7 questions for Ole Miss to answer in spring camp
Ole Miss began spring practice Tuesday. As the Rebels ride into Year 2 under Lane Kiffin and go through their first traditional spring under this coaching staff, there are questions across the roster.
Let’s take a look at a few and see how many get answered in spring ball.
1. Who will back up Matt Corral?
With John Rhys Plumlee expected to make the move to slot receiver full time (after the baseball season, anyway), there is potential for a quarterback competition in the spring, just not the kind that moves the needle or generates Twitter buzz. Kinkead Dent and true freshman Luke Altmeyer seem like the most likely candidates for this job. Even if Plumlee takes some snaps at quarterback, this is still worth monitoring as long as the Plumlee to wide receiver experiment is still active.
Kiffin said Plumlee attended a QB meeting but won’t be required to participate in any football practices this spring. “When they play 2 sports, we let the guys fully commit to the other sport,” Kiffin said.
Speaking of Plumlee, where he plays will be an ongoing discussion. Ole Miss got a taste of this in its Outback Bowl win in which Plumlee caught 5 passes, one of which was arguably the biggest catch of the game, and showed the ability to play slot. In an ideal world, he could have used the spring to continue to develop. But he’s gifted enough and versatile enough that Kiffin will have time to sort this out during fall camp.
2. How does the tight end position shake out?
Tight end is an important position in Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense and grad transfer Kenny Yeboah was a perfect fit last season. With Yeboah gone and a void to be filled, all eyes are seemingly on Casey Kelly (Chad’s younger brother) and Chase Rogers to step into the spotlight. Kelly showed flashes at the end of last season after Yeboah opted out and Rogers is a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette whom the staff is high on. Corral lost his two biggest weapons from 2020. Who does he lean on next fall?
3. Replacing Elijah Moore
If Yeboah was the second-biggest loss for this offense, Moore is obviously the biggest. He put together one of the most decorated receiving careers in Ole Miss history and was the focal point of the offense last year. How do the Rebel replace him? Directly, it will likely be Plumlee and true freshman J.J. Henry in the slot. But who emerges as a consistent threat on the outside. Dontario Drummond is back for his COVID-senior year, so is Braylon Sanders. Jonathan Mingo flashed in spurts last year but never became a consistent threat. Jadon Jackson and Dannis Jackson each have potential, and Mark Britt is a talented newcomer in the 2021 class. The receiver position will likely determine this offense’s ceiling this fall. Look for a committee approach to replace Moore’s production.
4. How do the Rebels replace Royce Newman at tackle?
Ole Miss returns 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line, but with Newman moving on to the NFL, there is a hole to be filled. The most likely bet is redshirt freshman Eli Acker, with Hamilton Hall as a second option. The staff could decide to transition one of the younger interior linemen like Reece McIntyre or Jalen Cunningham outside to tackle. There are options and this doesn’t have to be decided in the spring, but it is something to keep an eye on.
5. Who takes a lead in the kicker job?
Scoff if you want, but Ole Miss fans know this is an important position. The Rebels were awful in the kicking game last year and it cost them in a handful of games. Ole Miss only attempted 10 field goals — and missed 4 of them. That lack of consistency contributed mightily to the Rebels leading the SEC with 33 attempts at a 4th-down conversion. Only 2 teams in America went for it more often on 4th down — and neither averaged as many per-game attempts.
Kicker Luke Logan has graduated, leaving true freshman Caden Costa as the most likely to rectify the struggles of 2020.
6. How do the defensive line newcomers fit in?
The biggest challenge this coaching staff faced when they took over was replenishing the talent pool on defense. The 2021 signing class helped with this and there is no greater need for talent than the line, where the Rebels were hapless last year. Run defense takes all 11 flying to the football, but trouble starts when the d-line leaks. It’s the primary reason the Rebels finished 101st nationally and last in the SEC, allowing 206.9 rushing yards per game.
Ryder Anderson hit the transfer portal and a trio of newcomers in Isaiah Iton, Jamond Gordon and Tywone Malone are all likely going to get a crack at significant time this fall. Who emerges and enhances this defensive line? You’ll likely get a hint in fall camp.
7. What to do with all the defensive backs?
Ole Miss has 30 defensive backs on the roster, an eye-popping number. The Rebels return 10 of 11 starters on defense and all of 5 in the secondary, but who emerges out of this group to comprise this year’s starting 5 on the back end?
There are 8 highly-touted newcomers to go along with Otis Reese — who will play a full year after being ruled eligible last February. There will also be current starters fighting to keep their job. Ole Miss needs to improve in the secondary in 2021 and they have a litany of personnel to help do that.
This spring should be an interesting prelude to a fun fall in Oxford as Ole Miss tries to take another step forward coming off a 5-5 campaign. Spring football culminates on April 24 with the Grove Bowl.