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Practice report: Peeler aims for deeper receiving corps, Pellerin welcomes added tight end responsibility

As Ole Miss toils away in the doldrums of the the third week of camp, the same questions remain as the Rebels inch closer toward their season-opening bout at Memphis. The game is 10 days away and the same questions surrounding this team remain.

How will the offensive line hold up? What will Rich Rodriguez’s offense look like? Will the defense be improved? How will the the team replace what it lost at receiver from a year ago?

Wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler tried to answer that last question after practice on Wednesday. He thinks Ole Miss could potentially play as many as nine receivers in a game this season.

“We are still working through that. In terms of returning guys Braylon (Sanders) and Elijah (Moore) have played games,” Peeler said. “Miles (Battle) played in four games. It is still being determined over the next week but hoping as high as seven to nine guys depending on injuries and how people play.”

Injuries and depth wasn’t something frequently talked about with regards to the Rebels’ star-studded receiving corps in 2018, a unit that had two players drafted and four total in NFL training camps, but it was a top-heavy group that was spread thin after D.K. Metcalf injured his next in the seventh game against Arkansas. Peeler noted that A.J. Brown played nearly 90 snaps per game down the stretch and that depth — and fatigue coming along with that — was an issue at the end of last season.

“That isn’t what you want,” Peeler said. “It is a long season. You saw last year, we limped across the finish line, particularly when D.K. went out. Lodge battled an ankle injury. You saw him limping in the Vanderbilt game last year, and he still played. We had four receivers in that game. That isn’t what you want to go in with. You want to be able to finish strong.”

If Ole Miss is going to build the depth Peeler desires, it is going to form via freshmen. Dannis and Jadon Jackson, Jordan Jernigan and Jonathan Mingo are all true freshmen in the mix for playing time. Peeler lauded Jadon and Dannis’ speed as well as Mingo, who Peeler thinks is deceptively quick for a guy standing at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds. Toss in junior college transfer Dontario Drummond, and the Rebels have some intriguing pieces on the back end of the their receiving corps.

— One thing is certain when it comes to the Ole Miss receiving corps: Elijah Moore is going to be a high-volume pass catcher out of the slot. The speedy Moore cracked the rotation and tallied 36 catches in 2018. He hauled in eight receptions in the spring game and will be a weapon Matt Corral leans on heavily. But what about opposite of Moore when the Rebels go four wide? Tylan Knight has worked at slot across from Moore — and in some cases next to him in a trips formation — during camp. Both have elite-level speed and are good pass-catchers. It could potentially put opposing secondaries in a bind when choosing which coverages to use and which side to roll a safety over.

“We’ve said from day one that it is going to be dangerous,” Knight said. “It will be very dangerous for the opposing team. We have different sets, whether it is three-by-one or two-by-two. We try to mix it up.”

Knight played slot in high school. But the learning curve at this level, in Rich Rodriguez’s system, was still a steep one. It took Knight time to learn how to read coverages quickly at the line of scrimmage. He wasn’t responsible for that at the high school level. Moore has helped him with that and he feels as if it is becoming second nature.

“You see people rolling into different coverages here and have to read it on the fly,” Knight said. “That has been my biggest challenge. You can watch film, but you also have to see it. You have a cover down on top of you, but at the same, time you have to read the safeties. It is a lot to learn.”

— The tight end position will be utilized differently this season under Rodriguez. Part of the difference is more frqequent use. A pair of seniors in Jason Pellerin and Octavious Cooley man the top of the depth chart and have been on the field together a decent bit in as the Rebels have shown more two-tight end sets in practice.

Cooley is a larger, physical guy that can aid the offensive line in run blocking. Cooley is a decent pass catcher in his own right, but at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Pellerin, a former quarterback, could pose as a match up nightmare in the middle of the field for opposing defenses.

“In this system we have a lot more responsibility,” Pellerin said. “I have played quarterback before. You have to know what everyone on the field is doing. Tight end is similar. You don’t have to know what everyone on the field is doing, but you still have to understand how the line is blocking, what routes the receivers are running and you have to read defenses well. This scheme for tight ends is going to be exciting.”

Pellerin missed a week of camp with a concussion but returned late last week and says he feels fine. While Pellerin was gone, D’Vaughn Pennamon moved from running back to tight end, a move that isn’t necessarily an easy one. But Pellerin thinks Pennamon has adjusted nicely.

“We have some similar blocking schemes and similar assignments from different spots. He has done a great job considering he has only been a tight end for a week,” Pellerin said.

— The overarching storyline of fall camp as it pertains to the offense has been the offensive line depth, more specifically the lack of depth. Ole Miss welcomed in seven true freshmen into the program over the summer, a couple of whom are going to have to play almost immediately as the Rebels try to form some semblance of depth on an offensive line that suffered more turnover than any other position group on the roster. With senior tackle Alex Givens missing all of camp with a back injury, the issue has grown in magnitude.

Royce Newman discussed depth, the true freshmen, different line combinations and more after practice.

Photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics 

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