If there’s one aspect of the Ole Miss offense that head coach Hugh Freeze and newly acquired offensive coordinator Phil Longo won’t have to worry about this spring, it’s the receivers. The Rebels led the SEC in receiving last season with 3,779 yards from 289 catches. In fact, the Rebels, during 2016 alone, completed 40 more passes than any other team in the SEC. It’s fair to say Ole Miss has been, and probably will be for the foreseeable future, a pass team.
With Evan Engram and Damore’ea Stringfellow off to the NFL and a new offensive system currently being “installed,” as Longo prefers to call it, it’s fair to question whom rising sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson will throw to next season. Two players, Van Jefferson and Markell Pack, seem to have caught Freeze’s eye.
Jefferson, a sophomore wide receiver from Brentwood, Tennessee, caught 49 passes for 543 yards in 2016, good enough for 17th in the SEC for receiving yards.
“I think he’s becoming a nice leader in that room,” Freeze said. “He and Markell (Pack) both have had really sound springs.”
Pack, a senior receiver from Purvis, played a smaller role as a backup in 2016, pulling down just 11 catches for 157 yards. Pack certainly does not lack athleticism, but his work ethic and personality traits have been called into question. Freeze’s post-practice comments on Tuesday, however, not only indicate a larger role for Pack in 2017 but also a better attitude.
“Markell really seems like kind of a new kid,” Freeze said.
As with any coaching change, strong, cohesive leadership from the team’s veterans will make a world of difference during Longo’s transition. Longo has gone on record as saying he wants to keep the offense simple but fast, a system that, to be effective, necessitates an outstanding quarterback with vision and composure.
Longo, whose pass-heavy Sam Houston State University offense led the NCAA in total offense last season, came to Oxford knowing he’d have access to one of the top pro-style passers in the nation. According to Freeze, Longo and Shea Patterson’s relationship is developing nicely.
“There is no doubt Shea fits in the offense we’ve been running.” Freeze said. “And obviously, Phil is the same, so it should be a good match.”
That’s good news for Ole Miss football fans worried about quarterback Chad Kelly’s departure from Oxford. Kelly threw 19 touchdowns in nine games last season with five more coming off the run. Those are big shoes to fill, especially considering Kelly’s penchant for making plays out of seemingly nothing.
Patterson, on the other hand, is no slacker, either. The then-true freshman quarterback played in three games last year after Kelly suffered a season-ending knee injury against Georgia Southern. His redshirt was pulled just days before Patterson’s college debut in College Station, Texas. An intimidating environment for even the most seasoned veterans, Patterson looked the part as he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns en route to Ole Miss’ 29-28 victory over Texas A&M.