A Closer Look: Safeties

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Top Performers: Zedrick Woods (64 tackles, four break ups, four deflections) C.J. Moore (51 tackles, three interceptions) 

Returning in 2018: Zedrick Woods (Sr., 3L) Jaylon Jones (Jr., 2L), Cam Ordway (Sr., 3L), C.J. Moore (Sr., 3L), Armani Linton (Jr., 2L), A.J. Harris (Fr., RS), C.J Miller (So., 1L)

Newcomers in 2018: Cameron White (Fr., Madison Miss.)

Losing from 2017 Team: A.J. Moore (Graduation), C.J. Hampton (Graduation)

Looking back at 2017: If last year proved anything, it is that Zedrick Woods is the backbone of the Ole Miss secondary as a whole. The junior had four pass break ups, four deflections and 64 tackles on the season. Three of Ole Miss' top six tacklers in 2017 were safeties and four ranked amongst the top 10. C.J. Moore was right behind woods with 51 and three interceptions. This was overall a pretty solid group on the back end of the Rebels' defense. This unit helped hold opponents to 214 yards passing per game and just seven yards per attempt, meaning it was a little harder to hit receivers over the top of this secondary.

Jaylon Jones made a seamless transition from corner to safety, recording 34 tackles and a pair of break ups and deflections. The good news for the Rebels is that the majority of this group returns in 2018 to help solidify what should be a competitive pass defense with the entire two deep on the depth chart returning at cornerback.

Looking ahead to 2018: The loss of A.J. Moore at the star safety position definitely hurts Ole Miss, but outside of that they should feel pretty good with what they have returning in 2017. Woods, C.J. Moore and Jones should be a pretty formidable trio and the team also returns Cam Ordway. C.J. Miller is a young player the coaching staff is really high on and a guy that is expected to be right in the thick of the rotation going into fall camp.

The Rebels have the offseason to find a replacement for A.J. Moore and have a couple of solid options to do so. Miller will be the most interesting guy to keep an eye on throughout the spring and into fall camp, but Wesley McGriff and the defensive staff have to feel pretty confident in what they have coming back next season.

A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Cornerbacks

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This is the eighth of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: Myles Hartsfield (29 solo tackles, 14 assisted tackles, 43 total tackles, two interceptions four TFLs), Ken Webster (21 solo tackles, eight assisted tackles, 29 total tackles), Javien Hamilton (20 total tackles, three INTs)

Returning in 2018: Webster (Sr., 3L), Hamilton (Sr., 1L), Hartsfield (Jr., 2L), D.D. Bowie (So., 1L), Montrell Custis (Jr., 2L)

Newcomers in 2018: Kedrion Smith (Fr., Palm Beach, Fla.)

Losing from 2017 Team: Jalen Julius (Transfer)

Looking back at 2017: The first thing that really comes to mind when thinking of the Ole Miss defensive backs in 2017 is the resurgence of Ken Webster. The rising senior overcame a gruesome leg injury in the 2016 season opener, leaving some questioning whether he'd ever get back to full strength. Webster did that and then some this season. He had 29 tackles in 10 games and had a pair of break ups and passes deflections. Webster didn't get thrown on a whole lot, and that is certainly good news for the Rebels.

Outside of that, Javien Hamilton, a junior college transfer playing his first division one season was really good for the Rebels too. He had three interceptions five pass break ups and eight deflections. He was a tremendous addition to what was still a relatively young secondary last fall. Throw in Myles Hartsfield playing well in his first full season of starting and this was a pretty solid group.

The good news? Everyone in this group returns again in 2018.

Looking ahead to 2018: Given the fact the Rebels return their entire two deep depth chart at cornerback from a year ago, this group should be strong again in 2018. Ole Miss will have the senior leadership of Webster on the field with upperclassmen Hartsfield and Hamilton alongside him. The only loss in this group is Jalen Julius, who is transferring, but all starters return next season and Julius' role with the team at full strength would have been unclear. If Ole Miss can stay healthy, they should feel pretty good about they match up to most opponents' vertical passing game. Not to mention, it can't hurt this group goes up against the likes of D.K. Metcalf, Damarkus Lodge and A.J. Brown in practice on a daily basis.

The secondary as a whole picked off just eight passes in 2017, two of which came in the season finale against Mississippi State. It will be interesting to see how that number compares to the total next season with so much experience coming back on the outside at cornerback. The team should feel pretty good about where it stands at this position in 2018.

A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Linebackers

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This is the seventh of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: DeMarquis Gates (112 tackles, 2 sacks, 10 TFL)

Returning in 2018: Willie Hibbler (Jr., 2L), Josh Clarke (Fr., RS), Donta Evans (So., 1L), Zikerrion Baker (Fr., RS), Brenden Williams (Jr., 1L), Detric Bing-Dukes (Sr., 3L), Mohamed Sanogo (So., 1L), Jack Raborn (Sr., 1L), Ryan Labanc (Fr., RS)

Newcomers in 2018: Vernon Dasher (Jr., Coffeyville, Kan.), Jaquez Jones (Fr., Tuscaloosa, Ala.), Jonathan Hess (Fr., Vestavia Hills, Ala.)

Losing from 2017 Team: DeMarquis Gates (Graduation), Tayler Polk (Graduation)

Looking back at 2017: The Rebels struggled to stop opponents from running the football with consistent success, especially early on in the season. When running backs got into the second level, it was off to the races a lot of times. That being said, they did improve throughout the season and were partially the reason why the Rebels were playing their best football at the end of the season.

The team did not have much depth or experience at this position outside of DeMarquis Gates, who was phenomenal in his final season. Gates led the team with 112 tackles and the next closest player was 55 tackles behind him. He played with two injured shoulders and flew all over the field. Gates' legacy at Ole Miss will eventually be one of the all-time greats to play linebacker and rightfully so. Walk-on Tayler Polk will also be remembered favorably for his play in the final games of his career. He led the team in tackles in two of the last three games. Polk, admittedly, was not the biggest or fastest player on the field, but played with a high motor, overcame some fairly steep odds and had a fine career.

That said being said, Ole Miss struggled at this position because of a lack-of-depth and experience.

Looking ahead to 2018: Ole Miss lost both starting linebackers from the 2017 squad and doesn't return a lot of experience in 2018. To his credit, Matt Luke addressed this the best way he could once he found out he got the job. He signed three linebackers in the early signing period.

There are some younger guys on this team that got some experience last year with Donta Evans being the first that comes to mind. Ole Miss desperately needs Detric Bing-Dukes to take on a greater role as a senior just as they need guys like Brenden Williams, Willie Hibbler and Mohamed Sanogo to develop quickly. It's hard to completely fix this position in one offseason, but Luke is doing all he can and has some interesting options going into the spring.

This will be a fascinating position to watch play out on the depth chart as the team goes from spring ball to fall camp, and will be a large indicator as to just how improved the defense as a whole will be next season. A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Defensive Line

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This is the sixth of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: Breeland Speaks (27 solo tackles, 40 assisted tackles, 67 total tackles, 10 TFLs, two sacks), Marquis Haynes (27 solo tackles, 18 assisted tackles, 48 total tackles, 11 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, three forces fumbles)

Returning in 2018: Victor Evans (Sr., 3L), Markel Winters (Sr., 1L), Shawn Curtis (Jr., 2L), Amani Johnson (Fr., RS), Ryder Anderson (So., 1L), Qaadir Sheppard (Jr., 1L), Charles Wiley (So., 1L), Garrald McDowell (Sr., 3L), Josiah Coatney (Jr., 1L), Austrian Robinson (Jr., 2L), Ross Donelly (Sr., 3L), Sincere David (Fr., RS), Benito Jones (Jr., 2L), Jordan Hebert (Sr., 2L)

Newcomers in 2018: James Williams (Fr., Jackson, Miss.), Jalen Cunningham (Fr.,Odenville, Ala.), Hal Northern (Jr., Senatobia, Miss.), KD Hill (Fr., Eufaula,Ala.), Quinten Bivens (Fr., Waynesboro, Miss.)

Losing from 2017 Team: Breeland Speaks (NFL Draft), Marquis Haynes (Graduation), Herbert Moore (Graduation)

Looking back at 2017: The 2017 Ole Miss defensive line was the strongest part of a defense that struggled to stop the run early in the season, but improved dramatically down the stretch. Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks anchored this unit and were the Rebels' two best pass rushers. Junior college transfer Josiah Coatney had 65 tackles on the interior defensive line. The Rebels were deeper on the defensive line than they were on any position on the field. It got contributions from Ryder Anderson and Victor Evans on the outside at defensive end and Ross Donnelly and Austrian Robinson on the interior at defensive tackle.

Both Haynes and Speaks had big games in Ole Miss' memorable Egg Bowl win on Thanksgiving night, a fitting end to a productive season as well as the last game of their Ole Miss careers.

Looking ahead to 2018: On the surface, it would appear that Ole Miss has some holes to fill on the defensive line, particularly on the outside. The departure of Speaks and Haynes means the Rebels will have to find a way to replace 12.5 sacks and 112 tackles. That's quite a lot. They were two of the best players on the 2017 defense and replacing them will be tough. Victor Evans does return with a decent amount of experience, as he was a starter when healthy. He only played in five games in 2017. Ryder Anderson and Qaadir Sheppard -- who battled injuries for most of the season -- will see their roles increased dramatically next season. Markel Winters will also be in the mix as well. Anderson in particular showed promise last season and it was hard to gauge Sheppard's effectiveness due to him being injured. At least one of these names will need to become a formidable pass rusher for the Rebels next season.

The prognosis on the interior is a little better. Benito Jones is a former top-100 recruit that battled a shoulder injury for most of the season and his production was hindered as a result. Coatney, as mentioned earlier, was really good for the Rebels last year. Behind them is where Ole Miss will need to develop some depth. Sincere David redshirted a year ago as he tries to make the transition from offensive to defensive lines. Ross Donnelly and Austrian Robinson got some playing time last fall and will likely take on greater roles next season.

There are definitely question marks on the defensive line, but Ole Miss has a number of different candidates to solidify those spots. A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Offensive Line

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This is the fifth of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Returning in 2018: Greg Little (Jr., 2L), Sean Rawlings (Sr., 3L), Javon Patterson (Sr., 3L), Ben Brown (Fr., RS), Samuel Plash (Fr., RS), Peyton Cox (Fr., RS), Alex Givens (Jr., 2L), Chandler Tuitt (So., 1L), Jordan Sims (Sr., 3L), Bryce Mathews (So., 1L), Royce Newman (So., 1L), Tony Gray (Fr., RS), Eli Johnson (So., 1L)

Newcomers in 2018: TBD

Losing from 2017 Team: Jack DeFoor (transfer), Daronte Bouldin (graduation), Rod Taylor (graduation)

Looking back at 2017: The Rebel offensive line was a pretty solid unit in 2017, particularly considering some of the attrition it endured throughout the season. The Rebels struggled to run the football early in the season, but eventually hit their stride. The offensive line helped Jordan Wilkins become the first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. Greg Little is on the fast track to becoming an NFL left tackle and guys like Sean Rawlings, Jordan Sims, Alex Givens and Javon Patterson are all battled-tested and were good for the Rebels in 2017.

With the number of guys the coaching staff was able to redshirt, Ole Miss should feel pretty good about its depth at this position next season.

Looking ahead to 2018: This offensive line unit should be even stronger for Ole Miss in 2017. It returns every starter with the exception of Rod Taylor at right tackle. The loss of Daronte Bouldin will hurt because of his versatility and the flexibility he gave offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr., but Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings have experience playing multiple positions. For example, Sims played center in a couple of games when Rawlings was injured.

This will be a starting unit of all upperclassmen who have played a lot of football together, with the exception of rising sophomore Royce Newman, who will presumably take over Taylor's duties at right tackle. The coaching staff is excited about the future of some of the guys that were able to redshirt last year like Ben Brown, as well as rising sophomores Chandler Tuitt and Bryce Matthews. The Rebels also get backup center Eli Johnson back from an ACL injury.

The argument could be made that this will be Ole Miss' most stable unit on either side of the football aside from the wide receivers. This is a group with a lot of seasoned veterans that will help the Rebels immensely at the line of scrimmage next season. It will help the Rebels immensely at the line of scrimmage next season. A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Tight Ends

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This is the fourth of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: Dawson Knox (10 catches, 324 yards)

Returning in 2018: Knox (Jr., 2L), Octavious Cooley (Jr., 2L), Michael Howard (Jr., 2L), Jacob Mathis (So., SQ), Gabe Angel (So., 1L), Nick Haynes (So., SQ)

Newcomers in 2018: TBD

Losing from 2017 Team: Ty Quick (graduation)

Looking back at 2017: Evan Engram left a crater-sized hole to be filled here as the Rebels entered fall camp, and no one was realistically expecting for Engram's production to be matched or even close to it. But Dawson Knox was really good for Ole Miss when he was on the field.

Knox caught 24 balls for 321 yards in 10 games for the Rebels. He injured his foot in fall camp and missed the first two games of the season, but came back when the Rebels were at Cal. Knox's production in the first half at Auburn was really where he presence was felt in the offense for the first time. He provided a large target over the middle of the field for both quarterbacks and was pretty sure-handed.Knox played quarterback in high school and won a slam dunk competition as well. He's a really good athlete and being 6-foot-4, 250 pounds doesn't hurt either.

Octavious Cooley appeared 10 games and caught four passes, but Knox saw most of the snaps at this position.

Looking ahead to 2018: This position should look similar to last year if Knox is healthy. He won't be a focal point of the offense necessarily and isn't being asked to be given the talent at wide receiver. But Knox will be a significant part of the Phil Longo's offense and a productive one at that. His size and athleticism make him pretty versatile and are another way Ole Miss can beat opponents in the vertical passing game. He will be a reliable target for Jordan Ta'amu again in 2018.

Elsewhere, Michael Howard and Octavious Cooley are back and should see some time at tight end too. Howard is used a lot as a blocker and Cooley showed signs last year. It will still be Knox's job primarily in 2018. A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

Luke Named Grand Marshal of Biloxi's Mardi Gras Parade

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Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke will return to home to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in February. Luke was named the Neptune Parade Grand Marshal and will lead the Krew of Neptune's annual Mardi Gras Parade.

The parade is scheduled for Feb 10 at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Biloxi.

It's been quite the year for Luke, who was named permanent head coach of the Rebels in November and was recently featured on ESPN's Coaches Film Room during the college football national championship game as a part of ESPN's Megacast coverage of the event.

A Closer Look: Wide Receivers

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This is the third of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performers: A.J. Brown (75 catches, 1,252 yards, 11 touchdowns), DaMarkus Lodge (41 catches, 698 yards, seven TDs) & D.K. Metcalf (39 catches, 646 yards, seven TDs)

Returning in 2018: Brown (Jr., 2L), Lodge (Sr., 3L), Metcalf (So.,1L), Braylon Sanders (So., 1L), Floyd Allen (Sr., 1L), Jared Farlow (Fr., RS), Josh Ricketts (Fr., RS), Kam White (Fr. RS,) Alex Weber (Sr., 3L), Drake Beck (Fr., RS), Garrett Styles (Fr., RS)

Newcomers in 2018: Demarcus Gregory (Fr., Duncan, S.C.), Elijah Moore (Fr., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Losing from 2017 Team: Markell Pack (Graduation), Van Jefferson (Transfer), Tre Nixon (Transfer).

Looking back at 2017: The heartbeat of Phil Longo's air raid offense was undoubtedly found on the perimeter at wide receiver. In 2017, Ole Miss boasted one of the nation's most talented receiving corps, compiling an average of 328 receiving yards per game and 14 yards per catch.

A.J. Brown took the SEC by storm. Brown ranked first in the SEC and 10th nationally with his Ole Miss single-season record 1,252 receiving yards. Brown, the 2017 Connerly Trophy winner, hauled in an SEC best 11 touchdowns, tied for the most in a single season by an Ole Miss player.

DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf also put up big numbers of their own with both hauling in seven TDs and tallying more than 640 receiving yards apiece.

The receiving corps totaled a remarkable 11 plays of 50 plus yards and 30 of at least 30 yards. Ole Miss was dynamic in the passing game and hit its stride as an offense when the running game came along in the latter part of the season. The ability to have Lodge, Metcalf and Brown on the field at the same time equated to a match up nightmare for opposing defenses. Ole Miss relied more on its receiving corps than any other position on the field and the gifted group delivered.

Looking ahead to 2018: Ideally, Ole Miss would like 2018 to mirror 2017 in terms of the production and involvement of the receiving corps in the offense. One could make the argument the Rebels will rely even more on this group due to the loss of Jordan Wilkins in the backfield and the running game being a little uncertain.

It will be interesting to see how sophomore Braylon Sanders -- a guy the coaching staff has been high on -- is incorporated into the offense next season. Will he have more of a role and if so how much bigger is that role? It seems unclear right now given that the Rebels return three of their top four receivers, but still an interesting prospect to keep an eye on. Newcomer Elijah Moore is also another interesting guy to watch next year because of his speed. Matt Luke said he could potentially be a dynamic punt returner for the Rebels and also gives them a speedy option in the slot. It's worth reiterating that slot receiver Van Jefferson will not be back next season.

When Shea Patterson went down with a knee injury against LSU, Jordan Ta'amu slid in and made a smooth transition at signal caller. He showed good chemistry with the wide receivers quickly and his 14-play, 71-yard game- winning drive at Kentucky, capped off by a well-placed ball to D.K. Metcalf showed his uncanny calmness in big moments. Given the reaction of the team after the game, that moment showed them a lot about Ta'amu.

If the last five games of the 2017 season were any indicator, Ta'amu and the Ole Miss receiving corps will be dynamic in the passing game again in 2018. A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Quarterbacks

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This is the second of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: Jordan Ta'amu (115-of-173, 1,682 yards, 11 touchdowns, four interceptions)

Returning in 2018: Ta'amu (Sr., 1L), Jason Pellerin (Jr., 2L), Alex Faniel (Fr., RS), Grant Restmeyer (So, SQ), Graham Lindman (Sr., SQ)

Newcomers in 2018: Matt Corral (Fr., Long Beach Poly, Calif.)

Losing from 2017 Team: Shea Patterson (Transfer)

Looking back at 2017: With all the adversity hurled in its path last season, one of the more remarkable things Ole Miss was able to do was make a seamless transition at signal caller halfway through the season. When Shea Patterson's knee buckled in the first half against LSU, a play that would result in him missing the remainder of the season with a torn PCL, Ole Miss coaches called upon junior college transfer Jordan Ta'amu to right the ship.

The junior quarterback stepped in and led Ole Miss down the field to kick a field goal before halftime, and later led a scoring drive in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Tigers. It was the beginning of a transition that saw Ta'amu add a spark to the Ole Miss offense. He completed 66 percent of his passes, tossed 11 touchdowns and threw just four interceptions over a five-game stretch that saw him compile 1,682 yards. Phil Longo's offense became more cohesive upon Ta'amu's insertion. He was a direct runner and consistently made good reads in a system that hinges on run-pass options. His uncanny composure surfaced when he led a game-winning drive against Kentucky in Lexington. Ta'amu led the Rebels to a 3-2 record that culminated with an Egg Bowl win. More so than anything, he provided a sense of security in a season and offseason littered with uncertainty.

Looking ahead to 2018: This is Ta'amu's offense going into next year. His five-game audition showed he is a good fit in Longo's offense and has a knack for making the big play when his team needs one. He will have another offseason to progress as a passer and returns a plethora of talent at wide receiver. Ta'amu will also go into the spring and summer with the advantage of knowing he is the guy.

One of Matt Luke's first splashes as permanent head coach came by signing four-star quarterback Matt Corral. The Army All-American is a tremendous arm talent and gives Ole Miss something to build around in the future. He'll arrive on campus this month and participate in spring practice. He'll be a viable option should Ta'amu get injured, but it is certainly the latter's offense to control in 2018.  A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

A Closer Look: Running Backs

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This is the first of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: Jordan Wilkins (155 carries, 1,011 rushing yards (6.5 avg.), nine rushing TDs, 26 receptions, 241 receiving yards, one receiving TD)

Returning in 2018: D'Vaughn Pennamon [injured] (Jr., 2L), Eric Swinney (Jr., 2L), D.K. Buford (Sr., 3L), KeShun Wells (Jr., SQ)

Newcomers in 2018: Scottie Phillips (So., Jones County JC, Mid-Year Enrollee), Isaiah Woullard (Fr., Mid-Year Enrollee)

Losing from 2017 Team: Jordan Wilkins (Graduation), Eugene Brazley (Graduation)

Looking Back at 2017: Running the football was an issue for Ole Miss in the first month of the season and Phil Longo's offense struggled to gel as a result.

But as the Rebels got deeper into the season -- and got past the likes of Alabama and Auburn on their schedule -- the team found a way to resurrect the running game. Ole Miss rushed the football for 380 yards on 132 attempts in its first five games of the season last year. Over the final seven games of the season, the Rebels ran for 1,227 yards on 238 touches that was good for 5.15 yards per carry.

There were a number of factors that contributed to this. It naturally took some time for Longo to find out what calls worked best with his personnel. Some of it was simply the opposing run defenses Ole Miss faced in the back end of its schedule. Some of it was Jordan Ta'amu stepping in at quarterback when Shea Patterson went down with an injury. The offense became more cohesive with Ta'amu and it was clear his decision making in the running and passing game helped out. A lot of it was just how good Jordan Wilkins was for the Rebels down the stretch. Wilkins ran for 1,011 yards in his final season as a Rebel on 155 carries and scored nine times. He battled through a painful planter fascia injury in his foot and was key in helping Ole Miss find some semblance of balance in an offense loaded with receiving talent on the perimeter.

As a team, Ole Miss' 2017 running game as a whole could be labeled successful. The team rushed for 1607 yards, good for 4.3 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns. Wilkins was the first 1,000-yard rusher since Dexter McCluster in 2009.

Looking Ahead to 2018: It begs the question: What will the Rebels look like at this position next year? With an offense that hinges on run-pass-options, it is certainly an important one. The departure of Wilkins is a big loss. There's no getting around that given that he accounted for 41 percent of the team's carries and 62 percent of the yards. The Rebels also lose a speedy back in Eugene Brazley, who was used sparingly last year and tallied only six touches. Ole Miss does bring back D'Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney-- essentially carried what was left of the rushing workload behind Wilkins. Pennamon carried the football 53 times for 227 yards while Swinney ran 41 times for 209 yards. Both were pretty highly regarded recruits coming out of high school, but have not yet been asked to shoulder much of the weight of the running game yet in their careers.

Pennamon suffered a leg injury against Texas A&M and his timeline for returning is not clear. Swinney is no stranger to injuries himself. This was his first healthy season in Oxford after enduring two catastrophic knee injuries the previous two seasons. Matt Luke and his staff were able to reel in the top junior college running back in the country in Scott Phillips, who signed in the December signing period and is expected to contribute next fall. Phillips, who is a mid-year enrollee, ran for 1,122 yards on 222 carries at Jones Country Junior College last season and Ole Miss is hoping he will get acclimated to the division one level quickly.

This trio is who Ole Miss will primarily look to replace the productions Wilkins gave them. There isn't a lot of experience between them, but Pennamon and Swinney do have 115 carries between them in their careers and have a couple years of experience in the program. Phillips is a talented, powerful back at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. The Rebels have some intriguing options to fill the void Wilkins leaves, but it is undoubtedly a big one at that. A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

    Smithb733 said:

    I like what you guys are up too. Such smart work and reporting! Keep up the superb works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my site

    in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels

    Jamie laverty said:

    Bulmer I love you and ole Miss

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under

    Sharon Hamlin said:

    Hi! Really Bulmer is very fantastic & dedicated in his job. Really outstanding & well done... :-)

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under

    Sharon Hamlin said:

    Hi! Really motivating post & outstanding job did Bulmer .Loved it... :-)

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under