Randall Mackey will be used in a number of different ways on offense this fall.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. There are some pretty good skill position pieces.
Losing Nickolas Brassell was a blow to the offense to be sure, but Ole Miss does have some other pretty good players at the skill positions. Former quarterback Randall Mackey is joining the wide receiving corps, one that already includes one of Phil Steele's preseason All-SEC pass catchers in Donte Moncrief. Ja-Mes Logan has shown some good potential as well and might be ready to take the big next step forward after being named the team's most outstanding offensive player in the spring. Last year's leading rusher, Jeff Scott, is back, and Mackey will see some carries as well as the coaches try to get him the ball however possible. The big hope here is that these players will flourish with a more creative offensive staff, and the potential for them to do that is certainly there.
2. The secondary is looking pretty good.
The anchor for Ole Miss's secondary this year will be junior safety Charles Sawyer. At third team, he's the highest-rated player on Phil Steele's preseason All-SEC teams. He also finished last year seventh in the league in interceptions. One of his wingmen at corner will be a 10-game starter from last year in Wesley Pendleton, the guy who earned the best defensive player honor in spring practice. At the other corner, look for Dehendret Collins to make an immediate impact. The JUCO transfer earned praise from coaches all spring, and he nabbed a pair of interceptions in the spring game. If the play from March and April transfers to the fall, this unit will be the strength of the defense.
3. The roster will be full, probably.
Houston Nutt's final Ole Miss team had a lot of failings, but as bad as it got on the field, it sounds like its work in the classroom was the bigger disappointment. Hugh Freeze said that when he arrived, 25 players were academically ineligible. Now, taking a couple of players who are academic risks is par for the course for most college football coaches, but that's well over a quarter of the roster in the danger zone. It sounds like a large group of guys didn't just quit on the coach (they lost to Louisiana Tech by 20 in November, after all), but they quit on their studies too. Freeze says all but "three or four" are back eligible, which is certainly a good thing. Instilling an attitude of doing your best at everything would appear to be one of Freeze's top needs as he heads into his first fall.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. How good a head coach Hugh Freeze will be.
Freeze's inexperience is a running theme for this week, and it's for good reason. With just four seasons of I-A coaching under his belt, Freeze is one of the greenest rookie head coaches in the conference in a long time. Even the Boy Wonder himself, Lane Kiffin, had more than a decade of I-A and NFL coaching combined under his belt when Tennessee hired him. Freeze's lone season as Arkansas State head coach was a smashing success, but the Sun Belt is a far cry from the least forgiving division of the least forgiving conference in the game. Inexperience does not necessarily imply a lack of quality, it just means it's a higher risk hire for the school than someone who is more of a known quantity.
2. What to expect out of the quarterback position.
The quarterback position at Ole Miss has been in a state of flux over the past couple of years, and it looks like it will stay that way on into 2012. Through the spring, the job was basically a battle between dual threat QB Barry Brunetti and a more talented passer in JUCO transfer Bo Wallace. Randall Mackey got some limited time at quarterback too despite being a wide receiver now. In the spring game, Wallace out-passed Brunetti, but Brunetti was far and away the most effective runner among everyone, not just the quarterbacks. Will Freeze go with a rotation or settle on one guy and go with it? As of yet no one, probably not even the man himself, knows.
3. How good the offensive line will be.
The offensive line has two very big holes to fill with Bobby Massie and Bradley Sowell having gone off to the NFL. With that said, last year's offensive line was inconsistent even with those guys on it. Evan Swindall is the anchor at center, and several guys in the mix on the line have started games before. The issue is not necessarily experience but more about consistency. The Rebels were in the top half of the league in rushing offense in Nutt's first three years, but they fell off a cliff to tenth last season. To beat out expectations, the team will have to get some kind of rushing attack established. To do that, the line will have to improve despite losing a pair of tackles that currently are on NFL rosters.