What to look for as Ole Miss opens fall football camp
Ole Miss opens up its 2015-16 fall camp this Wednesday, beginning with media day that afternoon. Thursday will mark the Rebels’ first official day of practice.
During both spring practices earlier this year and Southeastern Conference Media Days this summer, questions have been coming left and right about which quarterback—Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan or DeVante Kincade—will start for Ole Miss in its Sept. 5 season opener against UT-Martin. Coach Hugh Freeze has yet to name a starter, but the each of the three quarterbacks’ performances during fall practices will need to set themselves apart in order to give Freeze his starter under center.
One of the main questions heading into fall camp centers around the offensive line, a unit that was depleted due to injuries last season—forcing quarterback Bo Wallace to scramble outside of the pocket and make plays with his legs. The Rebels were in the bottom five of the SEC in sacks allowed each of the past four seasons, giving up 31 in 2014 to finish ahead of only Kentucky and Tennessee.
The good news for the Rebels is they return all five starters and their top seven linemen. Aaron Morris, Justin Bell, and Laremy Tunsil are the three players who will lead the Rebels on the offensive line. Morris, Bell, and redshirt freshman Jordan Sims each lost weight over the summer to add more muscle and quick, light feet to the line.
Everyone is expected to report in good health to camp, with Freeze indicating he wants to take a good look at Morris, who has suffered two ACL injuries while playing for the Rebels, to see how he responds after having two surgeries. “I like the way he looks, but he’s had two surgeries,” Coach Freeze said during SEC Media Days. “How’s he going to go when it’s time, go off that ball, hit defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton, who’s going to bring a punch to you, and how you do with that second step and third step. There’s no way I can judge that until we do it.”
Peach Bowl Motivation
Johnson and Hilton are wearing a chip on their shoulders after allowing the Horned Frogs to score 42 points behind the athleticism of quarterback Trevone Boykin, who threw for 187 yards on 22-of-31 passing and three touchdowns and ran for 75 yards on 10 carries in last season’s Peach Bowl.
“That stuck around for a while,” Hilton said about Ole Miss, which lost four of its last six games. “We have talked about it a lot this summer. We have to finish stronger.”
Even Coach Freeze has thought about the Peach Bowl loss over the summer. He has turned the loss into a positive and expects the experience to help his team moving forward.
“I learned a lot of things about preparing for a big game that I’ll do differently next time in dealing with our kids,” Freeze said. “We obviously need to compete better. At the same time, I look at the big picture. In three short years, we were playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl, beating some of the top teams in the nation, won some nine games. That’s, to me, on the right track. That’s what I focus on.”
A shot at a national championship
Johnson and Hilton believe this year’s Rebels team has all of the tools to win the national championship. Coach Freeze has the team believing it.
“He feels like we have the depth and talent to do it,” said Johnson, a senior middle linebacker. “During a team meeting, he told us if we stay together and stay healthy, we’ll have a chance. We think we know what it takes.”
Ole Miss has some wins from last season that prove the Rebels have what it takes to win on the biggest stage. The Oct. 4 win in Oxford over Alabama; the Oct. 11 win at Texas A&M, and the Nov. 29 Egg Bowl win against Mississippi State are the games that highlighted the 2014-15 campaign. Then there’s the 7-0 start, which had the Rebels No. 3 in the nation at one point.
Get ready, Rebel Nation; the season is about to begin! The Rebel Walk will be at Media Day this week and bring you all the information and highlights on this year’s team.
(Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)