2011 Ole Miss Preview – Offense
Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Ole Miss Rebel Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense has to find more pop and more explosion, and while the passing game is going to be an ongoing question mark with several quarterbacks battling for the No. 1 job, and with the receiving corps needing to uncover more playmakers and a go-to target, the running game should be phenomenal. The huge, HUGE line will be among the best in the SEC and should blast open holes on a regular basis for Brandon Bolden and a deep, talented group of runners. Consistency will be the key for offensive coordinator David Lee's offense, but that won't come unless there's more efficiency from the passing attack and fewer turnovers.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Brandon Bolden
Passing: Brandon Bolden (RB)
1-1, 7 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Brandon Bolden
163 carries, 976 yds, 14 TD
Receiving: Brandon Bolden
32 catches, 344 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Randall Mackey and/or Sophomore QB Barry Brunetti
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Ja-Mes Logan
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Bobby Massie
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Massie, 2) OT Bradley Sowell, 3) Bolden
Strength of the offense: Line Size, Running Back
Weakness of the offense: Veteran Quarterback, No. 1 Receiver
State of the Unit: It's not like a Houston Nutt team is going to throw the ball all over the yard, but Jeremiah Masoli wasn't too bad at getting the passing game moving at times. However, he threw 13 picks and only 14 touchdowns when the idea of the attack was to keep the passing mistakes to a minimum. Now there's a fight for the starting job and it might not be settled until late this summer, but it lost a key piece in Nathan Stanley, who was finally going to get a shot but transferred to SE Louisiana.
Former JUCO transfer Randall Mackey came in with the idea of pushing for the starting job, but he ended up sitting out last year with the quarterback situation so crowded. While the 6-0, 190-pounder isn't all that big, he's a great talent with a huge, accurate arm and the mobility that the coaching staff is looking for. Winner of three Louisiana state high school titles, he's a leader who knows how to come up with big plays at the right time, but now he has to be dazzling.
In a fight for a starting job will be junior Zack Stoudt and sophomore Barry Brunetti, two talented transfers who are getting every shot to show what they can do. Stoudt comes in from Iowa Western CC with 6-4, 222-pound size and a live arm. The son of former Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback, Cliff, has the tools and he has the touch to be the best passer of all the options. The X factor could be Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia who was an Elite 11 high school prospect and has a great combination of running skills and passing accuracy. Only 6-0 and 213 pounds, he's not all that big, but he's a pure baller with tremendous upside.
Watch Out For … Brunetti. He might not be the passer that Mackey is, but he's mobile and he offers a little more variety to what he does. The job isn't his for the taking quite yet, but he might have an edge as the season gets closer and closer.
Strength: Options. All the quarterbacks in the hunt for the starting job can play. Is one of them a star? That's the job of the coaching staff to figure out, but there are three very good, very distinct talented to choose from, and the chance could be there to use a combination to get the right player in the right situation.
Weakness: Experience. There's JUCO experience with Mackey and Stoudt, and Brunetti has seen a little bit of time, but it's not like there's any one quarterback in the mix who'll keep SEC defensive coordinators up at nights … at least not yet. The starter has to be the starter without looking over his shoulder, and that could be a problem with the backups ready to roll when asked.
Outlook: Ole Miss has three very good quarterback options, but it needs to find one who can be special. Stanley was going to be the safest option of the lot before he bolted, and now the leading returning passer is running back Brandon Bolden. Mackey will be the No. 2, at the very least, and Stoudt and Brunetti have to show something eye-popping to get into the discussion for the starting gig.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: It's not exactly the good old days of the Houston Nutt Wildcat attack when Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were running wild, but the talent is there for a good year from the running backs. More work could be heaped on the backs this year, depending on how the quarterback situation plays out, and that's a good thing.
Senior Brandon Bolden did everything he could to carry the Ole Miss offense last year. Not only did the 5-11, 221-pounder lead the team with 976 yards and 14 scores, but he led the way with 32 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Bottled up at times – gaining just nine yards against Arkansas and 45 against Mississippi State – he had an inconsistent year, but he dominated against Tennessee with 113 yards and two scores on just 12 carries, and he ripped up Fresno State for 228 yards and two touchdowns, with a receiving score, touching the ball just 21 times. While he's not a blazer, he has the speed to tear off a big run when he gets into the clear, and he's always falling forward averaging six yards per carry. Now he has to be better and more consistent against the stronger teams, but that's partly up to the play of the offensive line and the expected improvement in the passing game.
Bolden is the No. 1 back without any question, but senior Enrique Davis has the talent and the skills to be the team's most productive playmaker. Of course, that's been said ever since he arrived on campus as a much ballyhooed recruit, but he has been a disappointment with a mere 691 career rushing yards and just 337 last year. Most of his production came in the blowout over Louisiana, running 19 times for 116 yards, but he hasn't been able to put it all together despite his 5-11, 226-pound size and tremendous speed.
Sophomore Jeff Scott came up with a strong true freshman season as a nice complementary back and a good fill-in when Bolden needed a break. The 5-7, 175-pounder is a scooter who was phenomenal late in the season on kickoff returns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He finished the year running for 429 yards and three scores, but he wasn't used enough as a receiver with just five catches for 25 yards. With 134 yards and a score against Auburn, he showed off a little bit of his tremendous potential.
When the offense uses a fullback, it'll go with a combination of juniors H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson. The 6-2, 253-pound Epperson is the bigger blocker of the two and will almost never get the ball. He didn't get any carries and caught just two passes, but he has the ability to do far more. A physical hitter, he could be used as a short-yardage runner if needed, while the 5-11, 235-pound Greer is a smaller, quicker option. A great high school runner with 1,840 yards and 31 scores as a senior, he can get the ball from time to time for the power running game. However, he didn't get any carries and caught seven passes for 40 yards and a score.
Watch Out For … Scott. Davis should be the devastating No. 2 back, but if it hasn't happened by now, it's probably never going to kick in for the superstar prospect. Scott isn't quite Dexter McCluster, but he could fill the role at times and be used in a gamebreaking role.
Strength: Bolden. Davis and Scott are terrific backup options to keep the star fresh, but if the Ole Miss offense is going to rock, Bolden needs to be the man. He can do everything for the offense, and while he'll be keyed on by everyone, he has to come through with a 1,000-yard season … at least.
Weakness: The passing game. There are some good-looking young receivers, but the air show isn't going to be what moves the Rebel attack early on. Defenses are going to load up to stop Bolden, and now there's no Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback to help out the workload.
Outlook: Bolden is one of the SEC's most complete and talented backs, but good luck getting him any limelight with so many great backs around the league. There's depth, speed, and skill, and as long as there's some semblance of a steady passing game, the running backs should come up with big seasons. Expect at least five yards per carry and more work as outlet receivers.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: While the receiving corps didn't have a killer No. 1 target, it got decent production from several players with the wealth being spread around. The problem was that the leading receiver, Brandon Bolden, is a running back. The one standout of the bunch, Markeith Summers, is gone after averaging a whopping 20.5 yards per catch with a team-leading six touchdowns, but he only made 28 grabs. Depending on who's at quarterback, the idea will be to find someone else now who can stretch the field, and Jesse Grandy leaving the program, after catching 20 passes for 224 yards, won't help the cause.
6-6, 210-pound junior Melvin Harris finished as the team's top wide receiver catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three scores in a steady, but unspectacular year. He didn't get into the end zone over the last six games and was out of the Egg Bowl, but now he'll try to be the main man at split end to use his size and his decent hands as a major league playmaker. He's a matchup nightmare, and now the passing game has to go to him more, while 6-2, 213-pound Terrell Grant is a strong, tough option who has yet to show off his skills. The backup behind Harris on the outside, Grant should be good across the middle as well as on the midrange plays.
Working at flanker will once again be Ja-Mes Logan, a 6-2, 190-pound sophomore who caught 29 passes for 387 yards and two scores. He came on over the second half of the season catching four passes or more in five of the final seven games, and now that he knows what he's doing, he's poised and ready for a big year. With good hands, excellent skills, and decent speed, he should be a playmaker. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders, a star recruit of last year with 6-1, 190-pound size and tremendous upside. Strong, physical, and fast, he'll be a factor right away.
Sophomore Korvic Neat is a smallish 5-8, 165-pound speedster who'll be one of the main backups at both flanker and split end. A tremendous do-it-all prospect who ran ten times for 47 yards and a score, and caught nine passes for 74 yards, he could be a gamebreaker if he's able to get free. He didn't hit any home runs last year, but that could quickly change. He'll be battling with JUCO star Philander Moore, a top-shelf return man and speed receiver who took Blinn CC to a national title. He's not all that big at 5-9 and 192 pounds, but he can fly.
Junior tight end Ferbia Allen has been a starter for the last few years, but he hasn't done much for the passing game with just five catches for 51 yards and a score last year after making six grabs in a limited role in 2009. At 6-3 and 235 pounds he isn't that big, but he moves extremely well and has the upside to do far, far more to stretch the field. He'll be backed up by sophomore Alex Williams, a 6-4, 233-pound athlete who should be a major factor for the passing attack soon with his good speed making him a deep option.
The tight end job is wide open, and that's where Oklahoma State transfer Jamal Mosley comes in. He knows the coaches and he knows what he's supposed to do with great hands and good blocking skills. A good route runner, he could be deadly on short-to-midrange plays.
Watch Out For … Sanders. He was too big a recruit to not become a major playmaker. He'll start out as a third receiver and a key backup, but he could quickly become the main man to stretch the field and become a replacement for Summers' lost production.
Strength: Speed. There might not be any sure-thing top receiver talents in the lot, but everyone can run. There's good size, great athleticism, and the upside to start doing more.
Weakness: Big plays. There were a few home runs, but there weren't enough to overcome a short passing game that didn't go anywhere at times. Part of that was the offense and part of that was the inability of the receivers to take short plays for good gains, but averaging 12.5 yards per catch isn't a plus for a group this fast.
Outlook: The corps needs a star to step up and become the guy to make defensive coordinators worry, but there are several decent targets to work with. Depending on who the starting quarterback is, the passing game should be featured more, and the receivers have to show they can handle the extra work.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Years of fantastic recruiting for the offensive front from the former coaching staff paid off last year with a strong year, and now the results should be special. Partly because the offense didn't throw on a regular basis and partly because Jeremiah Masoli was mobile, but the pass protection was strong and the front five paved the way for a great year from the ground game. With most of the key parts returning, there's reason to be excited.
The stars are on the outside left by senior left tackle Bradley Sowell, a 6-7, 315-pound pass protector who had the unenviable task of replacing Michael Oher, and he came through with a strong year proving to be strong at burying his man in the running game while doing a great job against the speed rushers. His size is his biggest plus, and he has the athleticism to go along with it. He's the anchor, while 6-4, 319-pound sophomore Emmanuel McCray is the backup and the heir apparent. It would be nice if he got a little bit of work to be ready for next year, and he has the talent and strength to be a factor on the right side if needed.
Junior Bobby Massie has been a key starter over the last two years starting 17 times and growing into a special blocker as last year went on. The one-time superstar recruit got into better shape over the last few years and now he's a strong 6-6 and 325 pounds with NFL potential. He originally signed with Virginia Tech before making the switch, and now he has anchor-talent with the ability to move over to the left side soon and the strength to be the team's top power run blocker to work behind. 6-9, 340-pound junior Matt Hall is a bigger, blot-out-the-sun right tackle, and while he's not the best of athletes, he's a planet to try to get around.
Back at left guard is Alex Washington, a 6-4, 356-pound senior who's a massive – too massive – blaster of a run blocker who knows what he's doing. While he doesn't move well, he's great in a phone booth and he doesn't get moved. He's a smart, tough player who'll pair with Sowell on the left side to bury some smallish defensive fronts.
Stepping in on the right guard slot is 6-7, 346-pound sophomore Jared Duke, a strong recruit last year who has just enough athleticism and just enough talent to move to tackle if needed, but he has the size and the strength to be an anchor a run blocker for the next three years. Also pushing for a spot at one of the guard jobs is 6-5, 327-pound senior Logan Clair, who came in from the JUCO ranks as a ready-made factor to help out with the rotation. An all-star a few years ago at Northeastern Oklahoma CC, he can move around where needed.
Junior A.J. Hawkins took over the center job and proved that he could handle the work. At 6-3 and 313 pounds, he bulked up a bit over the last year and has the size and the strength to be a tough quarterback for a big, veteran line. If needed, he could seamlessly move over to guard, but he's the center and he knows how to handle the responsibility. 6-2, 306-pound sophomore Evan Swindall is hardly small, but he's a lighter, quicker option than Hawkins with the talent and versatility to move over to guard if injuries hit.
Watch Out For … Duke. Right guard isn't going to be the key part of any line, but he has the size and the talent to quickly become one of the team's strongest all-around blockers. He's the new guy to the equation, and he should be fine.
Strength: Size. All offensive lines are big in today's day and age, but this line is MASSIVE. When 6-3 and 312 pounds is small, like Hawkins, the line has bulk. This is a big, big front five, and the backups are just as large.
Weakness: Athleticism. The tackles are decent on the move, but for a line this big, asking to get to the second level on a regular basis is tough. The Rebels will hit and they'll push people around for the ground game, but can they handle the speed rushers if there's a drop-back quarterback under center?
Outlook: This might not be the best offensive line in the SEC, but it's not going to be far off. Massie and Sowell are tremendous and should be on several All-SEC lists, but the interior isn't anything to blow off. With bulk, experience, and talent, expect a special year for the team's biggest strength.
Unit Rating: 9
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