The Ole Miss football team lost 22 upperclassmen this season to graduation or the NFL this offseason. Around 13 of these players were key contributors. Matt Luke and company will have a hard time trying to replace the likes of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Greg Little, but an important factor in competing in the grindhouse that is the SEC is depth.
“We’ve got a long way to go in every position, there’s no question,” offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said after the Grove Bowl. “The inexperience sometimes shows up, so you have to coach both fundamentals and a new scheme and that makes it a little more difficult, but they’re working hard. This will be the most important summer for most of these guys.”
This week, we’ll take an early look at each position group on the depth chart and grade it based on skill, experience and depth, starting with the offense.
QB: Matt Corral, Grant Tisdale, Kinkead Dent, Grant Restmeyer, Jacob Cendoya
Rich Rodriguez will have one of the youngest quarterback rooms in the nation, led by Matt Corral. It was valuable for Matt Luke to be able to redshirt Corral last season while still getting him snaps under the new redshirt rules, but he still has limited meaningful snaps.
The former four-star recruit played in four games last season, his best performance being against ULM when he had 143 yards and two touchdowns on 10/10 passing. Corral does have a golden opportunity to excel under the tutelage of offensive guru Rich Rodriguez. He showed a taste of what he can do in the new offense with 240 yards and a touchdown in the Grove Bowl.
“I feel like I’m right where I need to be, but there’s always that little voice in my head saying I can do much more, I could do better,” Corral said after the game.
Backing him up will be freshmen Grant Tisdale and Kinkead Dent, who both showed flashes in the Grove Bowl, along with Grant Restmeyer and Jacob Cendoya.
RB: Scottie Phillips, Snoop Conner, Isaiah Woullard, D’Vaughn Pennamon
A quick look at the Ole Miss running backs gives you all you need to know about what Matt Luke wants to do with this team. These guys are big and elusive, a contrast to the scat backs Hugh Freeze consistently brought into the backfield.
Senior Scottie Phillips would have had 1,000 yards rushing last year if it weren’t for an injury late in the season. Phillips established himself as the feature back early and finished with 928 yards and 12 touchdowns. Snoop Conner and Isaiah Woullard carried most of the workload in the Grove Bowl, when Phillips was held out. Rich Rodriguez likes to have about three running backs in the rotation, so there’s a window for guys to step up.
WR: Braylon Sanders, Tylan Knight, Elijah Moore, Dontario Drummond, Miles Battle
This is possibly the position with the biggest turnover, as the Rebels saw their top-4 targets in A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge and Dawson Knox head to the NFL. Tylan Knight exploded for 91 yards and a touchdown during the Grove Bowl, showing his ability to make big plays from the slot receiver position. Rodriguez can use him in the slot or in the backfield next season.
Elijah Moore and Braylon Sanders will play a huge role in the Rodriguez passing attack as they have the most in-game experience. East Mississippi Community College transfer Dontario Drummond will also be asked to make an immediate impact with his large frame.
TE: Octavious Cooley, Jason Pellerin, Alex Faniel, Jonathan Hess
The loss of Dawson Knox leaves a hole at the end of the line for the Rebels. Rodriguez will need a big jump from Octavious Cooley for him to be featured in the offense up the middle. He showed some gusto in the Grove Bowl, running hard after the catch. Former quarterback Jason Pellerin is another senior who can see significant time at the tight end spot, but after that, the experience takes a deep dive.
OL: Alex Givens, Eli Johnson, Royce Newman, Ben Brown, Chandler Tuitt, Bryce Mathews
The offensive line is the position group that took the biggest hit after the 2018 season. Matt Luke lost Greg Little, Javon Patterson, Sean Rawlings and Jordan Sims. That group held down the offensive line for an unheard of amount of snaps. The Rebels have seven freshmen linemen coming in and expect a few of them to play. Alex Givens and Eli Johnson will lead the young group.
“That’s usually where inexperience shows up the most, up front where even if you know what you’re doing, you’re probably not going to be strong enough,” Rodriguez said. “We have a couple of young linemen that I think are going to be pretty good players. They’ve just got to start living in the weight room.”
Offensive GPA: 2.00
The Rebels have some work to do to bring this up, but luckily they have more than one week unlike the rest of the students on campus. This summer will be crucial, and the offense will need some hard work and extra credit to compete this fall.