Where are the freshmen? Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin explains lack of production
OXFORD —Ole Miss football signed the nation's No. 17 recruiting class in 2021, but through four games the Rebels haven't seen much of a benefit from that group of players.
Freshman defensive back Tysheem Johnson has contributed, making 23 tackles with 1.5 for loss. Defensive tackle Isaiah Iton, a junior college transfer, has 10 tackles and one tackle for loss. And freshman kicker Caden Costa is 4-for-5 on field goals and 21-for-22 on extra points.
Beyond that, Ole Miss' much-hyped signing class hasn't really produced yet. Coach Lane Kiffin said he thinks the fact the Rebels' roster is loaded with veterans plays a big part in that lack of youth production.
"I don't know if this is true around the country, but I think with COVID and all the guys coming back extra years, your seniors, I think that has to do with that," Kiffin said. "If those guys are gone, you usually have to fill in spots. I think that's part of it."
The Rebels (3-1, 0-1 SEC) play Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) at home against No. 13 Arkansas (4-1, 1-1).
Ole Miss starts fifth- and sixth-year seniors at receiver, center, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety. Had players like receiver Dontario Drummond, defensive end Sam Williams or cornerback Jaylon Jones exhausted their eligibility last fall, younger players would've had to step up. With those players back, freshmen haven't needed to emerge as starters.
Still, Ole Miss is struggling to find depth at receiver, offensive line and in the secondary. Those are the three positions the Rebels recruited most heavily last year, signing five pass catchers, four offensive linemen and six defensive backs.
No freshman has caught a pass yet or is listed on the three-deep depth chart on the offensive line. And beyond Johnson, only Trey Washington has made multiple tackles among the Rebels' freshman DBs. That means four-star receiver Bralon Brown, four-star tight end Hudson Wolfe and four-star cornerback Markevious Brown as well as a host of three-stars aren't getting involved yet.
This trend echoes what Ole Miss fans saw last year in Kiffin's first season. The only freshmen who contributed in non-garbage-time situations were running back Henry Parrish and defensive end Cedric Johnson, who are each integral pieces in this year's gameplan.
The bad news is only one of the freshmen who didn't contribute last year has vaulted into the rotation. Other than redshirt freshman linebacker Austin Keys, none of last year's freshmen is contributing besides Parrish and Cedric Johnson.
Eight of Ole Miss' 22 starters can't come back next year. An additional four or five are threats to leave for the NFL Draft. The Rebels need their younger players to provide depth now so there isn't a talent chasm next season.
"We're still working on that," Kiffin said. "There are a number of them that do on special teams and you've been getting them on more teams. But we're still working on that."
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.