There’s no denying Ole Miss has had some holes in its roster during Hugh Freeze’s first two years at the helm, and Freeze and his coaching staff had that in mind when shaping up the 2014 recruiting class.
Freeze and company added 26 players to its roster in this recruiting class, and like last year, it will have an immediate impact this fall.
There may not be as many big playmakers that will make contributions right away. Freeze said they are expecting to redshirt more players than they’ve been able to do in his first two seasons. However, there are still plenty of guys who will bring more bodies to the Ole Miss depth chart.
“I hope we can redshirt more kids then we were able to the last two years,” Freeze said. “That’s a sign that we’re headed in the right direction in getting some kids some more maturity before they have to hit the field. I do believe that last year we had some top-heavy guys that got a lot of attention.
“In this class, we might be better top to bottom. A few of those guys in there, like the Sammie Epps of the world that go to all-star games and do phenomenally well that we’ll have to come in and play for us. Markell Pack is another one that is a super talent. It’s mixed. We’re going to have to have some added depth at some places with this class. We sure hope that we don’t have to depend on all of them for next year.”
One area of concern where Ole Miss is looking for immediate help is at middle linebacker. The Rebels lose Mike Marry, and Christian Russell, a junior college prospect, is in line to fill that void.
Also, look for athlete Jeremy Liggins to find himself all over the field in the spring until he finds a home at one position. Freeze said he will start him off at tight end in spring practices, but also wants to see him at quarterback. However, Liggins has the athletic ability to play multiple positions on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve watched an enormous amount of tape on Jeremy throughout the years,” Freeze said. “The guy was a great competitor in high school and lost one football game as a quarterback. He knows how to win. It didn’t surprise me that you watch him in one tape getting off the edge and you watch the next tape and he’s throwing touchdowns or scrambling for a big run. For a guy that is his size, to do some of the things he does, you just know that athletically he can improve your football team.
“I love what I see from him right now. The guy has come full circle. We went through a lot in the recruitment of him over the last couple of years. He has a smile on his face and loves being at Ole Miss and is anxious about competing for a spot somewhere.”
The Rebels also needed some help in the secondary. Seemingly every year, Ole Miss finds itself searching for bodies in the secondary.
Freeze and his staff took that into account and came away with a very good secondary class that is led by four-star safety C.J. Hampton and four-star cornerback Kendarius Webster.
“We expect people like C.J. Hampton, who’s already here with us and looks phenomenal in workouts, to come in and immediately add to our depth in the secondary, which was needed,” Freeze said. “The same thing with Kendarius Webster. We think those two kids are able to come in and play right away.”
Defensive line was another area of need, especially when it comes to pass rushers. Ole Miss ranked 11th in the Southeastern Conference in sacks and wanted to get guys who can take pressure off the secondary.
They did just that with the additions of three talented defensive ends.
“I think Marquis Haynes has potential to be a phenomenal player,” Freeze said. “He’s so athletic. Hopefully, we can get some mass to him. He’s a C.J. Johnson mold guy. Garrald McDowell, his motor is unbelievable. Grant Heard did a phenomenal job recruiting him. Victor (Evans)’ body is what you’re looking for in this league. I really look forward to seeing him develop. We have some guys that have some speed off the edge.”
On the offensive line, Ole Miss lost six players, including three starters. They have a core group of young players returning, but also have plenty of opportunities for newcomers to come in and make an immediate impact.
Ole Miss signed five offensive lineman in this class, and junior college prospect Fahn Cooper is expected to come in and play right away at right tackle. The Rebels also landed the No. 1 prospect in Mississippi in Roderick Taylor, who is a five-star prospect, according to 247Sports.com.
“Rod Taylor is as good as I’ve ever seen in drill tape,” Freeze said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a guy any better than his feet in those things. It means a lot more to me and I was hoping Matt Luke can get the most out of him.
“Jordan Sims, the same way. We’re going to stay on him about controlling his weight, but then watch his drill tape and see what he did at everybody’s camp. As soon as he goes to their camp he gets an offer because of what you see him do athletically.”
With the loss of Donte Moncrief at wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell will get more and more attention from opposing defenses. Ole Miss signed four-star wideout Markell Pack on Wednesday, and the Purvis native is someone who could make a quick impact for the Rebel offense.
Another area of need Ole Miss addressed was at running back. The Rebels have plenty of bodies on the depth chart, but they needed a big body who can get the tough yards on short-yardage situations.
Junior college prospect Akeem Judd, a 6-foot, 215-pound bruising runner, and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins should solve that problem for Ole Miss.
“I think it’s pretty well rounded,” Freeze said of the class as a whole. “There’s always people that you wish you would have gotten that you felt like would have addressed needs more immediate. I’m really happy with the guys we have. We addressed almost every position.”
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— David Collier