Notes from Ole Miss football’s Thursday practice
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss football held day two of spring ball Thursday, giving media its first chance to get to view the team.
In love with the work #ProMindset | #HottyToddy pic.twitter.com/FloNFIN2BH
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) March 24, 2023
We were allowed to be present for all 15 periods, and here are some of our observations and notes from Thursday’s practice.
Perhaps the most-asked question we get is “Who will be QB1?” or “How do the QBs look?” That’s understandable as Ole Miss has one of the most talented quarterback rooms in the country.
While we cannot say who will be QB 1 come this fall, we can tell you that returning starter from last season Jaxson Dart, Oklahoma State transfer Spencer Sanders and LSU transfer Walker Howard are going to push each other all throughout camp. The trio looked good at Thursday’s practice, and Lane Kiffin will have a heck of a decision on his hands come fall.
Each of the three was impressive with his arm, showing strength and accuracy.
Returnee Dart looks to have put on some muscle as he just appears bigger than last season. He knows the offensive system well, obviously, and seems to have more of a “commanding presence” than he did last year when he completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,974 yards and 20 TDs.
Sanders appeared in 43 career games for the Cowboys, earning 2019 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and 2021 first team All-Big 12 accolades. He threw for 9,553 yards, ran for 1,956 yards and posted 85 total touchdowns during his four-year career in Stillwater. Sanders went 30-11 as a starter, which included an 11-2 mark in 2021.
Sanders is still working on coming back completely from a shoulder injury; however he was throwing in drills today and made some nice strong throws. He talked about his shoulder after practice.
“The shoulder is coming around slowly. I’ll take a lot of little steps with the shoulder and with learning the offense and in the long run that will equal a big step. We have a stacked quarterback room and that will only make all of us better.”
Spencer Sanders after practice Thursday
Sanders is keenly aware of the talent Ole Miss has at the signal-caller position. “We probably have the most stacked quarterback room in the entire country,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day, it’s only going to make us all better.”
As for the young LSU transfer, Walker Howard caught our attention quickly. His arm looks to be as strong as Dart’s, and he hit a couple of 60+ yard shots down the field for touchdowns (to Brandon Buckhaulter and Chris Marshall) that turned heads. He was as impressive as you would expect a former 5-star recruit to be.
After practice, Howard talked about what drew him to Oxford.
“I really loved the offense at Ole Miss. It kind of reminds me of my offense I kind of ran in high school, a lot of tempo kind of just spreading the ball and slinging it around. The offense really did it and the coaches around me did a great job when I came to visit and I really fell in love with Oxford,” Howard explained.
“I just like to compete. I came here (and) talked to coach Kiffin when I was in the portal and he just told me that he’s going to let me compete, that’s all I care about. I just want to compete and it’s going to make me better and all the guys around me better.”
Look for a competitive spring at the QB position with the talented trio pushing one another throughout.
Non-contact jersey wearers
Players who are injured wear the non-contact black jerseys at practice. Some of those participated in some individual drills Thursday — but not the ones that require contact — while some were unable to practice at all.
Players we noticed with the non-contact jersey on included: Cornerbacks Deantre Prince and Demarko Williams, wide receivers Tre Harris, Jordan Watkins, and Qua Davis wore black, as did defensive ends Jakivuan Brown and Cedric Johnson. Tight end Hudson Wolfe wore black; however, he did participate in some passing drills.
It was good to see right tackle Micah Pettus participating today following his offseason surgery. Speaking of surgery, Jayden Williams and Jeremy James did not practice as they are each recovering and rehabbing from surgery in the offseason.
It’s difficult to give you a first-team lineup for the O-line, given that two of last year’s starters (Williams and James) are missing spring camp due to injury, but we can tell you today’s starting o-line consisted of: left tackle Victor Curne (transfer from Washington), left guard Eli Acker, Center Caleb Warren, right guard Quincy McGee (transfer from UAB) and right tackle Micah Pettus.
The second team offensive line consisted of left tackle Cam East, left guard Preston Cushman, center Reece McIntyre, right guard Brycen Sanders and right tackle Cedrick Nicely.
Tight Ends a real position of strength
It is clear why Kiffin and staff went after Memphis transfer Caden Prieskorn. He’s 6’5, 255 pounds, moves well and has nice hands — quite a combo. Returning tight end Michael Trigg looked as promising as he did this time last season. He’s obviously got all the tools to be a next-level TE.
Hudson Wolfe, true freshman Jayvontay Conner, and sophomore Kyirin Heath each made some nice catches as well. Casey Kelly isn’t participating this spring because he, too, had surgery (shoulder) in the offseason.
This could be one of the strongest position groups on the team this season.
Another strong position on the team is wide receiver, with a nice mix of returnees and newcomers.
We saw Chris Marshall (A&M transfer), Jalen Knox, Bralon Brown, Dayton Wade, JJ Henry, Jeremiah Dillon and Larry Simmons all catching passes from the QBs and each showcased nice hands and good skills at differing times.
As we mentioned above, Tre Harris, Qua Davis and Jordan Watkins were wearing the non-contact jersey.
While everyone is excited about the offense, folks also are keenly interested in the defense and what to expect from new defensive coordinator Pete Golding. What we can tell you is from our first time watching Golding at Ole Miss is he is a dynamo — constantly moving and teaching and motivating.
Again, there are some injuries that will likely make the starting lineups look a little different when fall rolls around, but on Thursday it looked as if the Rebels’ starting defensive line was comprised of J.J. Pegues and Zxavian Harris at defensive tackle and J.J. Hawkins and Jared Ivey at defensive end.
Tywone Malone, Josh Harris (transfer from NC State) and Jamond Gordon also were in the mix.
The bottom line
From everything we saw today, the QB battle will be heated. Dart looks more “in control” as a returning starter who knows the playbook, but Sanders and Howard each impressed. Don’t sleep on either of those two.
One final note: Quinshon Judkins is still Quinshon Judkins, and that’s a good thing. He looked as strong and talented as ever, perhaps even a little bigger. Ulysses Bentley IV also looked very strong in practice today. It’s hard to imagine a more formidable running back duo.
Stay tuned to The Rebel Walk for more updates throughout spring practices.
Kam is an undergraduate at Ole Miss, currently pursuing a degree in Journalism. Even though he’s from Delhi, Louisiana, that didn’t stop Kam from growing up a diehard Ole Miss fan. He’s a sports guru who watches and follows all sports at all times. He lettered four years in football and baseball in high school and is an avid Saints, Pelicans, and Astros fan. In his free time, he likes to binge watch Netflix, hit the gym, travel, and drive himself crazy over his fantasy football.