Looking Forward

With 2010 in the books, fans are already looking - some skeptically - at 2011. Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt has a different slant. Read about it inside.

Amidst the maelstrom of gloom and doom, and immediately after a tumultuous 4-8 season, Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt has repeatedly said, to paraphrase, "I am excited about the future."

Recently, we had to ask.

How can you derive optimism from what happened in 2010?

"This is not my first time dealing with adversity," said Nutt. "When I was at the other school, we had a year similar to this one, where things just went bad. We went 4-7, folks were calling us out. Like this year, people had a right to be upset - we didn't get it done. The next year we won 10 games.

"We felt then we had good players coming back, enough to win a lot of games. I have that same feeling this year with our returning players. We are not stockpiled like we would like to be, we will have another small senior class which leaves us out of kilter a bit and we have to fill some obvious gaps with good recruiting, but I am very confident we are going to fix things and we are not that far off."

Nutt started reeling off names, as if he had a list in front of him, but it was all in his head.

Jared Duke

"I'm very, very excited about our offensive line. We have two veteran tackles and we have several young guys who got valuable experience," he stated. "Guys like Patrick Junen, Jared Duke, A.J. Hawkinsand Evan Swindall have grown up quite a bit. Logan Clair is coming back. Tank Washington has another year left and gained valuable experience.

"We have guys like Matt Hall and Terrence Hackney on the shelf. They are athletic 300-plus pounders who will get the benefit of a spring and summer and should be factors. They have already changed their bodies, Matt is a lean 330 and Hackney is a lean 305-310. Emmanuel McCray keeps getting better. Chase Hughes had a good fall on the scout team. Josh Tatum has done some good things. We feel we can be two-deep on the OL for the first time since we have been here and that there will be legitimate competition for every position, which will make them all better. We also feel very, very good with our OL commitments - more big, smart, aggressive players.

"I understand being big is not the do-all-be-all of offensive linemen, but it helps to have big bodies in there who can move people around and we may be one of the biggest offensive lines in the SEC in 2011. Enough of them have experience that we should be good up front. What (OL Coach) Mike Markuson did with those puppies this year was really good work. If Duke, Junen and Clair had stayed healthy all year, we could have gained more continuity and been much better. They didn't, but that knowledge sure makes us feel good for the future."

At tight end, Ferbia Allen will be the returning starter with a year under his belt of full time duty after being an understudy to Gerald Harris in 2009. (NWCC TE Jamal Mosley, a 255-pounder, is committed to the Rebs.)

"Ferbia is solid. We need him to gain 10-15 pounds to give us more muscle up front, but we hope to add to that position with a big JUCO and keep developing Z. Mason, who is in the 260-pound range," said Nutt. "We are OK there and will be better with Ferbia's experience and more depth, I believe."

At wideout, Nutt has stated all along that recruiting has to shore things up there, but the cupboard is not bare with returning players.

"Ja-Mes Logan had a good freshman year and came on strong at the end of the season with some big catches for us. He will only get better," Houston explained. "Melvin Harris will resolve his off-the-field issues and will be back in the fold soon. We know he can be a special talent. Jesse Grandy has experience and Korvic Neat and Derrick Herman provide change of pace and quick strike ability. Alex Williams, Terrell Grant and Jared Mitchell are bigger body types who can also pitch in and help in some areas.

Ja-Mes Logan

"We have one excellent player redshirting in Vincent Sanders. He has a 37 1/2 vertical jump and he's gained 12 pounds since he has been here. He has been outstanding on our scout team and I expect immediate, substantial contributions from him starting in spring.

"The bottom line is that we need to shore this position up with good recruiting because we don't have the depth we need and we need some more explosiveness, but we feel we are on the right guys and they can step in immediately and make an impact."

Nutt would like to add another running back to his stable, but he's not discounting the ones already in the fold.

"Brandon Bolden is setting himself up for a tremendous senior year. Jeff Scott is an exciting freshman who will get more and more involved in the offense as he matures and will be a major threat in the return game for the next few years as well," Nutt continued. "If Enrique (Davis) can stay healthy, he gives us a physical presence and Nick Parker is one of the toughest kids on our whole team who will fit in somewhere. He's a hammer."

At fullback, H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson get the "solid" tag from Houston.

"It was important for them to get experience this year and to make some big plays for us, which they did. They are solid and will get better with time. I don't think we have any major issues there, especially when you throw freshman Martez Eastland in the mix and possibly Parker, depending on which way we go with him," he stated. "I would say that fullback will be solid."

Nutt's biggest offensive concern right now may be at quarterback. Yes, that's the most important position on the field. Yes, both the returning guys are unproven, for the most part, on this level.

"Randall Mackey is a very talented athlete. He did a real good job making plays on the scout team against our defense. He's elusive and he's a dual-threat guy. We need to work hard with him on his communication skills and learning the playbook - we will swamp him in spring, but I feel he will be able to handle it," Nutt said. "Nathan Stanley will be better simply because our offensive line will be better, which will help his style QB.

Randall Mackey

"We will also try to add two signees, maybe one JUCO, to that unit."

Defensively, Nutt is not quite as gung-ho, but he's not down in the mouth either.

"You have to look at the big picture. We had a lot of young guys get a lot of valuable reps this year in games. That is a tremendous asset for them to have that experience," he began. "I can rattle off a dozen or more guys quickly who we are very happy with and we think are going to be excellent football players.

"Last fall, a big part of our OL improving was the fact that they were being challenged daily by our defensive scout team. There were days they tore us up. That's a good sign for the future of our defense."

At DT, Nutt likes the starting point, but would like to add a JUCO to the mix for maturity and depth reasons.

"I like the way Justin Smith finished the year. I liked what Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett did as redshirts. I think they are going to be very, very good," noted Houston. "There will be some trial by fire with those two, which is always tough, but they have the ability you are looking for. Corey Gaines got better.

"Ideally, we would like to add a JUCO to that mix. If we can get a difference-maker there and give those young ones a better chance to gain some experience, we will be fine there."

Kentrell Lockett

Kentrell Lockett, obviously, will be the bell cow on the outside. His loss haunted the 2010 Rebels from a performance and leadership standpoint.

"That group lost their go-to guy early and it left us spinning - more than even we realized at the time," Nutt added. "We can't wait to get Kentrell back. He instantly makes us a better DL and a better defense with his presence. We had leadership issues in 2010 - he quickly helps solve a lot of that.

"Gerald Rivers was coming along nicely before his progress was disrupted with injury. He'll gain 10-15 pounds in the offseason and will be a player, I think, next year. Carlos Thompson has already gained nearly 20 pounds and should be 245-250 next year. He's an explosive athlete who has now gotten a feel for what it takes on this level. After his knee injury healed up, we started to see the real Jason Jones. To be honest, we got more out of him than we thought we would due to that injury and we feel he has a bright future. He made plays for us. Another one who was sidetracked by injury just as he was starting to make an impact was Cameron Whigham. I think he's going to be very good, a lot like Emmanuel Stephens, when healthy.

"Two players some fans seem to be dismissing that I have not are Wayne Dorsey and Delvin Jones. I think Delvin will come off his suspension a different person. I fully expect him back - we'll see. He was a part of that disruption the scout team caused our offense this year. With Wayne, I have seen it many times in my career with JUCOs - some just adapt to this level quicker than others. Now that he knows the speed of the game and is determined to get bigger and faster, I think he will have a good senior year. I can tell you I have not lost faith in him. His head was spinning in 2010, which we didn't really predict after last spring, but I think he's turning things around now. I look forward to seeing what he does in spring. I expect a lot."

Like defensive tackle, Nutt will look for a JUCO headhunter to boost the linebackers, but even if the right one cannot be found, he likes what's on campus to work with.

"D.T. Shackelford - one of our most valuable players, could go back to linebacker exclusively - it depends on where we need him most," said Nutt. "I believe we will get Clarence Jackson back and he adds size and speed to that group. Joel Kight is a good young linebacker who got his feet wet this year and learned a lot. Mike Marry has a world of potential - smart, aggressive, and moves well. Ralph Williams has impressed me on the scout team this fall.

D.T. Shackelford

"And then there is the wild card in all of this. I think Brishen Mathews and/or Damien Jackson could be outside linebacker guys and that would instantly add more speed. I am also looking at Sam Noblin there and he would give us more LB speed. The point is we've got options and good athletes to start with."

Nutt quickly admitted the $64,000 question regarding next year is the secondary.

"We've got to have help there and we have to find it in a hurry. We may be talking about a couple of JUCO guys, but they have to be ready-to-go guys with speed and a physical presence," Nutt assessed. "I know Charles Sawyer and Marcus Temple figure in there somewhere. I am anxious to see what Cliff Coleman can do - the early signs are good, but he was completely stopped with a broken foot early in August.

"We always have the option of Damien and Brishen. We need to bulk Frank Crawford up some, but I like his style. Secondary has to be a big target area for us in recruiting."

Nutt stated his case with clarity and enthusiasm, but he's aware there will be skeptics out there that are interested in one thing - show me.

"We have a lot of work to do, we know that. We are going to have a very tough offseason and spring training to get the ball rolling back in our direction. Then we will follow that with grueling summer workouts and August practice and the players have already been told to buckle their chinstraps. We are going to find out who really wants it, who really wants to be an Ole Miss Rebel," he closed. "Having said that, we know we have to prove all this with actions and not words.

"This past year was an eye-opener, as tough as I have ever been through, but in the end it only makes all of us more determined to get it right. We did not get it done, for the university, for the fans and for ourselves. We can never let that happen again."


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