OXFORD, Miss. — In the beginning, there was was Laquon Treadwell. Well, almost the beginning.
Treadwell arrived at Ole Miss in 2013, Hugh Freeze’s second season as coach of the Rebels.
The actual beginning, 2012, included Cody Core, who was far less-decorated than Treadwell as a high school player but who developed into an NFL wide receiver.
Treadwell for three years was the poster child of what would become and remains a deep and talented group.
In 2016 the group’s signature receiver was Damore’ea Stringfellow, a transfer from Washington who did not receive a NFL Scouting Combine invitation for off-field reasons yet maintains quite a bit of buzz as the draft approaches.
Freeze has added size, speed and physicality to his receivers. He’s continued to recruit well – sometimes to the detriment of other positions – but the receiver position is stacked.
That’s why it was surprising to see the group under-perform at the end of 2016. Freeze said he counted 10 drops against Vanderbilt, plays that, if made, could possibly have changed things in a 38-17 loss. There also were dropped passes against Mississippi State, but there was a lot more team-wide dysfunction in a 55-20 loss.
As Freeze inserted true freshman Shea Patterson at quarterback following an injury to Chad Kelly, timing and chemistry between quarterback and receivers became a topic of discussion.
The Rebels are going through spring drills now, and you can see why sophomore receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf were so coveted. Collectively, though, the issue of chemistry is still there. Drops are less frequent than they were in November, but they’re more than you expect from this group.
New wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler believes the issue will resolve itself, but that won’t likely happen before the conclusion of spring drills.
“Normally the biggest jump for guys is from post-spring ball going into fall camp,” he said. “That’s when they’re able to throw on their own. We’re not out there. That’s when the timing comes into play.”
The timing was right for Peeler, a former California assistant, in January. Cal coach Sonny Dykes was let go, and as his staff scrambled, Freeze snatched up Peeler, a native Mississippian and noted recruiter.
While the receivers get to know Patterson better, they’re learning a new offense, too. It’s the same tempo to which they’ve been accustomed, but there are tweaks to the run game, new terminology and new faces.
Peeler says he’s had a quick understanding of things with new coordinator Phil Longo because of the system Dykes ran at Cal.
Brown, Metcalf and Van Jefferson expect to be the starters come August. There’s quality depth with veterans DaMarkus Lodge and Markell Pack and excitement for redshirt freshman Tre Nixon.
Peeler held his guys longer after a recent practice to close with a focus drill.
“It was about ball-security, where your eyes follow the ball to the tuck. You’re focused on the details of looking the ball in,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure play one looks like play 41 and play 41 looks like play 81. The details don’t change.”
(You can follow Parrish Alford on Twitter @ParrishAlford)
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