2014 Ole Miss Preview: What You Need To Know
Ole Miss DT Denzel Nkemdiche
Ole Miss DT Denzel Nkemdiche
Posted Jul 14, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Ole Miss (Getty Images)

2014 Ole Miss Preview

What You Need To Know

- 2014 Ole Miss Preview

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Ole Miss attack was dangerous, occastionally explosive, and very, very effective until late when it struggled to score points at the end of the regular season. It's going to be all about the line that welcomes back Laremy Tunsil, but needs some injured parts to come back healthy and has to hope for the pieces of the puzzle to fit right away. If so, look out. Bo Wallace is on the verge of becoming a top-shelf quarterback with the size, the experience, and now the arm after his banged up shoulder is okay again. The receiving corps has a burgeoning superstar in Laquon Treadwell to build around, and the rotation of running backs should be fantastic as long as the line is solid.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: It wasn't exactly a year of transition, but with so many young and promising stars being introduced to the fold, finishing 38th in the nation in total D and improving as the season went on was exactly what everyone was hoping for with the great recruiting class coming in. This year, can all the great talents play as one? If so, with nine returning starters and with so many pro prospects, the sky is the limit. The secondary should be a brick wall with the safety tandem of Tony Conner and Cody Prewitt among the best in the country. The pass rush could be unstoppable with 2013 super-recruit Robert Nkemdiche working inside and C.J. Johnson back again on the outside, and the linebacking corps will be terrific when all the parts are together.

Players You Need To Know

1. DT Robert Nkemdiche, Soph.
The 6-4, 277-pound versatile lineman can be a big end, a quick tackle, or move around wherever needed to utilize his immense talent and skill set. Considering the hype as the nation’s No. 1 recruit of 2013, it might have been easy to think he’d make a huge Jadeveon Clowney type of splash, but he’s a different player doing different things. Yes, he can be a pass rusher – cranking out two sacks and eight tackles for loss – and yes, he’s athletic enough to be used occasionally as a bullish runner and blocker, but he’s a defensive lineman, and that means his worth goes beyond his statistics. Now can he become the type of next-level player who teams fight over in the top five picks? Staying healthy is part of the trick, but becoming an even more active interior presence would do the trick. It’s all there to be everything the program was hoping for last February.

2. OT Laremy Tunsil, Soph.
If it’s possible for a 6-5, 315-pound guy to get lost in the shuffle, that was Tunsil after the 2013 recruiting class was announced. Picking up Robert Nkemdiche was the big prize, and Laquon Treadwell as a special get, but Tunsil was probably the most important signing in the tremendous class. Now the second team All-SEC performer will be the anchor for a rebuilding line, and he can handle the work after being thrown to the wolves as a true freshman and allowing just one sack all year. He has the size, the feet and the upside to grow into a top pro prospect over the next two seasons.

3. WR Laquon Treadwell, Soph.
With an NFL body right out of high school, the expectations were through the roof for one of the nation’s top recruits of 2013, and he came through finishing with a team-leading 72 catches for 608 yards and five scores. He might not have been a deep ball gamebreaker, but he has the speed to become one. His worth was as a steadier, move-the-chains targets who was ultra-reliable considering his youth. At 6-2 and 224 pounds, he’s a big, strong receiver who forces his way open, and now he’ll have to do even more with Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan gone.

4. S Cody Prewitt, Sr.
The secondary is going to be good, and Prewitt makes it great. The 6-2, 212-pounder has the right body and the right athleticism to be a top safety, holding up well against the run making 80 tackles as a sophomore and finishing second on the team in stops for the second year in a row making 71 last year. But could he become more of a playmaker when the ball was in the air? Absolutely, getting more freedom to attack the ball and using his experience to spread out six interceptions over the course of the season while also serving as the last line of defense. A good hitter and sure tackler, he can be an intimidating force at times, but he’s mostly a sound, sure tackler in the open field.

5. LB Denzel Nkemdiche, Jr.
A profane tirade in a spring break YouTube video was enough to get him suspended from the opener against Boise State, and there have been some off the field issues, but when he’s on the field he’s among the most active and toughest linebackers in the nation. While he’s build like a safety at 5-11 and 201 pounds, he’s a popper making 82 tackles with three sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a freshman and following it up with 35 tackles with two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in a limited role due to a knee injury. And that’s the problem – is he big enough to hold up? He has to be surrounded by size, and while he can handle himself in the middle, he’s at his best on the outside.

6. LB Serderius Bryant, Sr.
The linebacking corps was so strong going into last year that Bryant was considered a part of the puzzle rather than a key piece, but he ended up dominating with a team-leading 78 tackles despite missing two games. At 5-9 and 218 pounds he’s not all that big, but he can really, really run and can get into the backfield without a problem making 12.5 tackles for loss with three against Texas and two in the bowl win over Georgia Tech. Versatile to line up anywhere and produce, the second team All-SEC performer should be in for an even bigger season if he can get all of his off-the-field issues settled after being cited for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace causing him to get suspended from spring ball.

7. S Tony Conner, Soph.
He would’ve been the crown jewel in just about any other Ole Miss recruiting class, but 2013’s haul was something truly special. The 6-0, 217-pound safety has the prototype size, range and hitting ability, doing a great job at the Ole Miss Huskie position – the nickelback – making 66 tackles with a pick and six broken up passes. Able to get into the backfield from time to time, and with good tracking ability on the ball, he’s occasionally used like a smallish linebacker and at other times like a tough defensive back. He might not be the team’s best defensive back quite yet, but he’s not all that far off, and very soon, he’ll be a key part of some NFL team’s defensive backfield.

8. QB Bo Wallace, Sr.
Can Wallace really be the best quarterback in the SEC? Others might be flashier, but going into his third year as the starter, the 6-4, 203-pound sophomore has shown the ability to improve, cut down on his mistakes, and get the offense moving. The former JUCO transfer from East Mississippi led his team to the NJCAA national title, and he has the moxie and all-around game to do even more now for the Ole Miss attack.

The key is the big mistake, and while he cut down on the errors throwing ten picks after throwing 17 picks in 2012 – a lot of them killers – he has to be even more careful. Seven of the interceptions came in losses, hurt most by the three given away against Mississippi State. However, when he gets hot, he can bomb with the best of them hitting Auburn for 336 yards and two scores and Arkansas for 416 yards and three touchdowns. Just mobile enough, he’s great around the goal line with 17 rushing scores and the ability to take off from time to time when needed. This is his team now, and he can handle the pressure.

9. DE C.J. Johnson, Sr.
Back from an ankle injury that cost him most of last season, the 6-2, 237-pound senior is back and ready to go as the team’s most dangerous pass rusher. It took a little bit, but he came into his own in 2012 finishing with 55 tackles and 6.5 sacks showing a good blend of speed and power. Now that he can cut and now he can move again, and now that he’s surrounded by more talent than he was two years ago, he can be a dangerous pass rushing specialist on the outside.

10. TE Evan Engram, Soph.
Yet another terrific get from the 2013 recruiting class, the 6-3, 217-pound receiver plays tight end, but he’s more like a large wideout. The second team All-SEC performer was banged up throughout a part of the season with a bad ankle, but he still managed to catch 21 passes for 268 yards with three touchdowns. He still has room to grow on his frame, and he’s not going to be a top blocker, but he’s a smooth route runner with nice hands.

- 2014 Ole Miss Preview