Three's a Crowd

David Lee sat surrounded by media Monday, recorders readily held, on the off chance Lee would name Barry Brunetti Ole Miss' starting quarterback.

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Because Brunetti has been the hot topic this summer. Head coach Houston Nutt never shied away in praising the transfer from West Virginia, be it during Southeastern Conference Media Days last month or in any of his guest appearances on radio and television programs in June and July.

Brunetti, Nutt noted, was the leader in a three-man race between Brunetti and juniors Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt for starting rights under center come the team's season-opener Sept. 3 against BYU.

"The one thing about Barry, his name is never on a list," Nutt said. "He never misses a class. It's ‘Yes sir, No sir.' I'm not saying the other two don't do that, but he was the most consistent at following orders and following what he was supposed to do consistently.

"That kind of led him there towards the end (of spring) and into the weight room and everything. That's what kind of pushed him over the top a little bit. But again, we've got a long two-a-days. We'll see what happens."

Barry Brunetti
Chuck Rounsaville

Lee, in his first year as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, backed up Nutt's words Monday. Brunetti, a sophomore, leads.

Meanwhile, Mackey -- long thought of as the eventual successor to Jeremiah Masoli -- is locked in a tie with Stoudt as the second-team quarterback.

"My biggest concern is to pull one of these quarterbacks and get this thing done and go in a direction where we know who No. 1 is," Lee said.

"I'd say Barry is ahead right now. I like him. I felt his presence in the spring game. That's the best way I think I can put it. I hadn't felt it all spring long. That weighs heavy on me, because until you get a guy in a game, that's when quarterbacks get better. That's when you find out what you've got."

Brunetti completed 12 of 21 passes in the spring game in April for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for a Blue-team high 37 yards. Mackey, leading the Red team, ended the day 9 for 18 for 151 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Stoudt was held out of the spring game for disciplinary reasons.

"I know most of the playbook. In the spring, I was feeling like a freshman again," Brunetti said. "It was kind of a whirlwind, just learning a whole new offense and trying to play full speed. I used the summer getting to know my receivers, getting to know the speed, getting into the playbook more. I feel way more comfortable than I did in the spring."

Lee said Mackey's performance tailed off towards the end of spring practices. Nutt said the same. And his struggles have only carried over into fall practices. All the while, Brunetti has put distance between the two.

"Randall had a better first day than he had second day, didn't have a good day at all (Sunday). He had a really good spring then he faded a little bit the last week of spring practice," Lee said. "Don't know why, but he did. Didn't play badly in the spring game, but has not had a good start thus far. I'd say right now he and Zack Stoudt are tied sitting in that second spot after two days."

It seems Mackey's decision-making is the issue, not his accuracy, which is widely considered his greatest strength.

"It's just familiarity (that he needs). When we don't block everybody, and we have some hots (routes), some sights, he'll miss some of those," Lee said. "A read that was open, he read as closed. There are some things like that that he should be doing better with right now. When he knows what he's doing and where he's going, he's accurate. We've got to get the mental part right with him, because he can hit what he's throwing at. He was the best with that in the spring."

Lee said Mackey (pictured left) is in a two-way tie with Zach Stoudt as the team's No. 2 quarterback
Chuck Rounsaville

The last year has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for Mackey.

Masoli, the team's starter last season, was initially ruled ineligible by the NCAA. He wasn't cleared until a few days prior to a loss to Jacksonville State in the team's first game of the season. At the time, Mackey was in line to play, if not start. He eventually redshirted.

These days, he is simply trying to keep pace.

"I don't know. The only thing I'm doing is going out and practicing," Mackey said of the quarterback competition. "Just trying to be better for my team and going out and working hard. We don't know who's going to start. We just got to keep focusing and working."

Stoudt, too, talks as if no leader has emerged.

"I think what makes it harder is we all do something different," he said. "I don't run like (Brunetti and Mackey) can, and I have my own style, they have their own style. It's a completely different offense when they're in compared to when I'm in. It definitely makes you work harder.

"I can't get upset when Randall breaks off some crazy run. I can't do that. I can't put myself down, because I just can't do that. It's just going to come down to who does what they do best better than the other person. It's been a fun competition and it will continue to be fun."

Whoever is named the starter -- Brunetti or Mackey or Stoudt -- one thing is clear: he'll be given every opportunity to stay with the first team.

"Being the quarterback, it's always important (that it's one guy), ‘cause everybody has their eyes on you," Mackey said. "The offense runs through the quarterback. You've got to be a leader for the team and you've got to keep everybody organized. It's been intense, especially working with Coach Lee."

"We're all great quarterbacks," Brunetti said. "They have a tough decision to make."

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