Posted: 11:16 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013
By The Ghost of Jay Cutler
Ole Miss is returning 19 starters off of the 2012 team, the most of any team in the SEC. Here are eight such returners, and what impact we feel they could have on the 2013 season if all goes well. They are presented in no particular order, but feel free to rank them in the comments thread or, if you're adventurous enough, let us know who we left off.
Denzel Nkemdiche | SO | LB | 5'11" 207 lbs.
Maybe you've heard of this guy. As a freshman, the diminutive linebacker made play after play, leading the team in tackles, TFLs, INTs, pass breakups, and fumbles forced. He was all over the field and made a big difference in coverage. Denzel is a pivotal player to this team's success, including being a voice and leader of the defense. The coaches have said that he struggles a little at times with overpursuit since he always wants to make big plays. That's something that can improve a little over time. He was a freshman last year, and it went very well.
Senquez Golson | JR | CB | 5'9" 188 lbs.
Golson is likely the Rebels' best cover corner, and a lot will be asked of him this season. He's dealing with a hamstring pull, which isn't exciting, considering what he'll be tasked with doing against Vanderbilt (trying to stop Jordan Matthews). There were times last season where Senquez could have made a play and didn't, but a full offseason of football should help decrease that a little. Juggling football and baseball is a hard thing to do.
Cody Prewitt | JR | S | 6'2" 214 lbs.
Cody Prewitt has great size and is very physical. He gets to the ball quickly and doesn't struggle to bring the ball carrier to the ground. Prewitt finished last season second on the team in tackles with 80. Prewitt isn't a great safety in coverage, but he's not bad there.
Trae Elston | SO | S | 6'0" 190 lbs.
In some ways Elston is very similar to Prewitt. Both love to hit and really lay the wood on opposing runners. Elston is likely the most physical player in Ole Miss' secondary, but sometimes he can let that get to him. Like Prewitt, he doesn't excel in coverage, but he makes up for it against the run. It will be interesting to see what kind of jump he has made this offseason. If he has turned the corner defending the pass, Elston could be an All-SEC type of player. He'll need to watch out for leading with his helmet or targeting defenseless players, but that only cost him one game last season (one we were losing regardless).
CJ Johnson | JR | DE | 6'3" 230 lbs.
The returning sack leader for the Rebs had 6.5 sacks last year, 8.5 tackles for a loss, a fumble recovery (for a touchdown) and a pass deflection as a grossly undersized linebacker-turned-pass-rushing-defensive-end. In spite of being at least 30 pounds away from ideal SEC size, Johnson is strong, quick, and clever enough to be a very effective end in this league. He did suffer a shin fracture this offseason, which required surgery, but aside from occasional soreness all practice reports indicate that he'll be ready to be a major component of the Landshark D.
Pierce Burton | SR | RT | 6'6" 296 lbs.
Burton is a guy who I don't think gets the love he deserves. With Bobby Massie leaving Ole Miss to go to the NFL two seasons ago, it was tough to say what we were going to do at right tackle. We certainly weren't (and still aren't) deep there, and we didn't have someone athletic enough to really take on that position last offseason. Enter Pierce Burton who was recruited out of a California junior college and essentially given a starting role as soon as he stepped on campus. He started all 13 games for the Rebs at the right tackle spot last year and was, considering his inexperience, a better-than-expected performer at that position. He isn't anywhere close to the best tackle in the SEC and, with Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson on campus now, he might not even be the best tackle at Ole Miss, but a lot was asked of him in his first year and he stepped up to the plate and delivered. Simply put, he's tough and smart. With a year of SEC experience under his belt, expect Burton to be more reliable, more agile, and a more effective blocker.
Donte Moncrief | JR | WR | 6'3" 226 lbs.
Surprise! The best player on the Rebel offense made the list! Donte Moncrief should have one of the best years as a wide receiver in the SEC, if not the entire country, and should, barring injury, break a multitude of Ole Miss Rebel receiving records. Last season he caught 60+ passes for just under 1,000 yard and 10 touchdowns. It's not unreasonable to expect a 1,000+ yard season and 10 more touchdowns out of the guy. I mean, really, what else do we need to say about the guy? He's a big target with good hands and breakaway speed. He's an NFL-ready receiver who we, thankfully, will have at least one more year out of in Oxford.
Bo Wallace | JR | QB | 6'4" 209 lbs.
Also unsurprisingly, the quarterback makes the list. For a guy who was in junior college just two years ago, Bo Wallace cemented himself as a legitimate SEC quarterback fairly quickly. Of course it helps that he had Hugh Freeze coaching him at Arkansas State before he transferred to East Mississippi Community College, but that aside it's fair to say that Bo Wallace is a gamer. He's also a gambler, which cost him during several drives last season, as he threw an SEC-leading 17 interceptions. Still, he accounted for 31 total offensive touchdowns and 3,409 total offensive yards last season as the quarterback of the third most prolific scoring offense in Ole Miss football history. With a newly reconstructed shoulder - an injury which was blamed for several of his interceptions, for whatever that may be worth - and a year of SEC experience, Bo Wallace should be one of the conference's best signal callers behind Aaron Murray and A.J. McCarron if he can limit his turnovers.