The Unofficial Kickoff

HOOVER, Ala. -- Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt stood at the podium at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., and faced a barrage of "different" kinds of questions.

Expecting to talk about his team and the upcoming season, instead, he was bombarded with inquiries about MSU Coach Dan Mullen and his incessant "this-is-our-state" rhetoric and a recently-revealed four-point plan offered up by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive on academic reform, extra benefits for players and a revamping of recruiting rules.

"I can't worry about what other coaches say," said Nutt. "All I can worry about is trying to get to Atlanta. I am concentrating on winning, recruiting for the future and helping our players become better players and people. Besides, we did the best recruiting in the staqte of Mississippi – check it out. It's all about winning. They won last year so they are a little loud about. Trust me, we understand the Egg Bowl and we understand the rivalry."

Where does Nutt stand on Slive's comments in Birmingham? Well, which ones?

"I don't know much about the proposed 2.5 GPA for incoming freshmen, but I need to take a hard look at it. My antenna is up though. It does concern me, but I need to know more about it before commenting much. It's tough being a freshman in this league and we can't lose sight of what we are doing here – trying to help young men get an education," Nutt stated. "I do know I have a lot of faith in Commissioner Slive. He's a great man, but we sure seem to be creating a lot of rules, more and more rules. Can't sign but 25 in February, the recruiting limitations, the academic limitations – it's hard to keep up with. I wish we could streamline some things.

Houston Nutt
Chuck Rousnaville
"I also need to study up more on the proposal for a modified Prop 48 initiative. One thing I do like is the idea of increasing the benefits players get, including a little pocket money for these kids. I don't know the right amount, but I know they need help with things other than books, tuition, food and board."

Nutt did not sound like a proponent ofa proposed guaranteed 4-year scholarships in place of the system now that requires the yearly renewal of schollies.

"If a kid is not going to class or study hall or is not acting right, it's a powerful tool to have a non-renewal letter at your disposal. I think the one-year contracts helps make sure both parties have an ongoing commitment to each other than is performance-based," he said.

Oh, in Nutt's 30-minute turn, there was some football talk, starting with the Rebel offense.

"We want to be a physical team. I didn't think we were very physical last year, or not physical enough. We have a big, athletic offensive line and we need to take advantage of that," Houston stated. "We want to run the football and throw when we want to. We have to do a better job of taking care of the football.

"In the passing game, I think (OC) David Lee and (WR Coach) Gunter Brewer will bring a confidence to that part of the attack. We have work to do in that area in August, but we made strides and some guys got better. We will have to rely on some newcomers, but they are very talented newcomers."

The running game will be built around, as Nutt mentioned, a big OL and several competent running backs in Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Jeff Scott, minaly.

"We have a pair of tackles who have started the past two years, a veteran center and a huge right guard (Matt Hall) who had a great spring and we have a lot of faith in our do-all guy (Bolden), our power guy (Davis) and our speed guy (Scott.) And Devin Thomas will help too," he noted. "We feel we are going to be able to get some push up front and create some holes for those guys to operate in."

And the ongoing, constant discussion about quarterback?

"Today, Barry Brunetti would be the starter because of summer accountability and work ethic, but Randall Mackey has come a long way since he came on campus. We will try to determine something in the first 10 practices of August and nothing is set in stone right now," he added.

On defense, Nutt pointed to a fundamental – tackling – and an emotion – passion - before he mentioned personnel.

"We were not very good tacklers last year, overall. We worked hard on that in spring and showed some improvement – we have to keep coming in August and get even better. I know we can be much better tacklers than we were last year," he stated.

When the time came to discuss individuals, Nutt started with DE Kentrell Lockett.

"He brings so much to the table, not only in playmaking but in leadership. He's good in the locker room, good on the bus, good in the weight room and good in practice. He rubs off on the others," Nutt declared. "We were very happy when he was granted a sixth year.

Houston Nutt
Chuck Rounsaville
"I also think (DE) Wayne Dorsey is going to have a much better year. He's had a really good offseason. Sometimes it takes a JUCO player some time to transition to this level. I think Wayne is over that hump now."

Nutt didn't get into the inside players on the DL because he said most of the media in attendance would not recognize the names of the newcomers.

"We lost all our interior people, basically, but I like who we have on campus and I like the spring those guys had. We signed a couple of JUCOs (Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant) who we expect to help the cause immediately," Houston said.

"Our defense has some unknowns, some guys nobody has heard of, but they have worked real hard in the offseason. Guys like Mike Marry, Joel Kight, Damien Jackson, Charles Sawyer, Marcus Temple, Brishen Mathews and some more have my confidence."

Again, the questions went back to Mississippi State.

Again, Nutt stayed above the fray.

"We are about to embark on a new season that is very important for us in turning things around. That starts with BYU and it ends with Mississippi State. Like I said, we understand the importance of all our games and that we have a strong rivalry at the end," he closed.

The Rebels begin two-a-days Saturday, August 6.

There will be no sideshow then. It will be all football.

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