Five to Watch

On the eve of fall practices, we take a look at five players (newcomers and veterans) who will surely draw attention throughout August.

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Hahnville, La. | SR-3L
SIZE: 6-5/248

WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Ole Miss' leader both on and off the field; veteran presence for an otherwise inexperienced defensive line.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: A season-opening loss to Jacksonville State acted as a gut-punch to Ole Miss' hopes in 2010. The loss of Kentrell Lockett, the Rebels' unquestioned leader, to a season-ending knee injury a few weeks later was the fatal blow.

Now the talented and good-humored Lockett is back, and not a moment too soon. How effective he'll be remains to be seen and will be an ongoing storyline throughout August.

QUOTABLE: "I'm just ready to play ball. It's been so long. I'm just ready to get out there. I've grown so much mentally. I'm really trying to just come back and really pick up where I left off."

OF NOTE: Leads all returning SEC players in career tackles for loss with 23.5 and is sixth in sacks with nine. Has started 31 games in his career, including two seasons (2008, 2009) in which he didn't miss a game.

WR/CB - Nick Brassell
SIZE: 6-0/175

WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Versatile as both a wide receiver and cornerback; touted as arguably the most gifted athlete in the signing class of 2012.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Welcome to college football, kid. For the better part of a year, the uber-talented Nick Brassell captivated recruitnicks from Mississippi to Alabama, Brassell playing rival fan bases against each other in a recruiting chase of epic proportions.

He ultimately signed with Ole Miss, and now the former four-star prospect goes from high school star to one of a crowded group of freshmen. Time to show what all the fuss was about.

QUOTABLE: "Just coming in and making a big impact, you know? I'm going in as a receiver, but defense, I'm sure they'll give me a shot. Wherever gets me on the field and the team needs me, I'll be able to do it."

OF NOTE: Caught 52 passes for 877 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior season at South Panola. Rated the No. 7 wide receiver and the No. 56 overall player in the nation by A U.S. Army, PrepStar and SuperPrep All-America selection.

#11 QB - Barry Brunetti
SIZE: 6-0/213

WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Leader in the clubhouse to open the season as the team's starting quarterback; game experience at the Division-I level as a true freshman at West Virginia.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Barry Brunetti has been the talk of the summer. When asked at different times over the last few months, head coach Houston Nutt gave the transfer quarterback the edge in a three-man race between Brunetti, Randall Mackey and Zach Stoudt for starting rights under center come BYU September 3.

However, leading the race is one thing. Earning the job outright is a different matter entirely. Mackey won't go down without a fight.

QUOTABLE: "I just got to keep working. Fall camp will really tell it. That'll really tell who can be the starter and who can jump out and be the leader of the team. (Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks) Coach (David) Lee should name a starter by then."

OF NOTE: Started for the Blue team in the Grove Bowl in April, and posted game highs, completing 12-of-21 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Also rushed for a team-high 37 yards on seven carries. Saw action in four games for the Mountaineers.

SIZE: 6-2/235

WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Blue-chip signee at a need position; will be asked to step in and contribute immediately at linebacker in the absence of veteran leader D.T. Shackelford.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: One could argue no recruit was a bigger coup for Nutt in February than C.J. Johnson, who committed to in-state rival Mississippi State early in the recruiting process, only to switch and sign with Ole Miss late.

His arrival is of far greater importance now. D.T. Shackelford suffered an ACL tear during spring practices, leaving an already thin linebacker corps completely decimated. The former four-star recruit has to play, whether he's ready or not.

QUOTABLE: "I know I have to pick up some of the slack. That's losing a lot as far as leadership and making plays on the field (with Shackelford going down). I feel like there's a lot more responsibility on my shoulders now, but it's something I'm looking forward to."

OF NOTE: A U.S. Army, Parade, PrepStar and SuperPrep All-America selection. Ranked the No. 4 middle linebacker and the No. 58 player in the nation by Collected 149 tackles and two interceptions as a senior.

#75 OL - Matt Hall
SIZE: 6-9/349

WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Lone newcomer to a veteran-laden offensive line; could quickly transform Ole Miss' front five from solid and steady to great, if not downright scary.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: He's big. He's strong. And he's the swing man for a loaded offensive line.

Yes, Matt Hall, all 6-feet-9, 340 pounds of him, is slotted as the starting guard beside Bobby Massie. That, guys and gals, is a massive right side of the line.

Hall impressed in the spring, rising above a handful of other capable candidates for his right to hold a job. Hall has certainly left an impression on fellow lineman Bradley Sowell. Sowell told me recently Hall has the potential to be a first-round draft pick. A stretch? Likely. But his Ole Miss career is off to a fast start.

QUOTABLE: "Moving to guard was a change. It took me some time to get used to it during spring ball. I've grown to like it. I like the way the guards are in our system. It's been a challenge, but I got better during spring."

OF NOTE: Sat out the 2010 season per NCAA transfer rules. Played in 11 games for Arkansas in 2009, including the Liberty Bowl.

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