10 biggest questions as Ole Miss prepares for preseason camp
For the first time in over half a decade, there is a buzz of relevancy surrounding the Ole Miss football program, and this time it is for all right reasons.
As the Rebels aim to build off of a 5-5 campaign in Year 1 under Lane Kiffin, let’s take a look at 10 questions surrounding the team heading into the 2021 season.
1. What impact will John Rhys Plumlee make?
Kiffin finally conceded at SEC Media Days that Plumlee had made the permanent move to receiver. The junior caught 5 passes in an Outback Bowl win over Indiana, moving to slot receiver out of necessity due to injuries and opt-outs. Most took that as foreshadowing his future with the program, and that turned out to be exactly the case. So, with Plumlee learning a new position, what impact will he have on this offense? The speed is extraordinary and, given his athleticism and 2-sport prowess, his hands shouldn’t be much of an issue.
How quickly does he pick up on the route-running, footwork and other intricacies of the position? Does it even really matter with his quickness? Plumlee will make an impact this season, but how significant it is remains to be seen.
2. Can Corral cut down on turnovers?
By his own admission, Matt Corral needs to throw fewer interceptions. Eleven of his 14 picks last year came in 2 games. Kiffin spoke last week about intentionally leaving Corral in both games, rather than benching him, to let the young quarterback learn how to fight through struggles. There’s no excuse for that volume, but it’s worth noting that he only threw 3 interceptions in the other 8 games, so there is plenty of proof that Corral can protect the football. Corral now has a year in this offensive scheme under his belt and the hope is that the continuity, coupled with a full year of reading SEC defenses, will cut down on his interception total.
3. Can Ole Miss generate a consistent pass rush?
The top of the depth chart looks pretty enticing with Sam Williams and Tariqious Tisdale on the edge. Williams needs to get more consistent from an effort standpoint on every down, but the real question here is whether the Rebels can formulate some depth on the exterior defensive line. Brandon Mack will miss the season with a foot injury, meaning guys like Cedric Johnson and Tavius Robinson will be given more opportunity. Ole Miss’ inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks last season exacerbated other issues on the defensive side and led to the Rebels boasting the worst defense in the conference.
4. Will the interior defensive line be better against the run?
Similar story here. Ole Miss was soft in the interior last year and had the worst rushing defense in the conference. Junior college transfers Jamond Gordon and Isaiah Iton were recruited to make an instant impact, and Quenten Bivens and KD Hill will need to take a step in their development to help rectify this issue. Highly-touted freshman Tywone Malone is the wildcard in the mix here as well. The defensive line as a whole will likely be the best indicator of the Rebels’ improvement on the defensive side of the ball from a results standpoint.
5. Who is QB2?
Perhaps it’s still Plumlee? That seems unlikely if he will be working at receiver full time. True freshman Luke Altmeyer and Kinkead Dent are the most likely candidates to back up Corral and will battle for the job throughout fall camp.
6. How will Jerrion Ealy be moved around?
With Ole Miss losing its 2 leading pass catchers from a year ago, it seems increasingly likely that Kiffin and Jeff Lebby occasionally will move the versatile Ealy around to the slot and perhaps elsewhere to maximize his production. Ealy is a good pass catcher and is quick in space. How he’s used this season and the number of ways he is fed touches is something to monitor.
7. Will the secondary be the deepest defensive position group?
It seems odd to make such a claim given the immense struggles this group had last season, but with the addition of Jake Springer and Deantre Prince, coupled with a full season of Otis Reese in the mix and a DB-heavy 2021 signing class, there’s potential for the secondary to be not only the most improved aspect of this defense but also the deepest.
8. Can Braylon Sanders stay healthy?
Ole Miss has questions at receiver, most notably how does it replace Elijah Moore’s productivity. Moving Plumlee helps, but it will benefit the Rebels greatly if their most experienced wideout stays on the field. Sanders is a talented deep threat who broke into the rotation as a freshman amongst the likes of DK Metcal, DaMarkus Lodge and AJ Brown, but injuries have plagued him over the past 3 years. Simply put, a healthy Sanders guarantees a better version of this Ole Miss offense.
9. Who’s the kicker?
It’s not a storyline you’ll think about until a high-leverage field goal situation arises on opening night against Louisville, but Ole Miss needs to figure out its kicking battery. Luke Logan struggled last season and it cost the Rebels possessions and games. (The Rebels made just 6 of 10 field-goal attempts.) Caden Costa recently arrived and will presumably battle for the job with Land Gebhart and Cale Nation. Costa was the highest-rated recruit of the trio and is presumably the favorite. But whoever ends up winning the job will need to do better than his predecessor.
10. Will the hyper-aggressive game management remain the same?
Kicking woes and a defense that couldn’t get stops led to hyper-aggressive play-calling and 4th-down gambles. Kiffin has been adamant since he arrived in Oxford that he takes an analytical approach to both, but with a presumably better defense and kicking battery, will this approach be tweaked at all? One would imagine he will remain pretty aggressive, but whether it is dialed back at all will be interesting to monitor.