Five Things We learned from Spring Football
Race for No. 2 still a race: The battle to see who will emerge as the primary backup for starting quarterback Bo Wallace remains unsettled. I suspected nothing less. Both DeVante Kincade, the runner, and Ryan Buchanan, the pocket passer, did good things in spring. The fact that they have different skill sets means Freeze can afford to progress without publicly placing one ahead of the other. Both can play roles.
Kincade has the better chance to play a bigger role in 2014 because Kincade’s skill set – putting pressure on defenses by moving in the pocket and running for big plays – is something the Ole Miss offense currently lacks since Barry Brunetti finished up.
Buchanan’s skill set is much more comparable to Wallace’s.
Freeze likes to present different looks to defenses, and Kincade gives him the better chance to do that.
For that reason Buchanan may very be listed second on the depth chart for the Boise State game.
If Wallace faces serious injury early and is out for a lengthy spell, don’t be surprised to see Buchanan rise.
Here’s Freeze on Buchanan after Saturday’s scrimmage: “There was one throw Ryan made … He has some natural pocket presence that is really hard to teach. He made a throw to Cody Core that was right on time with people in his face.”
The offense moves best when a quarterback stands in the pocket, surveys the landscape, makes the right read and makes the throw accurately and on time.
Kincade’s contributions are extremely valuable, and maybe he develops into an equally adept pocket passer. His height – listed at 6-feet – will be a challenge.
For now, Freeze can extend the competition and continue to encourage both.
OL needs depth: That depth is on the way, but I include an asterisk. Any time you bring someone new into your program and place them in key roles right away, there’s a risk.
OL coach Matt Luke loves the athleticism of incoming freshman Rod Taylor. Juco transfer Fahn Cooper is expected to compete at right tackle. Christian Morris is a wild card both because of his Achilles injury and the unknown about his NCAA waiver status. Jordan Sims is another freshman that could be a factor.
Those are four names who did not take part in spring ball, and that doesn’t include Aaron Morris, a two-year starter who will move in at left guard.
There are parts and pieces to work with, still some question marks, but the reps for guys like Austin Golson and Daronte Bouldin were invaluable. Luke is a believer in Bouldin, his young guard, and expects him to play. Golson played last year, so he learned the speed of the game. Now he’s back at tackle, his natural position. Whether Cooper does or doesn’t win the job, the Rebels are deeper on the OL.
And I think better. We’ll see. That will depend in part on the kind of play they get at center. Right now Luke likes what he’s seen in Ben Still and Robert Conyers.
Pass rush upgrades: The key bullet points in the resumes of newcomers Fadol Brown and Marquise Haynes both included pass rush.
Freeze and Dave Wommack are so confident in these guys that they’ve moved Channing Ward to tight end.
Part of the issue here last year was CJ Johnson’s health. Now Johnson is back, and so is Carlos Thompson.
Brown and Haynes will benefit from playing next to Robert Nkemdiche, who will command his own attention and provide his own rush as well.
The Rebels averaged just 1.54 sacks last year, 96th in America. I expect pass rush to be noticeably better.
Will position changes make a positive impact? They will improve depth, but how many blocking tight ends do you need? The Rebels aren’t going to stretch the field with Ward. They have Evan Engram for that, and probably freshman Sammie Epps too.
I think Ward will be effective, but it also won’t be shocking to see him playing defense again down the road.
Kailo Moore. His speed showed up twice Saturday by running long distances to tackle guys who had broken away from the pack and looked as though they were about to score. There are two returning starters plus Derrick Jones and juco transfer Tee Shepard who will likely see more time at corner than Moore, but being just a sophomore Moore is positioned to make an impact in the future if he continues to progress.
Typically coaches do a good job of evaluating a player for a position during his recruitment. Sometimes a guy is signed and given a chance to play one spot when coaches are pretty sure they’ll soon move him to another.
When is the last time there was a radical position change, and a guy became an All-SEC type talent at his new position. I’m not really counting Dexter McCluster there because even though he was a wide receiver at first, he was already running the ball under Houston Nutt.
I wasn’t around for the Deuce McAllister years. Didn’t he start out in the secondary, or am imagining that? Somebody chime in here.
Off-season message: It’s been about wilderness and journey for two years. When I threw out the word “expectations” on Saturday I thought Freeze was quick with a good answer.
Coaches don’t often say, “This team is going to win 10 games, or this team is going to win a championship.”
Freeze responded by re-working his call to “win the day.” He also pointed out the ever-changing status of the SEC.
Fans closely tuned in to one program where they see progress, improved depth, increased talent, get that big-season itch.
But nobody in the SEC is standing still. Auburn played for the national championship last year, a season after it didn’t win an SEC game.
Arkansas made a bold hire with an established coach in nabbing Bret Bielema from Wisconsin. The Razorbacks struggled last year, but Bielema’s track record is proven, and the point is everyone’s trying to get better.
So Ole Miss football is better than it was Freeze’s first season and far better than it was when Freeze arrived.
I think it will be better than last season’s 3-5 SEC finish, but how much better remains to be seen.