A year ago, after Raymond Cotton left Ole Miss in the summer, the Rebels were scrambling for quarterbacks.
Rebel Coach Houston Nutt vowed that would never happen again on his watch.
The Rebs did catch a break when Jeremiah Masoli jumped on the radar and chose to come to Oxford, but Nutt did not wait for the good fortune of a last-minute transfer to pop up this time.
"We got lucky Jeremiah was available and wanted to come here," said Nutt. "I never want to be in that position again. Quarterback is the most vital position on offense and to get caught without low numbers there is a drastic mistake, one we will not make again."
Now, as spring approaches, numbers at the QB slot are still an issue, but a good one this time. With five candidates – Nathan Stanley, Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt, Barry Brunetti and Chris Garrett, the issue is figuring out how to get all of them sufficient snaps to be able to make valid judgments on their ability.
"We're going to have to be real smart with the way we distribute reps," Nutt conceded. "Everyone is going to get a fair shot and the job is wide open. The guys who produce will be the ones who get the edge going into fall ball. It would not surprise me if there is still a battle for the top spot going on after spring training.
"With this much competition, these guys will have to be on their toes every opportunity they get to try and separate themselves. It will be exciting to watch them compete and jockey for the top spots."
There's also another issue to overcome – except for Stanley's limited play the past two years, not a single one of them has played a down in the SEC.
"We've not only got to figure out who the best is, but we have to take a big step toward getting him, or them, game ready," Houston allowed. "Again, their development as players and as leaders of the offense will be interesting and exciting to watch."
Nutt has been around long enough to know that the hunt for the quarterback in spring will be the most watched aspect of the whole session.
"There's no doubt the biggest conversation piece this spring will be who is our quarterback," he said. "Right now, prior to spring, we honestly do not know. In fact, there isn't a lot we do know except how they worked in the offseason program and I have to tell you, they all worked like we needed them to. They all had the look of ‘I want the job.' That was pleasing to see."
Nutt started with the guy who has been here his whole tenure, Stanley.
"He had his best offseason, by far," Nutt evaluated. "He has really matured, physically and mentally. Nate has worked hard on getting a little bigger and stronger and the numbers show he's had success in that area. He's working on tightening up his throwing motion and his steps. He knows a lot of the offense, which will give him a little edge at the start."
Mackey, who redshirted last year and had offseason knee surgery recently, will also be ready to go.
"Randall's knee will be fine. He's around 200 pounds now and looks great," said Nutt. "He looks ready to go. We are not worried about his communication issues. He has improved that and whatever he lacks, we will work around. We will have a package for him.
"We will have the option of signaling in plays after we have lined up and the defense has lined up. There's no question we can get it done with Randall if he wins the job. I am not as worried about him as much as everyone else seems to be."
JUCO transfer Stoudt, a 6-5, 225-pounder, was next on Nutt's mind.
"He looks real good. All the receivers talk about his arm strength in volunteer passing drills. Zack has already made an impression on them and they are a good gauge in helping us sort things out as coaches," said Houston. "I love the attitude he has come in here with. He wants the job and has worked hard toward that end."
Another transfer, Brunetti, has not been declared eligible yet, and may or may not be, for next season, but he will be treated in spring as if he is going to be eligible.
"Barry has a strong arm as well, the receivers say, except he has running skills, like Randall, as well," Nutt stated. "We don't know much about Chris except he signed with LSU out of Tupelo, is a big kid and is ready to compete. We look forward to his development as well and seeing where he stands on the pecking order."
Bottom line for Nutt?
"I can't wait to see how this plays out. It could go in any direction. I have faith in two things – we have a lot of ability at that position and we have the right guy – David Lee – running the show," Nutt concluded. "Coach Lee will get the best out of all of them.
"It's going to be a good race and it's critical we get a lot done during this spring in terms of teaching them the system and getting a feel for who our guy, or guys, are."
Let the best man win.
Next Up: The Mail Carriers (running back.)
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