Spring practice means there are starting jobs up for grabs across the country, and the SEC is no different. This week, we began a series looking at key position battles for each SEC team.
Next up are the Ole Miss Rebels. Earlier today, I wrote about the offensive line -- which is trying to replace five starters -- but here are three other positions where there has been the most competition this spring.
1. Wide receiver: Gone are Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core. Treadwell led the SEC with 1,153 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, and Core was second on the team with 644 yards receiving. That leaves two starting spots up for grabs. Quincy Adeboyejo is the most experienced player returning, but he spent most of his time in the slot last year. When healthy, Damore’ea Stringfellow has a chance to be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver -- he had 503 yards and five touchdowns in 2015 -- but the former Washington transfer has missed all of spring practice to this point with an ankle injury. That’s given the coaches a chance to look at some other options such as Markell Pack, Derrick Jones, DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson. The position will get even deeper this summer when ESPN 300 wide receiver A.J. Brown arrives on campus. There might not be a Treadwell on the roster, but there are plenty of weapons.
2. Safety: Similar to receiver, Ole Miss lost both starting safeties from a year ago in Trae Elston and Mike Hilton. The duo finished tied for second on the team with 70 tackles apiece, and Elson led the Rebels with four interceptions (including two returned for touchdowns). This spring, the staff has been moving a lot of players around in the secondary trying to find the best fits for each position. The only sure thing at this point is that they want to get junior C.J. Hampton on the field at one of the two safety spots. Hampton, a former ESPN 300 recruit, finished with 27 tackles last year in more of a reserve role, but Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he’s a guy that they believe will be “a really good player.” Other candidates at safety include Zedrick Woods, A.J. Moore, C.J. Moore, Armani Linton and 2016 signee Myles Hartsfield. Though there's not much experience among that group, there's plenty of depth.
3. Running back: With leading rusher Jaylen Walton gone, many thought Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins would battle it out this spring for the starting job. Judd finished with 78 carries, 425 yards and three touchdowns last year while Wilkins had 72 carries, 379 yards and four touchdowns. It was clear there was not much separation between the two. And while those two will get the first shot at carries, don’t forget about redshirt freshman Eric Swinney. The coaches were high on Swinney when they signed him in February 2015, but he suffered a stress fracture in his leg before he ever got to Ole Miss, which forced him to miss all of last season. However, he’s reminding the coaches why they liked him so much coming out of high school with the way he’s performed this spring. Here's visual proof. More than likely, all three backs will see carries next fall, and the starter probably won’t be named until August.