Carrying On

Yesterday, Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt talked about what his Rebels did to get to this point - just a couple of days from the opening of August practices. Today, in Part II, he discusses what has to happen for the Rebels to mount a charge in 2011.

In Part I yesterday, Houston Nutt discussed the last nine months leading to this point, focusing on getting the players' attention, the offseason grind, spring training and summer sweat. Today, he talks about what has to happen in August for the Rebels to be successful.

The first four "phases" went about as well as anyone could hope for, but Nutt cautions that was just preliminary work. Necessary, for sure, but preliminary in nature.

The real battle will start Saturday in August practice as the season barrels toward this edition of the Ole Miss Rebels.

"We have to take what we accomplished in the offseason, in spring and in summer and keep going just as hard, if not harder," Houston stated. "Things are going to move real fast in August practice and a lot has to be determined.

"As I said, I considered spring a success, as well as the summer, but we aren't a finished product, not by a long shot. We have holes to fill and a lot of work to do."

Houston has a to-do list. These are things that have to happen in August for his team to be successful and they are, for the most part, non-negotiable.

"Like all teams hopeful of big things, we have to stay healthy. That goes without saying, but it's crucial to our success," he said. "Beyond that, we have a laundry list of things we have to take care of to be the kind of team we envision and hope for."

On offense, who will be the quarterback ranks at the top of the pecking order for the head man.

Randall Mackey
File Photo
"I want to know who can put us in the end zone and who can do so without making mistakes," Nutt explained. "We need someone who understands the offense, can move the team effectively and can play error-free within the offense. He has to take care of the ball and get the most out of the guys around him."

Will it be transfer Barry Brunetti, redshirt junior Randall Mackey or JUCO transfer Zack Stoudt? All three showed different qualities in spring training and no clear-cut winner emerged. When spring began, it appeared Mackey would wrap the job up, but as spring wore on, Brunetti started gaining ground, as did Stoudt until he ran into some academic issues.

"Right now, I would have to say Barry is in the lead. He finished spring the strongest and has been the most accountable day-in and day-out with his work ethic, attention to detail and even off the field with his school work," Nutt was not shy to say. "Randall, though, is a tremendous playmaker who started out spring on fire. He tapered off a bit at the end, but you can tell he has excellent skills.

"Zack has an extremely strong arm and made a lot of excellent throws in spring. He's gotten things together off the field and will challenge for the job. He's in the mix."

Obviously, it will be a dogfight in August. Best man wins. Plain and simple.

Quarterback isn't the only issue on offense.

While the offensive line projects to be a strength of the team, the Rebs left spring with four of the five available positions decided and one – left guard – in a bit of limbo. Certainly, that will have to be rectified in fall camp. The good side is that OL Coach Mike Markuson has several options available – Patrick Junene, Tank Washington, Emmanuel McCray, to name some - to round out his top five and go along with incumbent LT Bradley Sowell, who had the best spring of his career, Center A.J. Hawkins – ditto, Right Guard Matt Hall and returning RT Bobby Massie, a year wiser and better.

At tight end, Allen brings a lot of experience to the table, but an immediate impact by JUCO transfer Jamal Mosley is needed very badly to bolster and shore up that position. While converted WR Alex Williams showed good potential in spring, he's young and light for the rigors of every down play. Layton Jones also has a shot to contribute, especially on special teams.

"Ferbia was our most consistent offensive player in spring," Nutt noted, "but he needs help, immediate help, there. That's exactly why we went the junior college route. We expect Jamal to impact that position in a hurry."

At wide receiver, Brewer quips his troops were "consistently inconsistent" in spring ball. Nutt says that's a trouble spot that has to step up quickly for the Rebels to be a balanced offensive attack.

"Gunter did a great job in spring. His guys showed improvement and they have worked hard in the summer, but it's no secret we have to get better there, not only from last year but from spring as well," said Nutt. "Ja-Mes Logan was our most consistent guy in spring, but he's got to keep coming on. Melvin Harris benefitted from the offseason tutelage of Isaac Jenkins, who works with Campus Crusade at Ole Miss, and seems to have his life in better shape. Hopefully, that will translate to more consistent play on the field. I also have faith in redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders, but he has to keep coming. Korvic Neat did some good things in spring, but he's got to be more consistent as well.

"We are really expecting our freshmen wideouts like Donte Moncrief, Nicholas Brassell, Collins Moore, Tobias Singleton and T.J. Worthy to raise the competition level at wideout. If they do that, not only will the older guys get better, some of them will see the field as well. We are anxious to see what they can do."

The tailback and fullback positions are in good hands, according to Nutt.

"Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis, Jeff Scott and Devin Thomas all bring something to the table at tailback. Brandon can do it all and is really quick to pick up on new things as we introduce them. Enrique really had an excellent spring, maybe the best spring of all of them," Nutt said. "Jeff gives us that speed element that is so dangerous. He also showed up well in fielding and returning punts. And Devin worked has worked his way into the mix. Nick Parker is another we are pleased with because he can play tailback or fullback. He's a powerful runner.

Jeff Scott
Associated Press
"At fullback, we have H.R. Greer, E.J. Epperson and Parker. H.R. and E.J. both did some real good things in spring and I think they are really enthused about Coach Lee's offense because they will be used as more than blockers in our schemes. Overall, I think our running backs are a strength of our team."

On the defensive side of the ball, Nutt has some individual thoughts in mind, but first things first. The number one fundamental of defensive football, in his mind, was lacking last year and it's got to be fixed.

"We were not very good tacklers last year, overall," he continued. "We worked hard on that in spring training and showed some improvement, but then we lost one of our better tacklers in D.T. We have to keep working tackling hard in August. We have to be better tacklers as a unit."

Besides sixth-year senior Kentrell Lockett, the defensive line is either "brand new" or has minimal experience.

"We feel very blessed to have Kentrell back, not only for his leadership ability but for his playmaking as well. We need more guys on defense making big plays and he has that capability," Nutt added. "There's no two ways about it, young guys like Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett are going to have to grow up quickly and JUCOs Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant are going to have to step in quickly and grasp the speed of the game and what we are trying to do.

"We also need DE Wayne Dorsey to have a big year after a transition year last season that was not up to his expectations, Gerald Rivers to take a step up, Carlos Thompson to play like a veteran, Jason Jones to keep leading and coming on and Cameron Whigham to provide us with some playmaking ability. I think we have the pieces of the puzzle to be OK on the outside, but they have to have big August sessions."

At linebacker, the issue is not as clear. With D.T. out, the Rebs are at least one linebacker short, based on the end results of spring training.

Will it be filled by MLB Ralph Williams, who had a very good spring? Or a freshman like C.J. Johnson or Keith Lewis?

"I think Joel Kight and Mike Marry are ready. Someone else has to step up. Who will that be? I do not know right now. Will we move a safety down? Will Ralph step up another notch? Will a freshman take over? We simply don't know yet, but it's an issue that has to be addressed and it has to be addressed in a hurry," Nutt conveyed.

Nutt is also keeping an eye peeled on the coverage of the back end guys on defense. While he has faith in Burns to get the most out of the available talent, he's a bit concerned about the depth issues.

"At corner, we get Marcus Temple back after he missed spring. That will give us a boost. Charles Sawyer had a good spring, but we want to see him finish more plays in August," Nutt assessed. "Wesley Pendleton had a good spring for his first time on this level. He just needs more fine-tuning. Freshman Senquez Golson could easily turn out to be an important piece of this puzzle. Again, we don't know yet but we have to play better at corner than we did a year ago.

"We have a pair of physical safeties in Damien Jackson and Brishen Mathews, but we still need to see the depth develop more. Frank Crawford and Ivan Nicholas came on at the end of spring. Will a freshman pop up like Chief Brown, Denzel Nkemdiche or Cody Prewitt? We'll see. That's what August practice is for."

In the kicking game, Nutt drew on a familiar word – consistency.

"(Punter) Tyler Campbell has a very strong leg and is a veteran, but we need better production from him in pooch punt situations. He's worked hard on that since last year and hopefully it will pay off," he closed. "Andrew Ritter also has a very strong leg, but we have to have more consistency from him as well. We have to avoid kicking the ball out of bounds on kickoffs. Andrew has a special leg, he's just got to do it every time. We believe Bryson Rose will do a great job handling placements.

In spring, sophomore Running Back Jeff Scott and newcomer JUCO Philander Moore looked solid in punt returns and Scott is expected to pull double duty with kickoff returns as well. Based on spring results, those areas have a chance to be dynamic if continued improvement is made.

Philander Moore
Chuck Rounsaville
What has happened since the last game last year and August practice for 2011 has been laid out for your consumption. What needs to happen in the next month has also been outlined. Now, it's up to the coaches and players to take the next step.

Last season was a rude awakening for the Ole Miss Rebels after back-to-back Cotton Bowl showings, and wins, in Nutt's first two campaigns as the Rebels' head man.

And while it would be easy to lament the season, it may end up being the catalyst for something new and special at Ole Miss. In real life, failure often begets success if the proper attitude is applied.

As player after player said in summer interviews, nobody wants to live through what happened in 2010 again and they are confident they have done what's necessary to prevent that.

From all reports, the Rebels have done everything humanly possible to avoid a repeat.

On the flip side, the reality is another small senior class, never a good thing in the rugged Southeastern Conference, where only men reside and thrive; a tough schedule, always the case in this league; a brand new, untested quarterback, whoever it may be; and an abnormal dependency on newcomers, including the possibility of some freshmen, manning key positions.

How much difference will a change in coaching, attitude, commitment and unity make?

September 3rd is right around the corner.

A lot of questions will be answered then and during August practice.

There's only one guarantee. This will get real interesting real fast.

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