OXFORD — With another summer break quickly coming to a close, Ole Miss coaches and players alike are focusing on the start to the upcoming football season.
Players will report to August football camp on Sunday, and practice will begin in earnest on Monday with a morning workout followed by the campus media day.
The Rebels — with three starters returning on offense and five on defense — are a little light in experience compared to some other SEC teams. Among the departures from a team that finished 10-3 overall, 6-2 in the SEC were three first-round NFL draft picks.
In spite of those losses Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze believes quarterback Chad Kelly and his players up front on defense give the Rebels a chance.
“I think if you were to start to build a football team to compete in the Southeastern Conference you would start with quarterbacks first and defensive line next. I think we have those two spots,” Freeze said.
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Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly (10) comes this season looking to build off a record-setting 2015 season cheap ncaa jerseys.
Kelly, who did not win the starting job outright until Week 3, set 17 school records last year. His 4,042 passing yards and 4,542 total yards were both the third-highest totals in SEC history.
Kelly has been named to numerous watch lists for postseason awards, most recently this week for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Chad Kelly has been named to the watch list for the 2016 @GoldenArmAward. #HottyToddy
The defensive line is minus a first-round draft pick in Robert Nkemdiche. However, Freeze believes enough talent has accumulated there in recent seasons to keep the Rebels strong up front.
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Starting ends Marquise Haynes and Fadol Brown return, and tackles D.J. Jones and Breeland Speaks were effective in backup roles last year.
Jones, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, had 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last year. He appeared in all 13 games and goes into camp as the starter at nose tackle.
Jones is excited to be in the starting lineup, but quickly shifts the defensive line conversation toward Haynes, who has quietly gone about becoming one of the SEC’s top pass rushers.
“People think he’s just a one-dimensional guy, a pass rusher, but he can play every down. He’s probably one of the best (defensive linemen) on the team, one of the strongest on the team. He’s an every-down guy. You’re going to see him on every down this year,” Jones said.
Haynes, a junior from Jacksonville, Florida, tied a school record with 10 sacks last year and has 17.5 sacks over the last two years. It’s possible that Jones could slide over and play the three-technique tackle if injuries to Speaks or others make that necessary.
Freeze is hopeful his backups will emerge, but he likes his first-line players up front.
“We wish we had a little more depth there, but we believe we’re really, really talented there.”