Overview – The value of quarterback play is undeniable in the game of football, with Ole Miss proving as much with sub-par play at the position before one Jevan Snead stepped on campus.
The Rebels have trotted out such names as Michael Spurlock, Ethan Flatt, Robert Lane and Seth Adams over the years, but with only modest results to show for it. After four years of losing, 2008 finally allowed Snead to take the reins and fill the massive shoes left by Eli Manning.
He didn't disappoint.
Following a 9-4 overall record and Cotton Bowl win, Snead enters 2009 as a Heisman Hopeful. He dazzled fans with his poise in his first year as the starter, passing for 2,762 yards on 372 attempts. His touchdown totals (26) doubled interceptions (13), while starting all 13 games as the head of the Rebel offense.
Snead completed 56 percent of his passes for 212.5 yards on average. Better yet, he showed an ability to extend the pocket due to his better-than-expected mobility. Snead totaled 187 yards on the ground, but those numbers can be misleading.
The junior suffered 127 yards of losses, with sacks counted against a quarterback's rushing average. In fact, Snead netted three touchdowns on the ground, with none bigger than an early score in the Rebels' 31-30 shocker against Florida in Gainesville.
While Snead is firmly entrenched as the starter, there appears to be a backup battle between returning veteran Billy Tapp and redshirt freshman Nathan Stanley. Tapp has the experience, appearing in four games last season. Stanley was impressive during scout team work, however, displaying good arm strength and improving accuracy.
Tapp proved capable as a backup, but is limited in deep throws. His mobility can be classified as good. He also learned in Kent Austin's playbook – a valuable asset, as the coaching staff wouldn't feel the need to scale back if his contributions were needed.
Stanley has excellent upside. He can make all the throws and has a strong arm. While he surely needs more polish, the young gun has an opportunity in the spring to push Tapp for the role.
With the Wild Rebel formation becoming a growing fad amongst the football community, the return of Dexter McCluster to man the position requires some form of mention.
While he isn't a quarterback by nature, McCluster is in the shotgun receiving snaps at different spots in games and has proven dangerous with the ball in his hands. He might not be a passer (the senior was intercepted twice in five tries), but McCluster is unmatched in the open field while running. He has a quick burst and is sharp in his cuts, requiring opposing defenses to be aware of his location whenever Ole Miss takes the field.
Head coach Houston Nutt wasn't as reliant on the Wild Rebel in the latter stages of the season, as taking Snead out of his natural position proved less effective. But expect the formation to increase in the spring, as Nutt and Austin are expected to expand the playbook as 2009 approaches.
Returning Starters: RJr. Jevan Snead
Other Key Returnees: Sr. Billy Tapp, RFr. Nathan Stanley, Sr. Dexter McCluster (QB/WR/TB).
Key Signees: Raymond Cotton
Key Losses: none
Quotable – Senior Jevan Snead
On confidence gained from a stellar sophomore campaign:
"I think my comfort level will be a lot higher. I've been in just about every situation now and I should be more comfortable and should grow with the position."
On areas of improvement for next season:
"I can't just point out one area where I need to improve - there are several. One thing is eliminating turnovers and my decision-making being better. I made better decisions as last year progressed, but I can do better. I also want to get deeper in the playbook. I need to know the offense more thoroughly, but now that I have the basics down, I should be able to do all those things."
On offseason workouts:
"Those (early a.m. workouts) are never fun, but knowing what we are working for and with our goals even higher this year, it's worth the effort. As Coach (Houston) Nutt says, the wind blows harder at the top of the mountain. We are not going to be able to sneak up on anyone this year, that's for sure. We have to get ready for that challenge and that is why we are working extra hard during the offseason."
On outside expectations for Snead next season:
"As far as the expectations on me, I don't really pay too much attention to that right now. The fall is a long way off. I'm just trying to improve my game and dive into the playbook deeper."
On OC Kent Austin expanding the playbook:
"Now that most of us have a year of experience in this offense, I think we can all handle more plays and more offense. I'm excited to see what the spring brings in our offense evolving and expanding. What little I have seen that Coach Austin has in store for us is very exciting."
On audible responsibilities:
"I had a few audibles last year, but I didn't use them much. I didn't feel real comfortable my first year checking off, but that's one of the things I think I can grow into and I hope to expand that in the spring."
On taking a larger leadership role:
"Last year, I kind of resigned myself to laying low and just trying to lead by example. This year, I feel more comfortable being more vocal and I feel like my teammates will accept me in that role now as well. I am not going to be the guy screaming at everyone or anything like that, but I am more comfortable now leading vocally."
On the 2009 Rebel recruiting class:
"We obviously had a great class. I'm excited not only about the wideouts, but the offensive linemen too. I met Bobbie Massie on his visit and he is one big dude. Big guys are what you want protecting you."
Final Analysis – As spring practice inches closer, there are finally no questions as to who might be under center to run and guide the Ole Miss offense.
Entering his junior season, Snead has established himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the conference and is likely to get looks as a sleeper Heisman candidate if the Rebs live up to their preseason billing. An area of improvement in the spring will be his decision making and deep throwing accuracy.
Far too often last season, deep passes were left on the table in game situations. In Snead's defense, however, it was still his first year on the job, with a comfort level with his receivers ongoing.
While he got better in his decision making later in the year, Snead did show a tendency to force passes in early parts of 2008. With a better understanding of his reads sure to be a focal point in the spring, look for Snead to be a force come March 27th.
The key battle over the coming weeks will be at backup, as Tapp will surely be pushed by Stanley for the job. Both are capable, but Tapp holds the advantage after manning the position last season and the knowledge gained of Austin's and Nutt's offensive scheme over the year. But Stanley could be the future under center, with this spring an ample opportunity to make a name for himself.
Spring Preview: Quarterbacks
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