OXFORD — With a little more than a month to go until the start of the 2022 season, there are still some major questions Ole Miss football will have to address on its depth chart.
The Rebels begin practice next week in advance of their season opener against Troy on Sept. 3 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Coming off a 10-3 season and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, coach Lane Kiffin and the Rebels have plenty to replace, including starters in every position group.
As the Rebels prepare to start their preseason training, here’s a look at some major position battles that are yet to be decided.
Naturally, the most important position battle is at quarterback. Matt Corral’s departure to the NFL leaves a crater-sized hole on the Rebels’ depth chart. Sophomores Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer led the competition in the spring alongside junior Kinkead Dent, who impressed in the Grove Bowl.
Dart, the USC transfer, has buzz because of how highly publicized his transfer portal recruitment was. But Altmyer showed consistency and poise in Kiffin’s scheme and a comfort in the offense that Dart didn’t have in his first spring in Oxford.
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How the quarterbacks handle the next month should go a long way to deciding who is behind center when the season starts. But don’t expect the quarterback search to end quickly or for the player who starts on Sept. 3 to be the only QB the Rebels use all season.
Ole Miss’ receiver room is overloaded with players but not necessarily with a clear pecking order.
Senior Jonathan Mingo is expected to be the star. Transfer portal adds Jaylon Robinson (UCF), Jordan Watkins (Louisville) and Malik Heath (Mississippi State) bolster the experience in the room. Then there are Dannis Jackson, Jalen Knox, Bralon Brown, JJ Henry, Brandon Buckhaulter and freshmen Larry Simmons and Jeremiah Dillon all competing for reps.
It’s a crowded room. Expect plenty of rotation. But if Ole Miss wants its offense to run as smoothly as it did last year, it’ll need two or three players other than Mingo to emerge as reliable targets to bring variety to the passing attack.
Interior defensive line
For the first time in a long time, the Rebels have depth on the defensive line. The comfort that comes with that depth also brings some tough decisions about rotations.
KD Hill, Isaiah Iton, Jamond Gordon, Tywone Malone and DeSanto Rollins are all back. Now they’re joined by Auburn transfer JJ Pegues and freshman Zxavian Harris.
It’s a good problem to have, but the Rebels have a lot of bodies contending for just a couple spots up front. Hill was crucial in last year’s defense, but as the units behind him morph and warp, it’ll be interesting to see how many of his teammates pick up more of the load.
Cedric Johnson is poised to take over as Ole Miss’ top pass rusher from Sam Williams. Beyond him, it’ll be a tight competition for other edge defenders.
Senior Tavius Robinson, Georgia Tech transfer Jared Ivey and sophomores Brandon Mack, Demon Clowney and Jakivuan Brown are all in contention, and Canadian transfer Jaden Dicks will be eligible this year too.
No position is more up in the air than linebacker. Replacing Chance Campbell, Mark Robinson, Lakia Henry and MoMo Sanogo is a huge ask. Transfers Troy Brown and Khari Coleman will handle the brunt of the responsibility with returning contributors Ashanti Cistrunk and Austin Keys, but newcomers Trip White, Tyler Banks, Jaron Willis and Reginald Hughes should all factor in as well.
Kiffin challenged the linebacker room in the spring when injuries mounted and many of the newcomers weren’t on campus yet. How this group proves itself in the fall will go a long way toward determining what style of defense the Rebels can run.
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It’s weird to say there’ll be a position battle at safety when the Rebels return standouts A.J. Finley and Otis Reese. But if Ole Miss sticks to the 3-2-6 defense, it’ll need more than two safeties on the field.
Enter transfers Ladarius Tennison, Isheem Young, Dashaun Jerkins and Roman Rashada and freshmen Taylor Groves and Nick Cull. Tennison showed his talents as an in-the-box safety in the spring but Young was injured and none of the other newcomers were on campus yet.
The competition to see how all these new faces fare will be particularly vital to understanding the shape of the Rebels’ scheme for 2022.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.