As the calendar flips to the month of August and students get a short break between summer intersession and the fall semester, some 85 players will report to campus on Thursday preparing to pull on the red and blue at the Liberty Bowl on August 31.
This group of athletes are in a truly intriguing spot heading into the 2019 season as expectations are not astronomical, but both sides of the ball need to show legitimate improvement since the 2018 campaign.
A six or seven-win season including a bowl bid feels like a sweet spot for Matt Luke and the Rebels, which isn’t asking for too much with the help of Rich Rodriguez and Mike McIntyre.
The Rebels don’t have to find all the answers before the opener, but considering the importance of the first third of the season, some things need to click quickly in order to finish 2019 with a satisfactory win-loss record.
Will Matt Corral play like a freshman?
Corral has thrown 22 collegiate passes, most of which came in garbage time. He’s expressed how much more comfortable he is in Rich Rodriguez’s offense and he could be depended on heavily early in the season.
We’ll get a look at how the redshirt freshman delivers with the offensive attack in his fully hands without the benefit of the best collection of pass catchers in recent Ole Miss history.
Corral is the face of the team, so how does he respond to the pressure while leading the rest of the team?
How will Rodriguez divide touches in the backfield?
Corral will have the benefit of two playmakers lining up beside him in the backfield. Scottie Phillips would have eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing if he didn’t fight injury problems last season and Jerrion Ealy is a five-star playmaker who can make hay with the ball in hand.
The question is how many touches Ealy gets in his first year. Phillips is the no-doubt feature back for this team, but Ealy could bring a different dimension that doesn’t take away from Phillips’ regular production.
At SEC Media Days, Matt Luke mentioned that they have the opportunity to use Ealy in many different ways, whether it be in speed sweep motions, screens or option pitches.
Rodriguez could move Ealy and Tylan Knight around the formation while using Phillips in his usual role with Isaiah Woullard and Snoop Conner as backups.
Are the receivers still the focal point of the offense?
The Rebels lost four NFL caliber targets from the NWO. Not only did they lose the production of these players, but also the star power of the mayor of Starkville and Megatron Jr., not to mention Dawson Knox, who’s fighting for a starting spot with the Bills and Damarkus Lodge, who’s showing out at Buccaneer’s camp right now.
Nonetheless, the Nasty Wide Out title seems to be in good hands with a stable of talented, but unproven receivers. Braylon Sanders and Elijah Moore have both shown signs of playmaking ability, but players like Dontario Drummond, Octavious Cooley and Myles Battle need to step up this season. Starting spots will be earned and lost in the practices this month.
Can the big uglies avoid injury during fall camp?
Veteran Alex Givens underwent surgery on his lower back in July and will be limited in fall camp, but he is expected to suit up against Memphis.
His reps will go to the young backups in need of extra work, but Jack Bicknell and Matt Luke have to be worried since another injury would be a tough scene for the Rebels up front.