Schedule: Ole Miss opens spring practice on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET. Four of the Rebels’ workouts this spring will be open to the public, including the ones on Friday and Saturday. Other open practices are on March 31 and April 14. The BancorpSouth Grove Bowl spring game is scheduled for April 21 at 2 p.m. ET at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. CSS will televise the game live.
What’s new: Just about everything. Running backs coach Derrick Nix is the lone holdover from the previous staff. Hugh Freeze takes over as head coach after leading Arkansas State to a 10-2 record and Sun Belt Conference championship last season. Dave Wommack is the Rebels’ associate head coach. He’s also the defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Wesley McGriff, who was at Vanderbilt last season, will serve as co-defensive coordinator and coach the cornerbacks. Chris Kiffin is the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for the defense. Tom Allen is the special-teams coordinator and linebackers coach. Dan Werner and Matt Luke are the two co-offensive coordinators. Werner will coach the quarterbacks, while Luke will coach the offensive line. Both Werner and Luke served previous stints on the Ole Miss staff, and Luke played at Ole Miss. Grant Heard, who also played at Ole Miss, will coach the receivers. Maurice Harris will coach the tight ends and serve as recruiting coordinator for the offense.
On the mend: Linebacker D.T. Shackelford (knee), offensive lineman Darone Bailey (knee) and linebacker Keith Lewis (shoulder) will all miss the spring. Shackelford had a second surgery on his left knee in January. He missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in the spring. Freeze said a few players would miss this first weekend for academic reasons, including sophomore receiver/cornerback Nickolas Brassell.
On the move: Sophomore Aaron Morris will open the spring at offensive tackle. He started five games at left guard last season as a true freshman. Junior Charles Sawyer could see action at both cornerback and safety again this season, while Brassell factors in as both a receiver and cornerback.
Key battle: After what the Rebels went through last season, settling on a quarterback has to be at the top of their agenda. Junior college newcomer Bo Wallace is the guy to beat, but he also has to go out there and earn the job. He already knows Freeze’s offense, which should give him an advantage. Seniors Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt split up most of the starts last season, although they combined for nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Junior Barry Brunetti, who transferred from West Virginia, will also be vying for the starting job. He started the opener last season for the Rebels, but didn’t play much after that.
New faces: Wallace is the obvious one after setting all sorts of passing records last season at East Mississippi Community College. It would probably be an upset if he’s not the Rebels’ starting quarterback in the fall. Three other junior college newcomers are also on campus. Pierce Burton of City College of San Francisco was highly rated among junior college offensive tackles and will be one to watch at left tackle. Dehendret Collins of Copiah-Lincoln (Kan.) Community College will push for playing time at cornerback, and Bailey could crack the offensive line rotation once he fully recovers from his torn ACL. He played at Coahoma (Miss.) Community College, but hurt his knee in the second game last season.
Breaking out: Sawyer was a very good player last season for Ole Miss. He has what it takes next season to develop into an All-SEC player and maybe even an All-American. He has excellent speed. He’s versatile, and he has a knack for making the big play. Look for Sawyer to also take on more of a leadership role.
Don’t forget about: Junior running back Jeff Scott was eighth in the SEC last season in all-purpose yardage with an average of 101.4 yards per game. But he was suspended for the last two games and may miss some practice time this spring because of academics. The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Scott is one of only three scholarship running backs on the roster and figures to play a key role in the fall, but he’s going to need some help. Senior Devin Thomas returns, and sophomore Nicholas Parker has dropped 20 pounds. Freshman I’Tavius Mathers of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will be on campus this summer and won’t have to wait long to show what he can do.
All eyes on: Sophomore receiver Donte Moncrief was one of the more dynamic true freshmen in the league last season. He led the Rebels in catches (31), receiving yards (454) and touchdown catches (four). The 6-2, 214-pound Moncrief averaged 14.6 yards per catch and should make even more big plays his second time through the league. The Rebels are going to need him to, especially with such an unproven running game.