Friday, March 15, 2013
Opening spring camp: Ole Miss
By Edward Aschoff
Schedule: The Rebels open spring practice at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, and will conclude the spring at 2 p.m. ET April 13 with the BancorpSouth Grove Bowl at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Practices are open to the public this spring.
What's new: After losing cornerbacks coach Wesley McGriff to the New Orleans Saints last month, the Rebels replaced him with former Oklahoma State assistant Jason Jones. Jones will coach Ole Miss' cornerbacks, and holds the title of co-defensive coordinator.
On the mend: Starting quarterback Bo Wallace will miss all of spring practice as he recovers from offseason clavicle surgery. Junior wide receiver Collins Moore will only take part in non-contact drills this spring, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Junior left guard Aaron Morris is expected to miss spring drills after having shoulder surgery.
On the move: With Wallace out for the spring, senior Barry Brunetti will take the majority of the first-team snaps at quarterback, but there's a chance he could play multiple positions this fall when Wallace returns. Junior college transfer Quadarias Mireles arrived at Ole Miss this spring as an athlete and will start the spring at cornerback. Moore could play safety once his shoulder heals. Sophomore wide receiver Cody Core could also plays some safety this spring, and redshirt freshman Temario Strong is moving from defensive tackle to linebacker.
New faces: The Rebels welcomed Mireles and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks from juco this spring. Freshman running back Mark Dodson and freshman tight end Christian Morgan also enrolled early. Nick Brassell is also back with the team after going the juco route in 2012 due to academic issues. He was a two-way player for the Rebels at both receiver and cornerback as a freshman in 2011, but will start the spring at corner.
Question marks: The Rebels return four starters along the offensive line, but will be without their best lineman from a year ago in right guard A.J. Hawkins. Ole Miss has some solid options to work with this spring, but replacing a guy like Hawkins won't be easy. The Rebels have to replace their top three tight ends from last season, including full-time starter Ferbia Allen. Senior Justin Bigham, who mostly played on special teams last season, is the lone letterman returning to the position. Morgan and redshirt freshman John Youngblood will also compete there this spring. Starting kicker Bryson Rose is gone, leaving redshirt senior Andrew Ritter and freshman Andy Pappanastos to compete for that spot.
Key battle: The departure of Hawkins leaves the Rebels with a major hole on the offensive line. He had the best season of any of Ole Miss' offensive linemen last season, and replacing him will be very tough. Versatile senior Patrick Junen will take the first snaps at right guard this spring, but he will really be challenged by athletic sophomore Justin Bell. The coaches expect a few others to compete for Hawkins' old spot as well.
Breaking out: Sophomore defensive end Channing Ward arrived at Ole Miss last year with a lot of hype surrounding him. He played in 12 games, registering 21 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, but much more is expected from him in Year 2. Ward has all the tools to be a major player up front for the Rebels. Senior wide receiver Philander Moore could be poised to have a big spring as well. He only played in eight games last season, catching four passes for 38 yards and touchdown, but he's been around the program long enough that the coaches are looking for him to take the next step. The coaches are also excited to see what redshirt junior defensive end Carlos Thompson and senior wide receiver Korvic Neat can do this spring.
Don't forget about: Senior linebacker D.T. Shackelford is finally back on the playing field after two straight years with knee injuries. Even during his absence from the playing field, he's still been one of the team's top leaders. That role should only expand with him coming back. He's an extremely versatile players, who has played well at both linebacker and defensive end during his career. He registered five sacks back in 2010 and was a part of the SEC All-Freshman team in 2009. He should be 100 percent this spring, and having him on the field this fall will instantly make this defense better.
All eyes on: Brunetti has had a very interesting career with the Rebels, but he's getting yet another chance to prove that he can be the quarterback when his number is called. Coach Hugh Freeze liked to switch Brunetti and Wallace in and out at times last seaosn, but Brunetti was used as more of a runner. This is a great chance for him to develop more as a passer and become an even bigger weapon for the Rebels this fall.