Top 5 Storylines to Watch at Ole Miss Spring Game
Ole Miss Spring Game has Fans Brimming with Excitment
Ole Miss is back on the field at Vaught-Hemingway stadium Apr. 13 for the Rebel Bowl as the team looks to build on the success of their 7-6 season that culminated with a win in the BBVA Compass Bowl and a top-five recruiting class.
With seven offensive starters returning and eight more on defense, expectations are the highest they’ve been in Oxford for the past few seasons. Head coach Hugh Freeze has the Rebels rising in the SEC and as a result could return to the top 25 polls in the preseason.
The attention that has surrounded the program in the past few months has been as a result of the off-the-field accomplishments and their ability to translate that success into on-the-field prowess will be one of the key storylines that accompanies the program into the fall.
The spring is a good time to identify which players are poised to make the leap to stardom and which underclassmen are taking the next step in their development. Additionally, the handling of injuries, players making position switches to gain more playing time and replacing departed starters are all questions that need to be answered before the season kicks off Aug. 29. While some of those questions may not have a definitive answer after this Saturday, Freeze and his staff will have a much better idea come Saturday afternoon.
With the spring game this weekend here are the top five things I will be paying close attention to when the Rebels are back in action.
5. Donte Moncrief has All-American Potential
Donte Moncrief really came on strong at the end of last season and this could be his last spring with the Rebels if his junior season lives up to the lofty expectations that are being thrust upon him. The rising junior will be draft-eligible and could leave Oxford if he puts up the averages he produced during the final four games of the season. Moncrief has the potential to be the best receiver in the conference.
4. Denzel Nkemdiche Leads Underrated Unit of Linebackers
Denzel Nkemdiche led the team with 82 tackles and was a Freshman All-American last season and combined with Mike Marry and the return of D.T. Shackelford form one of the more underrated units in the conference. Look for Nkemdiche to make a big leap from last season and develop into a star for this defense. The linebackers and defensive line will need to be special to mask the deficiencies in the secondary.
3. Young Defensive Lineman
Robert Nkemdiche is expected to be a big contributor and likely will earn a starting job this summer, but the top recruit will only be an observer this spring. The young Rebels line will be led by nose tackle Isaac Gross and a big season could be in store for Channing Ward. Following the injury to last year’s sack leader, C.J. Johnson, who should be healthy in time for the regular season, Ward has to step up his game. The rebels finished 25th in rush defense last year and nearly averaged three sacks per game.
2. Bo Wallace's Health
Quarterback Bo Wallace is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, so he obviously won’t be participating in the spring game, but this gives an opportunity to Barry Brunetti to prove to Freeze that he can be a serviceable backup and capable starter if Wallace has to miss action during the regular season. Wallace has used this time to gain mental reps and should see an improvement in his decision making this fall after throwing for 17 interceptions last season.
1. What will the Running Back Rotation Look Like?
Jeff Scott returns to lead the Rebels ground game, but who will be his understudy. The team signed four running backs this winter, but I’Tavius Mathers, Jaylen Walton and even Barry Brunetti will need to provide support in the rushing attack to keep opposing defenses off balance and preparing to stop Moncrief in the passing game. Aiding the running game this season is that four of five offensive line starters return from last season.