Ole Miss football: Analyzing the Rebels' projected starting lineup
Ole Miss enters the 2019 season with the ability to play in a bowl game first time in 3 years. It does so after having to rebuild an offense that lost its quarterback, 2 NFL drafted wide receivers, 3 starting offensive linemen and its offensive coordinator, Phil Longo.
The Rebels return only 3 starters on offense. That includes their best lineman, Alex Givens, who is recovering from offseason back surgery.
To put it bluntly, new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez has his hands full. It’s not all bad news, however. The quarterback has reps and oozes confidence. The running back room is full, led by Scottie Phillips, who was just 39 yards short of a 1,000-yard season. The wild card of the bunch could be highly touted freshman Jerrion Ealy. He’ll play early and often.
Here’s a look at the projected starting lineup, key backups and the impact they’ll have in 2019.
QB: RFr. Matt Corral
RB: Sr. Scottie Phillips, So. Isaiah Woullard, Fr. Jerrion Ealy
While Ealy will garner plenty of eyeballs when the ball is kicked off against Memphis on Aug. 31, the question mark will be on quarterback Matt Corral. While only playing 4 games last fall, Corral gained valuable experience and still kept his redshirt. He will be looked upon to lead the team both on and off the field. That’s obvious considering Ole Miss sent him to SEC Media Days. Can he do that as a freshman? He’ll likely lean heavily on the loaded backfield anchored by Phillips.
C: Jr. Eli Johnson
RG: So. Ben Brown
LG: Jr. Royce Newman, RFr. Jalen Cunningham
RT: Sr. Alex Givens, Sr. Michael Howard
LT: Jr. Bryce Matthews, Fr. Nick Broeker
Without question, the most concerning department on offense is up front. Coming into the season, Ole Miss could ill afford to lose anyone to injury. Unfortunately, Givens had surgery on his back and will miss at least the next few weeks. The coaching staff hopes to have him back the week of the Memphis game. Secondly, Luke said touted freshman Darius Thomas is dealing with a heart condition and is out indefinitely. A late-season return is possible.
Two things begin to be problematic: The depth is very thin and what depth you have is inexperienced and young. For Ole Miss to be successful this fall, it cannot suffer any more bad news regarding the offensive line.
Wide receivers/tight end
WR: So. Elijah Moore, Fr. Dannis Jackson
WR: Jr. Braylon Sanders, Fr. Jonathan Mingo
WR: Jr. Dontario Drummond, So. Tylan Knight
TE: Sr. Octavious Cooley, Sr. Jason Pellerin
Ole Miss must replace 3 players now in the NFL: draft picks D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown and UFA DaMarkus Lodge, which will not be easy. The Rebels have recruited very well at the position and created quality depth. Watch out for the freshman duo of Mingo and Jackson. The staff is incredibly excited about what they have to offer.
DE: Jr. Tariqious Tisdale
DT: Sr. Benito Jones and RFr. Quentin Bivens
NT: Sr. Josiah Coatney and Sr. Austrian Robinson
Like many other positions on defense, the entire unit returns except Victor Evans and Markel Winters. Both played defensive end. With the new implementation of Mike MacIntyre’s 3-4 defense, more emphasis will be put on the linebackers. This unit has been serviceable and should improve with another year of experience under its belt.
LB: Sr. Qaadir Sheppard
LB: So. Jacquez Jones, Sr. Willie Hibbler
LB: Jr. Mohamed Sanogo, Jr. Lakia Henry
LB: Jr. Sam Williams, Charles Wiley, Montrell Custis
Last season, the Ole Miss linebackers were statistically one of the worst units in college football. Ole Miss ranked 116th out of 130 FBS schools in rushing defense. The good news is there is only one way to go and it’s up. It will start with the linebackers and the test will come early in Memphis.
CB: Jr. Jaylon Jones, Jr. Jamar Richardson
CB: Sr. Myles Hartsfield, So. Keidron Smith
FS: Jr. Jalen Julius, Sr. Armani Linton
SS: Jr. Jonathan Haynes, Sr. Vernon Dasher
Defending the pass was not a strong suit for a secondary that returns 3 of its 4 starters. Jaylon Jones, who tore his ACL the first week of the season last year, says he is ready to go. The Rebels were 111th in the country in passing yards allowed. That simply is not good enough for the gauntlet of the SEC West.
PK: Jr. Luke Logan
P: Jr. Mac Brown
KO/P returner: So. Elijah Moore, Fr. Jerrion Ealy, Jr. Jaylon Jones
Logan did a nice job last season connecting on 22-of-27 field goals and will be a welcomed return. Punter Mac Brown finished with a 41.2 average and Elijah Moore was the prominent punt returner. He only averaged 3.4 yards per punt return and checked in with an 18.5-yard kickoff return. Expect Ealy to get his hands on the ball this season on special teams. Another name to remember on special teams is Jaylon Jones. Fresh off his injury, many remember the 94-yard kickoff return in the opening game against Texas Tech.
Final thought …
Matt Corral has the offense locked down, according to Rodriguez. The question remains will he be able to handle the pressures on and off the field. He’ll be asked to lead with the departures of so many leaders last fall. With the options at running back and wide receivers, he will have the weapons. What so many are worried about: Will he have the protection?
Ole Miss opens against a potent offense in Memphis that returns its quarterback in Brady White. He’ll test the veteran linebackers and secondary early, so we’ll know how much improvement they’ve done. When many schools open with a lower level P5, Ole Miss opens with one with very high hopes.
For Luke and Ole Miss, they need to make a statement for the nation on Ole Miss come Aug. 31. More important, they need to make a statement for their fans.