Lacking Luster

Ole Miss pro day is usually a one-day annoyance for us ink-stained scribes, a cultic exercise for aspiring NFL players. Run. Jump. Go here. Go there.

All the while, local media hang around the sidelines, on the periphery of the action or non-action, depending on your point of view. When I was younger, such a day would have been enthralling.

But as I stood watching Tuesday, peering out as a rather thin Ole Miss senior class went about its drills, I noticed something I hadn't noticed in years.

This senior class had no chance.

Houston Nutt led Ole Miss to back-to-back nine-win seasons in his first two years. But everyone knew, Nutt included, that year three was going to be difficult. Nineteen players made up the team's seniors last season. Nineteen. And to think, this class would have been smaller if not for late additions.

Masoli was one of the few bright spots in a senior class lacking stars
Bruce Newman
Lamark Armour was a sixth-year senior. Jeremiah Masoli played but one season -- and was for the most part stellar -- after leaving Oregon. Kentrell Lockett didn't participate in pro day. He's awaiting an NCAA ruling for an additional year of eligibility. Ole Miss remains optimistic he'll be back in uniform by kickoff of 2011.

That makes 16. Go down the names. The defensive tackles -- Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott -- were the most accomplished of the bunch. Jonathan Cornell had a fine career, capped off when he was chosen to the All-SEC second team by Phil Steele.

The rest, well, never made the impact they were expected to make, they were supposed to make. Allen Walker had his moments but was, if speaking honestly, out of position at linebacker. Markeith Summers emerged as a capable option at wide receiver. Even so, he was moved back and forth between cornerback and wideout early in his career, hampering his progress.

This class lacked the star power of its predecessors, play-makers every Southeastern Conference school has to have in order to realistically compete.

I look back to this time last year. Representatives from every NFL organization were in attendance as, among others, Dexter McCluster, Kendrick Lewis, Marshay Green, Cassius Vaughn, Jevan Snead, Greg Hardy, Shay Hodge and Patrick Trahan worked out. Each of those eight at least made an appearance on an NFL roster. Seven are still active in the league.

A foundation of talent. A senior class built for success. The atmosphere was exciting. Fans gathered around the indoor practice facility. Storylines so abundant, the stories virtually wrote themselves.

Twenty-four teams were represented Tuesday. Outside of scouts, family and friends, most notably those past Rebels there to lend support, the building was rather bare. The event was a shell of its former self, respective parties seemingly going through the motions.

Powe, projected as a mid-to-third round selection, is the only sure-bet draftee. The rest will likely sign free agent deals. Masoli might make his way into the final rounds, but he's viewed mostly as an athlete, not a quarterback.

Powe is the only senior sure to get drafted in April
Matthew Sharpe
I chatted with McCluster, a second-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs, while biding my time waiting on Powe and Masoli. I bumped into Michael Oher, a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, who spent the day hanging around Peria Jerry, another first-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons, and Jamarca Sanford, drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

There was far more talent on the sidelines than on the field.

Fans have spent the better part of four months debating on how Ole Miss finished its season 4-8 overall and 1-7 in SEC games. The answer is rather obvious when walking about the IPF Tuesday. Nutt warned of the soon-to-come struggles in the preseason, but it was hard to imagine the drop-off being so steep.

Let's be honest here; Ole Miss started over in 2010. Back to square one. When can Ole Miss realistically compete again? It starts with the talented classes Nutt has brought in in consecutive years. But approach with caution. Those players are still a year or two away.

Ole Miss is young. Again. Next year's senior class is thin and depth-deficient, highlighted by Brandon Bolden -- a great player -- Damien Jackson, Enrique Davis, Bradley Sowell and hopefully Lockett. The defense will carry a new look, fresh faces throughout the starting lineup. Same for the offense, minus running back and offensive line. And the schedule gets tougher.

A 6-6, maybe 7-5 record is the goal.

In two years, Ole Miss will graduate upwards of 30 players. D.T. Shackelford will be a senior. Bobby Massie, too, assuming he doesn't forego his senior season to enter the draft. One or two of quarterbacks Nathan Stanley and Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt should have starting experience under the respective belts.

But more importantly, those sophomores and a star-studded group of freshmen will be a year older, a year more experienced. They'll have been baptized by fire. Because Nickolas Brassell, Tobias Singleton, C.J. Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Senquez Golson, etc., have to play.

Maybe in 2013, 2014, Ole Miss pro day won't be such a drag.

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