With all the recent allegations consuming the Ole Miss football program, it’s easy for fans to be pessimistic about the 2017 season. Following the first losing season in the Hugh Freeze era, the Rebels hope to return to the program that they’ve built over the past three years. Despite the self-imposed ban, Freeze will not allow his team to be defined by bowl eligibility.
“Playing those 12 games will show everyone whether or not we’re a good football team,” Freeze said. “Not just one bowl game.”
With recent changes in personnel and a healthy roster, the Rebels are ready to dive into the 2017 season, which began with spring practice on Tuesday.
D.K. Metcalf, a rising sophomore, will be a weapon for the Ole Miss offense that it was unable to utilize last year. His sophomore season cut short after the second game due to a broken foot, Metcalf was forced to watch his team struggle from the sidelines. Freeze feels confident that Metcalf will be ready for action this preseason.
“Metcalf is good to go,” Freeze said. “He’s 100 percent, and he’s eager to get out there this spring.”
Scoring a touchdown in both games he played in last year, Metcalf will be one of Shea Patterson’s go-to targets next season.
Eric Swinney, another crucial part of the Rebel offense who missed most of the 2016 season, is looking to make an impact on offense. Following a knee injury in the first game of the season, Swinney has spent the last six months rehabbing his knee. With knee injuries being as serious as they are, Freeze is exercising caution with him.
“Swinney is close to 100 percent, but he’s not there yet,” Freeze said. “He’s not ready for contact, but he will be on the field for practice this week.”
With the Rebels’ recent struggle at the running back position, Freeze said he hopes to rely on Swinney to be a consistent standout on offense.
Ken Webster, following a gruesome knee injury against Florida State last year, hopes to return strong for his senior season. The veteran defensive back has been a linchpin in the Rebels’ secondary for the past two seasons, making his absence last season a crushing blow for the defense. With the severity of his injury, Freeze is hesitant to throw Webster immediately into practice, similar to Swinney.
“He’s doing great,” Freeze said. “But there’s no chance I would let him play in the spring – even if I was told he could.”
After an injury as brutal as Webster’s, it’s obvious why Freeze is using discretion with his return. With a healthy Webster leading the secondary, the Rebels will likely be much improved after a young secondary without much of a veteran presence was thrown into the fire a year ago.
Along with the return of several key players, the Ole Miss offense will be under new leadership with recent hire Phil Longo. Freeze said he hopes that with Longo’s on-field coaching presence, the offense will improve on the issues that plagued it last year.
“Phil prefers to coach from the field,” Freeze said. “With him on the field, I’ll be able to help the transition from offense to defense, make us a little less predictable.”
Freeze has taken a specific interest in special teams, with hopes of improving that weakness of last season.
Despite recent allegations against the program, there are still plenty of things for fans to be optimistic about with this coming season.