Ever since the 2016 season ended, the majority of the talk surrounding Ole Miss football has been focused on off-the-field issues, but the Rebels begin fall camp today with a chance to turn the page to a new season. While the off-the-field talk may not end until the Rebels learn their final fate from the NCAA, today begins a welcomed distraction from all the noise for the Ole Miss football program.
We know about the bowl ban for 2017, the upcoming meeting with the Committee on Infractions, Hugh Freeze’s resignation and the details surrounding it, but here are five questions facing the Rebels heading into fall camp with the season right around the corner.
- Is Shea Patterson capable of leading the Rebels through the turmoil?
Last week after Matt Luke’s first press conference, Shea Patterson stepped to the podium and laughed as a reporter asked him if he saw the beginning of his career playing out with two head coaches, two OCs and his redshirt year being cut short. While he said the right things, and his coaches have supported him throughout the offseason, when they put on the pads it’s a whole different story. With few seniors on the roster, the former 5-star QB will have to prove he is the guy that can lead Ole Miss football out of the darkness and keep his teammates focused on what they can control; winning football games.
- How will Matt Luke distinguish himself from Hugh Freeze’s coaching style?
When Hugh Freeze resigned, Luke took over and was elated to earn the chance to take his “dream job” as the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. As an OL coach, Luke would lose his voice according to junior OL Javon Patterson. So, when he’s at the helm of the entire team, will he be the same fiery and passionate guy? If you listen to his players and coaches talk about him, he will be. Luke has been around a number of coaches in his career, and he mentioned that he will learn from the good and the bad of all of them as he looks to put Ole Miss in position to play spoiler in 2017.
“It’s not just coach Freeze, it’s coach Cutcliffe, it’s coach Tuberville, it’s coach Fullmer and even coach Orgeron. All the coaches I’ve been around, I can take something from each one and put my own twist on it. With the length of time that I’ve been preparing for this opportunity I’m excited to take all my knowledge and experience and put it to use at my University,” Luke said.
- Who is going to step up at linebacker for Ole Miss?
Former LSU assistant Bradley Dale Peveto has come into coach the linebackers alongside new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, and the pair has been preaching energy and accountability since they stepped onto the Ole Miss campus. McGriff’s talk of simplifying the defensive schemes will benefit the LBs and allow them to play fast and freely rather than trying to worry about schemes pre-snap. In 2016, the Rebel linebacking core was depleted and turned into a non-factor late in the season. The issues in the middle of the defense were highlighted in the Egg Bowl when MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald ran with ease right through the center of the Rebel defense and finished with 258 yards on the ground. DeMarquis Gates is back as a senior leader, and Breon Dixon is a promising true freshman, but they will need help if the “Landshark” defense aims to make its return in 2017.
- How far along is the implementation process on both sides of the ball?
It’s not often that a team has a new head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, but nevertheless, that’s what the Rebels are dealing with heading into 2017. During spring practice, new OC Phil Longo spoke about the learning curve in his system and that it would take time. During the Grove Bowl, the offense was working with a slimmed down version of the playbook. You have to learn to walk before you learn to run, so with just a month before the season; the Rebels must quickly finish installing the offense so they can begin perfecting it. On defense, the simplicity of McGriff’s system should expedite the process and allow them to focus on the details like personnel, tackling, pass coverage and stopping the run; things they struggled with in 2016.
- How good can this offense be in 2017?
With Patterson at QB, a receiving core consisting of a healthy D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson and Jordan Wilkins back running the football, the Rebels have a real chance to be one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses. Patterson showed just how dangerous how can be against Texas A&M, but he still has a lot of growing up to do. It will certainly help to have a more complete team around him, which he clearly did not have in the final three games of 2016. The Ole Miss offense will go as far as the offensive line will allow them to go. In his second year, LT Greg Little should make huge strides in becoming the anchor of the Rebel offensive line. If the defense can improve from last year and put less pressure on the offense, we’ll hopefully see a more balanced attack than we have in years past.
Stay tuned to HottyToddy.com for coverage of Ole Miss Media Day later this afternoon. Matt Luke will kick things off with a press conference at 3 p.m. central time, followed by players and coaches meeting with the media.
Steven Gagliano is the managing editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.HERE!