While head coach Houston Nutt had many roster questions to solve when entering into his inaugural season at Ole Miss, no position presented a greater challenge than cornerback.
Returning starters Dustin Mouzon and Cassius Vaughn had both been stricken with inconsistency over their respective careers, with no challengers in place to add competition to the pair.
Switching Marshay Green to defense was the first step. Green became known as an all-purpose athlete over his previous years in Oxford, but held no experience on the defensive side at any point in his career.
Next was the move of Jeremy McGee, a transfer from UCLA, who spent most of his days as a running back. McGee contributed on special teams with the Bruins, but the junior had never committed himself to the defensive backfield.
After starting the season a bit shaky, the unit finally came around toward season's end. Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell's 364 passing yards were aided by 58 attempts, but he was bothered all day, with Green returning one of the Rebels' two interceptions for a touchdown.
I guess the experiments paid off.
"They are so much more confident now and they are making more plays on the ball," Nutt said. "We feel comfortable right now with Marshay Green, Cassius Vaughn and Jeremy McGee. Marcus Temple is hurt right now, but we think he's going to be a good one in time. I'd like more depth there, but hopefully we've got time to develop some."
With any coaching change come adjustments, but the corners were met with a drastic alteration from previous years.
Vaughn, who saw action in all 12 games last season, said the group faced a shift in technique under Nutt and staff, as man-to-man coverage is a large component in the group's responsibilities.
"That's our base. That's what we do," he said. "The technique is totally different from what we had in the past and it makes everybody better. You have to be comfortable. You can play it how you want to, but you have to play within the technique. So when we go over it in the week, we all get better. It keeps us relaxed."
It's safe to say there's been no lack of confidence this spring from the corners – a far cry from a group easily rattled in the early stages of 2008.
Green and Vaughn are cemented as starters, with neither known for mincing words. Countless times during practice, the two can be seen jawing back-and-forth with opposing receivers on the Ole Miss offense.
Vaughn said the shift in attitude can be attributed to the unit's grasp of DC Tyrone Nix's scheme.
"Experience, experience, experience," said Vaughn. "We learned a lot last year. From all the stuff we've been through, we gelled as a team. All of Marshay, Jeremy and (Marcus) Temple came along. We came together. It's the experience. We know where each other is supposed to be and it's a whole team effort."
One of the more recognizable faces on the Ole Miss roster, Green has continued to emerge as a leader on and off the field for the Rebels.
Better yet, he's finally feeling relaxed in his role. That comfort has allowed him to play more freely, as the senior isn't over-thinking his defensive duties.
"At the first of the season, I didn't have a clue what I was doing at cornerback because I had only been playing the position since spring," he said. "It's hard to lead or be very vocal when you are that uncertain about your own job.
"Now, going into my second year at CB, I feel like I know what I'm doing and I feel like I am playing more instinctively. With that kind of behind me, I can focus a little more on my team and my teammates and help by being a leader."
It's hard not to notice the different aura surrounding the cornerbacks this April, as all are becoming more self-assured with each passing day.
A unit often criticized over prior seasons is finally blossoming, and Vaughn credits the staff for the improvement.
"You can't be successful without the experience," Vaughn said. "You can't do any of it without each other, so it all came with each other. Our coaches have continued pushing us to do the technique. Having another year in the system is working out for everything."
A Positive Direction
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