5 roster decisions facing Ole Miss
Ole Miss stared at glaring 2017 roster issues all through the 2016 season. Kamryn Pettway and Leonard Fournette sliced through a porous defense. The depleted run game was equivalent to giving defenses the game plan a week before the game and the offensive line was a carousel coaches didn’t want to ride. After an injury-deflating and bowl-less season no one anticipated, there is a lot to work on as 2017 arrives.
Replacing Evan Engram: That isn’t possible, so it’s now about moving the offense in a different direction. Engram will go down as one of the greatest tight ends in Ole Miss history. His departure leaves a void across the entire receiving corps. In a stable full of talent, Engram was the go-to guy, leading the Rebels in catches (65), yards (926) and touchdowns (8). The next tight end on the roster with a catch was Taz Zettergren — he had four. Engram’s stats will have to be filled, but more importantly his role as offensive leader.
Develop less versatility on the offensive line: It’s great to have guys willing to move around, but it isn’t ideal. Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings played center, guard and tackle. Jordan Sims and Daronte Bouldin played both guard spots. Stabilizing the line will be key for Shea Patterson as he takes over at quarterback, as well as for the continued development of five-star sophomore left tackle Greg Little.
Who runs the ball? Senior Akeem Judd was the only back to start a game in 2016. He’s gone, leaving the Rebels with several backs and several questions. Eric Swinney has now tried twice to start his Ole Miss career. A year after not making it to the opener, the running back made it to the opener only to last one play before a knee injury ended another season.
It left Ole Miss in a pickle after Jordan Wilkins was ruled (not from his own doing) academically ineligible. Wilkins has vowed to return better than ever and will be a senior alongside Eugene Brazley. D’Vaughn Pennamon was forced into action as a freshman. That should make for four backs in 2017. Wilkins could be the big back and Swinney the feature back, though time has told that nothing is certain at that spot.
Marquis Haynes needs a running mate: The announcement that defensive end Marquis Haynes would return to Oxford for his senior season was the best news the maligned Rebels defense could have gotten. Now new defensive line coach Tray Scott needs a threat on the other end. Victor Evans will be a redshirt junior and can be the beneficiary of the focus on Haynes, who had 11 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks last season. Evans didn’t make a start in 2016 but did have 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Someone to clog the middle: A linebacker led the team in tackles – DeMarquis Gates with 79. The next two linebackers on the stat sheet combined for 85 tackles and started a combined eight games. The Rebels defense needs a stopper to plug a defense that ranked dead last in the SEC against the run. The Rebels allowed more than 246 yards per game and 31 touchdowns. Detric Bing-Dukes will be a junior with a chance to be that guy, a year after starting three games and finishing with 41 tackles and three tackles-for-loss.