SEC Preview: Nutt Brings Newness to Oxford

Editor's Note: In the fourth of a series of articles previewing the 2008 SEC football season, the Ole Miss Rebels are featured.

As is the case with any team, there are a multitude of angles that could be discussed when it comes to Ole Miss football, but the Rebels have three main "talking points" as August practice rapidly approaches.

A new coach: Houston Nutt, who successfully guided the Arkansas Razorbacks for a decade, takes over the helm after Ed Orgeron's dismissal.

A new quarterback: Jevan Snead, who sat out last season after transferring in from Texas, will lead the Rebel offense.

A new attitude: Nutt inherited a downtrodden team that has four consecutive losing seasons under its belt, meaning a mental rebirth is as important as any ingredient to Ole Miss' chances.

Nutt and his staff have brought an infectious enthusiasm to the table. The first thing he did was hire defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, an SEC veteran at South Carolina, and offensive coordinator Kent Austin, who won a Grey Cup in his first year as a head coach in the Canadian Football League. With veteran offensive line coach/run game coordinator Mike Markuson still by his side, Nutt's staff hit the ground running.

In spring training, a visible transformation started taking place. A more confident, alert and enthusiastic team emerged. Nutt has some talent gaps to deal with at various positions, but overall everyone involved tabbed the spring session a success.

Snead had a solid spring for the Rebels.

The Rebels have four returning starters on the offensive line, a bevy of capable and dynamic wideouts, a four-year starter at fullback, and Snead highlighting the offense. Snead showed in spring why he was one of the most widely-touted and recruited quarterbacks in the land three years ago. Physically, he's got "it" and he's an honor roll student to boot.

The tailback and tight end slots are unproven, but junior tailback Cordera Eason and tight ends David Traxler and Gerald Harris had productive springs. The Rebels also signed one of the top running backs in the country in Enrique Davis from Hargrave Military Academy, who should provide immediate help.

On defense, the strength should be up front where senior tackle Peria Jerry promises to be one of the best in the business and end Greg Hardy is a preseason All-SEC choice. The linebackers need help, but the top three – returning starter Ashlee Palmer, sophomore Allen Walker and sophomore Jonathan Cornell – came together to form a solid unit in spring. The secondary has returning experience at the safety slots, but the coaches scrambled in spring to try to find reliable corners. Veteran starting wide receiver Marshay Green was sent to defense to help shore up the corner dilemma.

Rebel fans were quick to recognize positive change was in the wind and in the works. The excitement level and enthusiasm toward Ole Miss football is already reaching peak levels.

How quickly Nutt can turn the team around remains to be seen, but there is encouragement Ole Miss football has found its way out of the wilderness and back into the mainstream already.


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