Overlooked receivers eager for redemption in Ole Miss' new offense
OXFORD — A year ago, Ole Miss’ receiver corps often seemed to be comprised of Elijah Moore and a lot of guys who were failing to live up to hype.
Dannis Jackson heard that criticism last fall.
“We didn’t take it personally,” Jackson said. “We know what we have in our room. We let the outside do the outside talking.”
Jackson, a sophomore from Sumrall, Miss., caught just seven passes for 80 yards in nine games, becoming a footnote in a miserable 4-8 campaign that ended with Matt Luke being fired days after the Egg Bowl loss at Mississippi State.
A year later, with Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby installing a new offense that relies far more on the passing game, Jackson is confident he and his wide receiver mates will not only take some pressure off Moore but also surprise opponents and critics alike.
“That’s one good thing about our receiver group right now that most people don’t know about — We’ve got players,” Jackson said. “I just see the receivers going out and making plays. That’s all we can do. Everything else is up to the coaches.”
Players aren’t being specific regarding the Rebels’ new offense as Ole Miss prepares for the Sept. 26 opener against Florida, but there are some hints emerging from the wide receiver room.
“The difference from last year’s offense to this year’s offense, obviously, we’re throwing the ball a lot more than we were,” Jackson said. “I think my role is just to come in and make plays when they need me and if they need speed, things like that. …A lot of times last year, there were times when we could only do certain things and we had to do it a certain way, regardless. Now we can just be football players.”
“It’s more balanced this year and I feel like we’ll have (many) more opportunities to make plays,” senior wide receiver Braylon Sanders added. "It’s like what we see, if we feel like we can do something that’s going to get us open, we have three options on every play. It’s just picking the right option and making the right choice.”
Sanders struggled with a nagging hamstring injury last season, catching just 10 passes for 192 yards. A year later, Sanders said he’s finally healthy and looking forward to surprising some Southeastern Conference foes this fall.
“It feels great being back out there with my teammates, getting ready to go out there and play the best we can,” Sanders said. “It feels great to be healthy this year. I feel better than ever. I can say that now. I wasn’t (healthy) last year. This year I feel 100 percent and I can’t wait to show what I can do when I’m 100 percent.”
Of course, opponents are likely to key on Moore until someone else forces them to take some of that focus off the shifty junior wide receiver and put it on someone else.
“That just gives everybody else an opportunity to make a play,” Sanders said. “We will be ready on Sept. 26. The coaches have been doing a great job of getting us prepared and preparing as well, having the right mindset. I can’t wait until the 26th to show what we’re capable of.”
While Sanders battled an injury, Jackson struggled with something less tangible in 2019. The adjustment from high school to college proved to be more mental than anything else.
“I think confidence, that’s all it was,” Jackson said. “Coming from high school, playing at a different level, it’s easier but everything speeds up and you just have to adjust. Some people take longer than others. But just playing fast and knowing what to do, that alone will boost your play.”
A year later, Jackson said, confidence isn’t a problem. With each passing practice, Jackson is more confident in himself and the other overlooked receivers on the roster.
“I think the receivers do have a lot more freedom and a lot more opportunities to make plays,” Jackson said. “That’s all we needed. You’re going to see us making plays, a lot more than we made last year.”