Coming off a seven-win season and a top-five recruiting class, Ole Miss heads into spring practice with momentum on its side. The Rebels return 15 starters, including quarterback Bo Wallace, linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and receiver Donte Moncrief. Wallace is out for spring practice due to shoulder surgery, but the Rebels are working with an experienced backup in Barry Brunetti. Coach Hugh Freeze clearly has Ole Miss pointed in the right direction, and with the combination of returning talent and the incoming recruiting class, the Rebels could push for a top-25 spot in some preseason polls.
Ole Miss Rebels 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 7-6 (3-5)
Spring practice dates: March 17-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7
Passing: Bo Wallace, 235 of 368, 2,994 yards, 22 TDs, 17 INTs
Rushing: Jeff Scott, 197 car., 846 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving: Donte Moncrief, 66 rec., 979 yards, 10 TDs
Tackles: Denzel Nkemdiche, 82
Sacks: C.J. Johnson, 6.5
Interceptions: Three players tied with 3
Redshirts to Watch: OL Robert Conyers, DL Temario Strong, OL Darone Bailey
JUCO Transfers to Watch: ATH Nick Brassell, DT Lavon Hooks, ATH Quadarias Mireles
Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 7 SEMO
Sept. 14 at Texas
Sept. 28 at Alabama
Oct. 5 at Auburn
Oct. 12 Texas A&M
Oct. 19 LSU
Oct. 26 Idaho
Nov. 9 Arkansas
Nov. 16 Troy
Nov. 23 Missouri
Nov. 30 at Mississippi State
Offensive Strength: With eight starters back, the Rebels are in good shape on each level of the offense. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 2,994 yards last season, while the receiving corps should be one of the best in the SEC. The offensive line returns four starters.
Offensive Weakness: It’s hard to find a glaring weakness for Ole Miss, but guard A.J. Hawkins and two tight ends (Jamal Mosley and Ferbia Allen) must be replaced. The line has room to improve after allowing 2.6 sacks a game last season.
Defensive Strength: The linebacking corps should be the strength of the Rebels’ defense in 2013, as Denzel Nkemdiche is back after a standout freshman season, and Mike Marry returns after recording 78 stops in 2012.
Defensive Weakness: Ole Miss fielded an improved defense in Hugh Freeze’s first season, but the Rebels still have a long ways to go on this side of the ball. The secondary has to get better after allowing 246.5 passing yards a game last season. Ole Miss ranked seventh in yards allowed in conference play in 2012.
Spring Storylines Facing the Rebels
1. The health of quarterback Bo Wallace. After a solid debut season in Oxford, there’s a lot of concern surrounding Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace this spring. Wallace threw for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns, while adding 390 yards and eight scores on the ground in 2012. Wallace had offseason shoulder surgery and will miss all of spring practice. With Wallace sidelined, Barry Brunetti and Maikhail Miller are expected to take a majority of the snaps under center, and the development of both players is crucial for Ole Miss. While Wallace is expected to return to 100 percent, the slow shoulder surgery recovery of Missouri’s James Franklin last year and Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson in 2010 has to give Rebels’ head coach Hugh Freeze some nervous thoughts this spring. Having an experienced backup like Brunetti has to ease some of the concern, but Wallace is clearly Ole Miss’ best quarterback. And the Rebels can’t move up the SEC West pecking order if Wallace isn’t 100 percent this year.
2. Replacing A.J. Hawkins on the offensive line. With running back Jeff Scott and receiver Donte Moncrief returning, the Rebels have plenty of talented at the skill positions to keep the offense performing at a high level. And the offensive line is in relatively good shape with four starters back from last season. However, this unit has room to grow after allowing 2.6 sacks a game last year, and guard A.J. Hawkins departs after starting all 13 games. Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton are back to anchor the tackle spots, but both players will be pushed by incoming freshmen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson. There’s no clear replacement for Hawkins on the roster, although tackle Patrick Junen is expected to slide to guard this spring. If Junen doesn’t secure the job, the Rebels may turn to Justin Bell or could look at sliding another tackle to guard. For the Rebels to take the next step on offense, the line has to play with more consistency in 2013.
3. Reloading the defensive line. The Rebels finished 2012 ranked 25th nationally against the run and recorded 2.9 sacks a game last year. The line loses four contributors from last season, but help is on the way from one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. End Robert Nkemdiche ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and has the size and talent to make an immediate impact. In addition to Nkemdiche, junior college recruit Lavon Hooks is expected to play a lot of snaps in the interior this year. Ends C.J. Johnson and Channing Ward are a good foundation to build around, while nose tackle Issac Gross needs a little more help on the interior with the departure of Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant.
4. Settling on a starting group in the secondary. The weakness of Ole Miss’ defense last season was the secondary. The Rebels ranked 80th nationally against the pass, and quarterbacks completed 61.6 percent of their throws against this secondary. The cupboard isn’t bare, but the Rebels need to find the right mix for 2013 this spring. Charles Sawyer shifted from safety to cornerback last season and should be better in his second year at the position. Nick Brassell is back on campus after a year at junior college, and he could start on the other side. If Brassell isn’t the answer, Senquez Golson, Dehendret Collins or Quintavius Burdette and Anthony Standifer will all get a chance to win the job. The starting spots at safety will likely go to Trae Elston and Cody Prewitt, but true freshman Antonio Conner will be difficult to keep off the field.
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