Four burning questions for Ole Miss heading into SEC Media Days
Every team in the Southeastern Conference has positions they need to fill and Ole Miss is no exception. The Rebels have gaps they need to address on both sides of the football as they lost incredible talent to both graduation and the NFL. SEC Media Days are finally here, and on Thursday, July 14, Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze will answer questions about how he’s preparing for another highly anticipated season in Oxford.
Here are four big questions Coach Freeze will likely encounter while in Hoover:
Can Chad Kelly perform an encore?
When he transferred in from East Mississippi Community College, Chad Kelly stepped into the starting role for an Ole Miss team in need of a leader under center following the graduation of three-year starter Bo Wallace. Many didn’t know what to expect from Kelly.
Well, Kelly delivered spectacularly with one of the most exciting seasons in the history of Ole Miss Football. He completed 65.1 percent (298-of-458) of his passes while throwing for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns. The Buffalo, New York native also rushed for 10 touchdowns.
The Rebels were crowned the 2016 Allstate Sugar Bowl Champions–to conclude a 10-3 finish–under the direction of Kelly. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback was also named to the All-SEC second team and labeled as the SEC’s Newcomer of the Year by Athlon Sports.
What can Kelly do for an encore? How can he improve upon a season that was so outstanding?
Most likely Kelly’s laser-like focus is on preparing to help his Rebels win two key early games in 2016, as those could set the tone for the remainder of the season. Ole Miss plays Florida State in the first week, followed by a huge contest against defending national champion Alabama in week three in Oxford.
Hugh Freeze has often said Chad Kelly studies more film than the head coach does, so there’s no doubt the senior quarterback is even more prepared mentally for the road ahead. He has also bulked up in the offseason, so if Kelly’s senior year is anything like his junior season, and if he can get past the early gauntlet–with some help from the defense–the Rebels could be dancing into their third straight New Year’s Day Six Bowl.
Will the Rebels find a steady running attack?
Last season, the Rebels’ offense relied heavily on Kelly’s legs when it wasn’t relying on his arm. Jaylen Walton was the primary back for Ole Miss a year ago as he rushed for 730 yards; however, Kelly was second on the team in rushing yards (500).
What can the Rebels expect in the running game this season now that Walton has graduated?
Akeem Judd, Jordan Wilkins and Eugene Brazley are back at the running back position. Redshirt freshman Eric Swinney, who missed all of last season with a leg injury, hopes to receive some carries and looked impressive during the spring, showcasing power with his upper body strength and speed. Ole Miss will have two other strong options to use in the backfield with the additions of D’Vaughn Pennamon and Jarrion Street.
With six backs on the depth chart with both power and speed, opposing defenses may have to pay attention to someone else other than Kelly.
Will the offensive line have success?
Robert Conyers, Jordan Sims, Rod Taylor, Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings return this season for the Rebels on the offensive line. That’s the good news. The bad news is they’ve lost Ben Still, Justin Bell, Aaron Morris, Fahn Cooper, Christian Morris, and Laremy Tunsil–but Ole Miss has experienced guys in line who are prepared to help Kelly and his weapons put points on the scoreboard.
During the spring, Rawlings practiced playing center and is up for the challenge despite being known as a tackle. Jeremy Liggins will also be in the mix for some playing time on the offensive line at the tackle position. Liggins has played in multiple positions (quarterback, tight end, offensive tackle) for the Rebels since 2014, and it’s because of the athleticism of his 6-3, 302-pound frame and his willingness to play wherever he can help his team.
Five-star recruit Greg Little plans to join the team in the fall and is a top candidate to take over the left tackle position vacated by Tunsil. Eli Johnson, Bryce Matthews, Royce Newman and Chandler Tuitt will also provide solid depth for the Rebels on the offensive line.
Who will replace Laquon Treadwell?
Treadwell was the only 1,000-yard receiver in the SEC last season and he was also Kelly’s favorite and most reliable target. Now with No. 1 in the National Football League, who’s the next man up?
Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow both have the capabilities to be a solid target for Kelly. Adeboyejo notched 604 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season, while Stringfellow finished with 503 receiving yards and five TD’s.
Adeboyejo and Stringfellow could be reliable choices, but they are by no means the only weapons Kelly will have at his disposal.
Other contributors include Markell Pack, Damarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson. Jefferson impressed his teammates and coaching staff during the spring with his skills and his grasp of the offense. Coming in as a highly-rated recruit, Jefferson redshirted due, in part, to the talent that was in front of him.
Jefferson won’t be the only player eager to step onto the field as highly-rated signees D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Tre Nixon are coming in with the anticipation of receiving some touches. Though replacing a receiver like Treadwell is not an easy task, there are plenty of talented players on the depth chart for the Rebels.
SEC Media Days schedule and television info
The SEC Network is televising each day of SEC Media Days, which runs from July 10-14. For the complete schedule and network information, please click here.