With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Ole Miss.
Not much is changing for the Rebels, and that’s great news. The team returns 17 starters, and with an influx of talent next fall, this team could emerge as the third team in the SEC West to keep an eye on. Hugh Freeze managed to keep his entire coaching staff together for another year. And the staff has another year of continuity and continued growth this spring. However, the one thing that must change is the way the Rebels finish games if they want to take the next step towards development and become a contender in the SEC West. Fourth-quarter meltdowns against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU still burn Freeze, his staff and the players. It left a bad taste in their mouths, and the only way to forget it is to improve upon it; use it for motivation. The Rebels had Johnny Manziel on the ropes before he ran for one score and threw another to close the game out with less than two minutes remaining. Likewise, the second-half lay down against Vandy was not acceptable, and the Rebels couldn’t get a stop on the last drive against LSU and allowed the Tigers to score 13 unanswered points to put it away. The next step must be taken forward, and finishing games should be what Freeze is hounding the players about this spring.
Position of concern
The Rebels return 17 starters, the most of any SEC team. But the weakest position on offense – yet also the strongest at times – was the quarterback. The up-and-down play of Bo Wallace was a roller coaster At times, you never knew which Bo Wallace would show up on Saturday. But Wallace is out this spring due to shoulder surgery, and backup Barry Brunetti will assume the first team reps. That shouldn’t be too easing for the staff knowing Wallace threw 17 picks last season. And it’s not out of the question that Brunetti could emerge as the starter before fall. He’s a better runner, but is not as effective through the air. The quarterback is worrisome to me entering spring without Wallace taking snaps and gaining reps.
Emerging spring player prediction
The two players we’ll hear about all spring also happen to be early enrollees. Defensive tackle Lavon Hooks and athlete Nick Brassell are players. Hooks could be the biggest impact newcomer of anyone in the SEC, and Brassell is electric with the ball in his hands. However, I think we hear more about Brassell, depending on how the coaching staff wants to use him. He could play receiver or corner, although getting him the football in space should be on Freeze’s ‘to do’ list this spring. Create ways for Brassell to make plays. I think Brassell is the talk of the spring.
Three signees to be excited about
1. Robert Nkemdiche, DE: While Nkemdiche enters as the No. 1 overall prospect, there will be some growing pains. There usually is, but the even better news is that he will line up with former five-stars CJ Johnson and Channing Ward. With Nkemdiche and Hooks, the defensive line gets a major upgrade.
2. Laremy Tunsil, OT: Tunsil is the future at left tackle for Freeze. Tunsil may not start every game as a freshman, as few freshmen offensive linemen are ever that good, but he’s no doubt the long-term solution for the next few years. Tunsil is a road grader.
3. Laquon Treadwell, WR: Out of all the ‘stars’ in the Rebels’ class, Treadwell is my pick to make the biggest impact of the freshmen. At 6-3, 200 pounds, Treadwell is big enough and electric enough to make plays next season. We’ve seen it time and time again with skill position players and especially receivers. Treadwell is a beast.
Although the Rebels’ defense was much improved from even a year ago at this time, the defensive secondary was the weakest link. The SEC’s 11th best pass defense showed youth and inexperience throughout the season. But returning four starters in Senquez Golson, Charles Sawyer, Cody Prewitt and Trae Elston really bodes well for another year of development. With the front four getting a major boost with returners and incomers, and with the linebackers another year experienced and developed, and all eyes are on the secondary. This should be a primary focus of Dave Wommack’s spring.
Previous Offseason Forecasts:
Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports