"No position will be watched more attentively this spring than quarterback. Juniors Nathan Stanley and Randall Mackey return with but one collegiate start between them -- by Stanley in the season-opening loss to Jacksonville State a year ago. Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti were added in December.
Stoudt, a toolsy pocket-passer, has impressed in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program. The same goes for Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, who is awaiting an NCAA ruling on his filed application for a medical hardship waiver.
However, his now well-documented communication issues in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage remain a work in progress, limiting Mackey in his chase for a starting position.
Even so, his athletic ability is undeniable. And for an offense searching for playmakers not named Brandon Bolden or Jeff Scott, Mackey has to see the field in some capacity."
Which position is the greatest cause for concern?
"Ah, those cornerbacks, easily the most depth-deficient position on the roster. Ole Miss enters the spring with only four scholarship corners. Four. Senior Marcus Temple won't participate in practices due to surgery brought about by a sports hernia. That leaves sophomore Charles Sawyer, junior college transfer Wesley Pendleton, Julian Whitehead and Cliff Coleman, who redshirted last season following a foot injury.
Ole Miss has a few options on the roster, most notably with Frank Crawford and another junior college transfer, Aaron Garbutt. Garbutt was signed in December because of his versatility to play both safety and corner. It's safe to say he'll get a long look at cornerback.
Fair to call the offensive line Ole Miss' strength? Even so, what about tight end?
"Offensive line isn't a question mark. A far cry from years prior, the position is crowded with depth, experience and versatility. Lacking is a play-maker at tight end. Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt named tight end "our biggest area of concern on offense," in a recent interview on the Ole Miss Spirit.
Ferbia Allen was disappointing as a sophomore, and has struggled to gain the needed weight to compete in the Southeastern Conference. Z Mason currently weighs in at 270 pounds -- far leaner than his reporting weight two seasons ago -- but has yet to emerge as a viable option.
Signee Jamal Mosley, of Northwest Community College, isn't on campus yet, so he can't be factored into the equation. Should he report as expected, the prevailing thought is the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Mosley will be given every possible opportunity to claim the starting nod. And then there's the concern at wide receiver. Oy. Another day."
Ole Miss was hit hard along the defensive line with graduation. Which players need to step up this spring?
"Defensive line coach Terry Price has his work cut out for him. Gone are defensive tackles Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Lamark Armour. Armour moonlighted as a defensive end as well, even starting a few games his senior season.
Junior college signee Gilbert Pena was brought in to help immediately, but he has to drop pounds. Uriah Grant was priority one at the position in recruiting, but he won't step foot on campus until the summer. Grant has to spend another semester at Fullerton Community College to finish up coursework.
But the concerns don't end there. Kentrell Lockett has appealed to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, and while Ole Miss remains optimistic, steady, productive, sound contributors have to emerge from a crop of Jason Jones, Gerald Rivers, Cameron Whigham, Wayne Dorsey, Carlos Thompson and Delvin Jones at defensive end.
Somewhat settling, all saw playing time in 2010, with Jones and Rivers proving fairly solid in extended minutes."
Can Ole Miss return to form after the disappointment that was the 2010 season?
"Rarely will one find 'chemistry' in a position-by-position, what-to-watch-for type breakdown heading into the spring. Well, we make an exception here. Let's be honest for a minute; Ole Miss had issues last season, not just on the playing field, but off the field. Players suspended or kicked off the team for various violations of team rules. Maybe a bit of complacency -- as noted by established leaders such as D.T. Shackelford and Bolden -- following back-to-back nine-win seasons. A lack of accountability? Hard to deny.
Whatever the reason(s), 4-8 seasons don't just happen, and such seasons usually go beyond what's happening between the white lines on Saturdays. This offseason has seemed to be more demanding, players pushing each other and coaches demanding more. That's all well and good, but it can't stop at weights, sprints and voluntary 7-on-7s. If Ole Miss truly hopes to right its fortunes and put a forgettable year in its rearview mirror, spring practice is the first step."