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Rebels have big plans for Ealy and a talented group of freshmen

By Nathanael Gabler
The Oxford Eagle

HOOVER, Ala. — When Ole Miss released its two-deep football depth chart last week ahead of the opening of preseason camp, there was a notable omission.

The top player in this year’s recruiting class, five-star running back Jerrion Ealy, wasn’t listed. But make no mistake about it, Matt Luke and the Rebel staff have a plan for the dynamic freshman.

“He’s obviously a very talented guy, a guy that we’re excited about and our fans are all excited about,” Luke said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “He’s a talented guy, but the thing that’s unique about him is he can do so many different things. He can line up in the slot or line up in the backfield and catch the ball out of the backfield and run speed sweeps. There’s so many things with a guy like (Ealy) that you can do. We’re looking forward to finding a way to get him the ball in space.”

Ealy won’t be the Rebels’ starting tailback. That job goes to Scottie Phillips. But, Ealy will certainly play a notable role in the offense. A versatile back that is just as comfortable catching balls as running with it, the former Jackson Prep star will often be used out of the slot as a receiver. He’ll be a traditional tailback at times, too.

It’s similar to a role Alvin Kamara played with the New Orleans Saints during his rookie year in 2017 before he became the every-down back he is now. With a player as dynamic as Ealy, the Ole Miss coaches don’t want to limit him.

Expect to see him a lot as the primary back on third down passing situations and then as a freelance, “Swiss army knife” in early-down situations. He and Phillips might even be on the field at the same time in some packages.

It’s possible Ealy would have a bigger role if he were on campus in the spring, but the Rebels didn’t know he would be enrolling until this summer. The two-sport athlete was thought of by many as a first-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, yet ultimately he decided to come to Oxford.

Ealy was drafted in the 31st round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, in part because of his desire to play football.

As of now, Ealy will play both baseball and football for Ole Miss. And he’ll do it as Matt Luke and Rich Rodriguez’s wild card.

“Jerrion loves Ole Miss. He was one of our first commitments in this class. I think he wanted to be here,” Luke said. “Obviously if there was an opportunity that he could take care of his family for the rest of his life, he was going to take it. Fortunately, it worked out for us and we’re fortunate to have him.”

Ealy is one of a number of freshmen who will see playing time. The Rebels’ starting quarterback, Matt Corral, is a redshirt freshman. All three of his backups are true freshmen. The offensive line was one of the most shallow positions on the team before the summer, but then seven freshmen joined the group.

The group is young. There’s no doubt about that. And for the first time in a while, that Ole Miss’ young group has a full compliment of 85 players. The new offense is potent, and Ealy will be one of a few exciting members that define it.

“I was really impressed with Rich (Rodriguez) the way he installed an attitude and an edge. I think that will be the key to this offense. It’s going to be young, but I think it will be dynamic and it’ll be fun to watch,” Luke said.

Corral was among the players representing Ole Miss at SEC Media Days, which is a bit unusual.

The conference showcase is usually reserved for players with ample experience, but Corral has thrown just 22 passes in his college career. The California native still has four years of eligibility because he only played in four games last season.

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Corral was productive in limited action last season. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and ran for 83 yards and two TDs.

“A lot of people asked me about bringing a freshman to Media Day, but his competitive fire and his competitive spirit, the players gravitated toward him. I think he was thrust into a leadership role, and I really think he’s done a great job of competing and carrying himself the right way,” Luke said. “As a former player, you want to be around guys that have that energy and that fire and that toughness, especially at that position.”

Corral said the early leadership “doesn’t feel forced, I wanted it this way. It’s part of the reason I came here — being a leader, doing what you’re supposed to do and setting an example.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report