Ole Miss camp impressions: Rebels' backfield is absolutely loaded
The state of Mississippi is dealing with the hottest temperatures of the year, but don’t tell that to the Ole Miss coaching staff. The Rebels are practicing most days around noon. With good reason, as the Rebels open with the Memphis Tigers at 11 a.m. on Aug. 31.
We’ve passed the midpoint of preseason camp. The offensive and defensive installations are the primary focus. After a recent scrimmage, Luke told the media he was very pleased with what he saw.
“We wanted to put some young players in some tough spots and make them communicate,” Luke said.
Who has stood out in camp?
Luke continues to have high praise for freshman linemen Nick Broeker and Jeremy James. Both have been called on early due to the injury to starting right tackle Alex Givens.
“Young guys like Jeremy James and Nick Broeker and Reece McIntyre, all these guys are thrown in there, they have to step up. When Alex is back in there, they’ll be that much more prepared,” Luke said.
Michael Howard also is taking advantage of the extra reps. Howard is running with the 1st team at right tackle and gaining invaluable experience.
“It forces you to get some guys ready and just makes you better in the long run to get out there and do it,” Luke said.
The offensive backfield, specifically at running back, is loaded
With redshirt freshman Matt Corral the clear leader under center and Scottie Phillips the returning workhorse in the backfield, Ole Miss hasn’t needed to focus on depth here. The running back room is loaded. So much so, D’Vaughn Pennemon has moved to tight end to help with depth following an injury to backup Jason Pellerin.
The list of suitors to run the ball is long, including talented freshman Jerrion Ealy. The former Jackson Prep (Miss.) star is turning heads.
“We had some good runs (during the scrimmage), Jerrion (Ealy) showed some things and Scottie (Phillips) broke a long one and Snoop (Conner) ran hard,” Luke said. For those wondering, Conner has been a lightning rod in the backfield since he exploded on the scene this past spring. Some feel Conner has moved into the backup role behind Phillips.
The good news? With the depth at running back, players like Tylan Knight and Ealy can run in the slot at times. Also, Ole Miss could go to a split back look at times this fall, according to offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.
Several players are banged up, but nothing is too serious
Some SEC teams already have lost starters or potential impact players for the season. So far, the Rebels have injuries mounting but luckily they are minor.
“We had a couple of bumps and bruises but nothing serious,” Luke said. “I think it’s just typical practice 10 of camp with a lot of bumps and bruises, a few concussions and guys are in the protocol,” he said.
Freshman QB Kinkead Dent is one of those being evaluated for a concussion. A notable injury is to defensive lineman/OLB Qaadir Sheppard. He will be out this week with a hand injury. Others dealing with small issues are OLB Sam Williams and DB Jalen Julius. While the numbers could be concerning, should a game be played, none should miss any action.
The biggest area of concern is at linebacker
The numbers provide the answer as to how bad the defense was last fall, particularly at linebacker. Luke believes those issues have been addressed with the return of MoMo Sanogo and the addition of one of the best JUCO linebackers in the country in Lakia Henry.
“Lakia (Henry) flashed (in the scrimmage) and made some tackles, but we just have to be consistent. We just need to continue to play really hard and finish,” Luke said.
Finishing has been problematic for the past 2 years. So much so, new defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said earlier this camp they had to break the defense down and begin from the ground up. With 17 linebackers on the roster, he will have plenty of options to choose from in the new 3-4 system.
“We have everything (the defensive scheme) installed and are just tweaking it now,” the former Colorado head coach said.
Speaking of Mac … he learned from the best in the business
Some positive news for Rebels fans, MacIntyre has learned from the best, with an unmatched coaching tree.
“When I was with the Dallas Cowboys, we ran the 4-3 and within 2 years switched to the 3-4, so I saw (the entire process) installed and did the same thing at the (New York) Jets,” he said.
If you’re following, MacIntyre was with the 2-time Super Bowl champion coach Bill Parcells in the early 2000s and will be running a defense that was created by Parcells and passed down to 6-time Super Bowl championship coach Bill Belichick.
Turning the page to Memphis
The Tigers are coming off an 8-6 season that ended with a loss to Wake Forest in the Birmingham Bowl. Memphis has been the talk of the preseason, with some analysts suggesting the Tigers could go undefeated. A member of the American Athletic Conference, Memphis must replace its top rusher from last season in Darrell Henderson. The former South Panola (MS) High School star ran for 1,966 yards last season. The good news is Memphis returns its starting quarterback in Brady White, another 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver and 8 defensive starters.
Make no mistake, Ole Miss could be walking into a hornet’s nest on Aug. 31 in a hot Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. For Ole Miss though, it will have one of the best tacticians in the game, in Rich Rodriguez, that’s had all summer to game plan.