Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez has built the image of Ole Miss’ attack. That image is of quarterback John Rhys Plumlee dashing past flat-footed defenders for explosive touchdowns, and the potential for the true freshman running the offense successfully was apparent in the second half of the loss to LSU.
Plumlee’s record-breaking heroics this season have garnered three SEC Freshman of the Week honors, but the bottom line is if the Rebels want to compete with the top teams in the conference in 2020, Plumlee must show development as a passer during the off-season.
However, the road to that development before his sophomore season will not be a straight shot with his potential on the baseball diamond. Plumlee still plans to play ball for head coach Mike Bianco, which will take up most of his time in the spring and early summer when he would otherwise focus on improving his passing arm.
With the starting outfield positions open for the Rebel baseball team this season, it’s possible that Plumlee could win an everyday spot in the lineup, making it even more difficult for an athlete competing in the top conference for both sports. Head coach Matt Luke said he’s confident the team can work out a schedule to maximize Plumlee’s potential on both teams.
“I anticipate him being at spring practice and being able to throw some to the receivers,” Luke said. “We will have to make some progress in the off-season because he has a unique skill set, and the more we can build off that, it makes us a dangerous offense moving forward.”
Luke said that he has not sat down with Bianco to determine how they will handle Plumlee’s workload in the spring. Student-athletes are limited to 20 hours each week for sports-related activities.
“We are focused on winning football games, but we will sit down and have a plan to make it work,” he said. “Kyler Murray was able to do it, and a couple of others were, too. It can be done. You just have to have a good plan, and we’ll do a good job with it.”
Rodriguez said that he has not coached a dual-sport athlete besides Pat White, who eventually gave up baseball to focus on football. This spring will be crucial for the football team with recruit Robby Ashford looking to play both football and baseball as well.
“The thing you worry about most with multi-sport athletes is if it will affect their school work. Are they going to get behind academically? Is it too much of a load?” Rodriguez said. “With John Rhys, he can handle whatever you put at (him) from that regard. I think he’ll be excited about it. I’m sure the baseball team’s excited about it, but I think we’ll also be able to get our share of practices from him, so he can continue his development in the spring.”
Improvement for the offense in 2020 is dependent on more than just Plumlee becoming a consistent passer. Most of Plumlee’s spectacular plays this season have come out of necessity.
The backfield of combo of Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner will be return to make up one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the league, and Elijah Moore will be a valuable piece as an experienced pass catcher. The rest of the supporting cast has been less than electrifying.
The young receiving corps will have developing of their own to do while the offensive line will need to replace their biggest contributors.
“Obviously, we know that if we get this program to where we want it to be, we are going to have to be good at (running and passing) and to be balanced,” Luke said. “I do think we can improve it and get better and hit some big plays in the passing game. I think we will.”