveling to Vanderbilt in Week 1.
If the rising Rebels want to have chances against teams like Alabama, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M in 2013, the pass defense absolutely must be more daunting than it was last season. While the defensive line and linebacker units should present quite the challenge for rushing offenses this year, the ultimate success of the defense as a whole may well lie in the performance of the secondary.
Top Reserve Quarterback
Despite being talked about over and over again, the backup QB job at Ole Miss remains the biggest area of concern for this upstart SEC West club.
If the reserve role weren't so vitally important to the Rebs' potential this season, I'd have stopped writing about the situation a long, long time ago. However, that's simply not the case.
While starting junior QB Bo Wallace is "expected" to return 100 percent from shoulder surgery this fall, nothing's guaranteed in life except for death and taxes. The best-case scenario for Freeze and the gang would be for a healthy Wallace to return and post even greater numbers this season.
That being said, it's always wise to err on the side of caution. For Ole Miss, that translates into hopefully developing at least one reserve this summer who could step in and be productive if the need ever arose.
Neither Barry Brunetti not Maikhail Miller created any real separation at backup this spring, so now two new competitors (true freshmen Ryan Buchanan and Devante Kincade) will get a good look under center. While it's going to be another hot, humid summer for Rebel fans in Mississippi, the competition to line up behind Wallace is likely to be even hotter.
If the junior starter were to go down for any reason without a true backup ready to step in, a potential dream season could quickly turn into a nightmare.
Tight End Starters
Freeze is looking for a few good men to play tight end.
Minus the services of TEs Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley this year, Ole Miss must turn to either inexperienced reserves, true freshmen or a combination of both.
This spring, mid-year enrollee Christian Morgan was really showing glimpses of being the kind of player the Rebels signed him to be out of high school. However, his spring debut was quickly cut short by a torn meniscus. As a result, he won't really have that much of an advantage over fellow true freshmen Evan Engram and A.J. Jackson when they arrive for summer camp.
As for returning reserves competing for the job, Jack Nuismer and Justin Bigham currently sit at No. 1 and 2, respectively, on the official post-spring depth chart.
Fortunately for Freeze and company, the Rebel offensive machine is quite dynamic. If one or two players emerge from summer as viable weekly tight ends, the offense will be that much more potent.
On the other hand, Ole Miss can adjust the offense early in the season if coaches aren't comfortable with tight end play just yet.