Unsung trio of heroes: Ole Miss
The line to meet Chad Kelly was absurdly long at Saturday’s “Meet The Rebels” day. A senior quarterback sucks up most of the love at most any successful school.
But like the offensive line that often goes unnoticed – until it allows too many sacks – there are unsung heroes around Kelly, on the defensive side and in the coaching box.
Here are three that won’t get the television time but will have a lot to say about Ole Miss’ 2016 success.
Ole Miss is loaded at wide receiver. Even after losing the SEC’s best receiver in Laquon Treadwell, there are two potential 1,000-yard guys in Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow.
Markell Pack doesn’t have quite the same high expectations, but the junior is as valuable as any of the other more recognized receivers.
Pack was a four-star, in-state recruit and has played in every game in his two years in Oxford. He took a role as punt returner as a freshman and led the team with 18 returns for a 5.3 yard average. He showed some playmaking ability in the 2014 win against Alabama with a key early first down on an 18-yard catch from Bo Wallace.
As a sophomore, Pack played every game as a backup slot receiver and was sixth on the team with 31 catches for 380 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Getting to 1,000 and snagging the spotlight isn’t likely, but 500 valuable yards could be expected. His numbers rose significantly as a sophomore, and that may happen again as a junior.
DeMarquis Gates led the team in tackles. Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes are the newcomers. Departed C.J. Johnson and Denzel Nkemdiche were household names (Nkemdiche sadly for more than football reasons).
Where does that leave senior linebacker Terry Caldwell? On the first depth chart, it left him as the starter outside.
After a season at Charlotte, Caldwell played a year at Northwest Mississippi CC. Last season as a junior in Oxford, he played in every game with three starts at Mike linebacker. He had 32 tackles and is focused on getting more.
“I feel like my speed is great, my coverage is great and getting to the ball is not a problem,” Caldwell said following Tuesday morning’s practice. “Better tackling and running my feet this year will probably be better.”
Caldwell has momentum heading into the opener against Florida State. He had a season-high six tackles and a forced fumble in the Sugar Bowl win against Oklahoma State.
The question Ole Miss is having to answer the most revolves around the offensive line. Not only is there a load of attention on five-star recruit Greg Little, the Rebels are replacing all five O-line starters from the Sugar Bowl.
For the fifth season, Rebels alum Matt Luke serves as Hugh Freeze’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. His job is a big one. Last season’s line helped Ole Miss set multiple school records, scoring, touchdowns, total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns among them. It also meant Laremy Tunsil (two sacks in three years) and Fahn Cooper became NFL Draft selections.
Because Tunsil was so good, it’s easy to forget his freshman learning curve. Luke is again facing a premier talent with a learning curve fans don’t want to wait through. And Little isn’t the only young player Luke is developing to protect the SEC’s top quarterback. Alex Givens and Bryce Mathews are freshmen. Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings are sophomores.
Luke’s role is quiet, but his task will have a lot to say about Ole Miss’ success.