And So It Begins

After nine months of waiting for Ole Miss football to come around, it's finally game week.

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If revenge is indeed best served cold, redemption may be best served after some soul-searching.

The Ole Miss Rebel football team has had nine months to soul-search, analyze and revamp the program in an effort for redemption from a losing season in 2010.

Has the effort paid off? We'll find out soon enough as the 2011 season kicks off Saturday afternoon against preseason ranked BYU in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

It seemed like it would never get here.

There's no need recapping the past eight months - that has been done ad nauseum, but as the lidlifter for this season barrels toward us, it might be a fitting time to take a look at the past month, August camp.

Barry Brunetti
Bruce Newman

There have been pluses and minuses, from our cheap seat, and now's the time to examine them a little closer.

Quarterbacks: Who would win the job amongst the three able, but inexperienced on this level, candidates? A critical question because the value of a quality quarterback in college football is, well, tantamount to success in most cases. Rarely do you see a good team these days that doesn't have a good triggerman.

For a couple of weeks, there was little separation between Barry Brunetti, Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey, but two weeks ago it looked as if Mackey was starting to take charge.

Then, the unimaginable happened. Mackey, due to a lack of judgment and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, got nabbed by the police and the end result was that he is suspended for the opener, which looks to be the toughest Ole Miss has had in quite some time, opener, that is.

Anyway, quickly, Brunetti was named the starter. Did he win the job by default? Yes and no. Mackey probably would have started had he not gotten in trouble, but Brunetti, and Stoudt, remained closely on his heels even when he was inching ahead in the race.

Barry had a terrific offseason and had he won the job outright, with no late "help" from Randall, most would have been pleased. There is no evidence we shouldn't be happy now. Barry has earned the right to play and it just so happens, he will start. Fine by us.

The expectation here is simple. Brunetti will get the job done when the lights come on, and, if not, Stoudt will get his opportunity to shine.

The coaches have said all along they are not afraid to play any of the three. We take them at face value on their belief and repeated declaration of such.

Wide Receivers: It's true the influx of new talent has raised the bar out wide. It's true, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that guys like Nick Brassell, Donte Moncrief, Collins Moore and Tobias Singleton are going to be terrific players. It's true they have pushed the veteran receivers and that has raised everyone's level of play.

All of that is positive, but it's also true the Rebels will enter the game with one wideout - Ja-Mes Logan - who has played extensively on this level. Melvin Harris is likely out with a back injury, Vincent Sanders redshirted last year, Slots Derrick Herman and Philander Moore have, to our knowledge, never taken reps at that position in a major college game.

So what we have there is simple: talented, but unproven. One thing is certain, they will be cutting their teeth against a veteran squad and we'll see how quickly they grow fangs. It's inevitable, with their talent, they will be good. The question is, how quickly?

Running Backs & OL: These units are expected to excel and there is no legitimate reason why they won't. The only thing one could point to is if they are outnumbered, meaning if the Cougars do not respect the Reb passing game and load the box with eight or more defenders.

Enrique Davis
Chuck Rounsaville

We all know what the likes of Brandon Bolden, Jeff Scott, Enrique Davis, H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson can do. We all know the offensive line is big, strong and well-schooled.

The expectation is for them to be effective, through brute force, good athleticism and experience. It is their charge and there's no indication they won't accept the challenge.

Tight End: Veteran Ferbia Allen was being labeled the most consistent player on the offensive side of the ball until he hyperextended his knee. JUCO Jamal Mosley has shown he can be a warrior.

If Ferbia is healthy and Jamal keeps developing some consistency, the position will be vital and productive. Both of those things need to happen in this final week, however. The anticipation is they will.

Defensive Line: The return of Kentrell Lockett has been a boost to an area that needs all the boosts it can get. Kentrell is still working to get back to the Lockett we all know and appreciate. One has to believe when the lights come on, another gear will be achieved.

According to the coaches, Wayne Dorsey, who did not have a good year last season coming out of junior college, has been the most effective defensive end in camp.

Gerald Rivers has shown flashes. Carlos Thompson is coming back from a hip flexor issue and is making strides. Cameron Whigham has been steady.

One drawback is not having Jason Jones, most likely, who has been out most of camp with a knee injury that doesn't seem to be responding to rest and rehab.

If the "old" Lockett emerges, which we feel he will, and Dorsey has indeed improved as much as the coaches believe, DE should be stable.

At DT, there are question marks.

Senior Justin Smith has remained healthy and consistent. He's not a "flashy" inside guy, but he's getting the basic job done. JUCO transfer Uriah Grant started out strong, but then was derailed for a week with a groin injury. The latest reports are that he is coming back to pre-injury form, which was pretty good.

From there, JUCO Gilbert Pena will be playing in a cast on his surgically-repaired hand and redshirt freshmen Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin have not had the kind of camp most were counting on after having won the number one jobs in spring training.

Will they hold up against a strong run attack? Will they be able to muster some inside pressure on the quarterback? Those questions remain to be answered.

Linebacker: After a slow start, and some injuries that hampered the unit's progress, it appears some things are shaping up there.

MLB Mike Marry is back after sitting out nearly two weeks with a hamstring pull. OLB Joel Kight is back after missing a few days with a ham tweak. Ralph Williams, who can play inside or outside, is expected back this week after missing valuable time with an ankle injury.

Freshmen Keith Lewis and C.J. Johnson have made a good initial impression and seem to be progressing daily.

In an effort to get more speed on the field, Damien Jackson and JUCO Aaron Garbutt have been playing outside linebacker. Jackson tweaked his knee and was out a couple of days, but is fine now. Garbutt has been rapidly progressing in the past week or so, enough so that you may see Jackson playing safety some and OLB some.

The experience at the linebacker slots is so-so, but the production is starting to be noticed more and more in practice sessions.

Charles Sawyer
Chuck Rounsaville

They are, in a nutshell, a work in progress that shows promise but needs to keep working to be more of a finished product by Saturday and for the remainder of the year.

Secondary: While WR Coach Gunter Brewer has been a tremendous addition to the coaching staff, and OC/QB Coach David Lee's knowledge and stability has shown in spades as a benefit to the team, no unit on the team has noticeably improved as much as Keith Burns' secondary.

The defensive coaches, like at linebacker, have opted for more speed, which allows them to get their top three corners - Marcus Temple, Wesley Pendleton and Charles Sawyer - on the field at the same time. Sawyer has been playing a lot of safety lately.

Brishen Mathews, Frank Crawford, surprising true freshman Cody Prewitt, who literally improves by the rep, and the possibility of an appearance at safety by Jackson, give the coaches viable options. They can go fast or they can go run support, depending on the situation.

At corner, expect to see freshman Senquez Golson, who plays the ball in the air as good, if not better, than anyone on the team, get action and, as was stated, the coaches always have the choice to move Sawyer back to CB in an instant.

Overall, the Rebel defense has a lot to prove and talking about it will not make it happen. However, with the direction the coaches are taking in emphasizing speed, some obvious improvement from guys who have been patiently waiting their turns, the return of Lockett, and some redemption on their minds, they could be a surprise unit.

Kicking Game: Like the running backs and offensive line, this should be a strength.

The guys who actually put their foot on the ball - PK Bryson Rose, P Tyler Campbell and KO Andrew Ritter, not to mention steady David Hankins - are all proven performers who are expected to be even better this time around.

The coverage teams were not as good as one would hope last year, but the coaches have opted for some new schemes and have more "coverage type bodies" to choose from.

In the return game, there is a healthy list of players who could be lethal, starting with speedster Jeff Scott.

There you have our view of August camp.

How much of that will hold true? In truth, predictions and projections in college football are a crap shoot, at best.

Nobody really knows.

All that is known for sure is the Rebels have worked hard to make redemption a possibility.

It's time to tee it up and put their best foot forward.

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