Breathing Easy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt can finally rest easy, as senior defensive end Greg Hardy received a good diagnosis Monday on his oft-injured foot. Read what Nutt had to say inside.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt has been sitting on pins and needles over the last week, as senior defensive end Greg Hardy was awaiting word on a diagnosis on his oft-injured foot.

While Hardy will have to spend an additional two weeks in a walking boot for precautionary measures, Nutt and his star defender can now breathe a sigh of relief.

"Really good news," Nutt said at Monday's Alumni Club gathering in Memphis. "There's nothing like when a doctor says the foot looks a whole lot better. We'll keep him in a boot for two more weeks and then get ready for practice. That was sweet music to our ears."

Nutt said he had prepared himself for the best or worst of news, but was obviously happy with the result.

"You know, it could be real bad news, another surgery, or something along those lines. Or it can be like the news we got today. That's what you're hoping for," he said. "He's been through a lot. He's already been through surgery. I was hoping and praying he wasn't going to have to go through another surgery. He's been through so much. He's had a great attitude the entire time. To get the doctor's message today was just great."

Hardy will be cleared for practice after dropping the boot, but Nutt and staff plan to bring the 6-foot-5, 265 pounder along gradually.

"We'll take it slow. With Tim Mullins and the doctors, they're going to have a good feel for it. And Greg has to be honest with us as well," said Nutt. "I know this is his last year and he'll be wanting to play, but we have to do the right thing.

"He has to be extremely honest with us and let us know. If there's going to be some soreness and inflammation some days, tell us. We'll put him out there when he's ready to go. The good news is he's going to be able to go through practice. We'll judge it and go by what he and the doctors say."

For obvious reasons, much of Monday was spent on the health of Hardy, but Nutt did broach other topics involving the 2009 football season.

The subject of expectations has been brought up ad nauseum this summer, with Nutt saying the team is doing well to keep things in perspective.

"Last year, everybody was excited about football. But this year, not only are they excited, but they can't wait. They can't wait for football," he said. "There's nothing like enthusiasm and passion for the game of football. We're excited about that.

"They got no choice (but to deal with expectations). They have to handle it. We can't sneak in anywhere and play this year. We could last year. We can't do that this year. There's more pressure there and we have to know how to handle pressure. We'll have to execute under pressure."

A strong senior class was certainly the catalyst for last season's success, and Nutt said the proverbial baton has been passed to this year's crop.

"I think leadership is so important. We found that out last year," said Nutt. "Our juniors learned from some very good ones. Michael Oher, Jamarca Sanford, Peria Jerry. We had two first rounders who were leading our team. Jason Cook. So I'm real excited.

"The baton was handed off to guys like Kendrick Lewis, Marshay Green, Daverin Geralds, Gerald Harris and Jevan Snead. These guys have really stepped up. I've been proud of them."

Being the face of Ole Miss' chances this season, Snead is getting plenty of attention with 46 days until kickoff.

Nutt said Jevan is handling the attention well and expects his junior signal caller to continue to improve with more experience.

"Jevan's not a big, loud guy. He pretty much does everything by action and work ethic," Nutt said. "You love his attitude and how he approaches the work. I've been really proud of him and I think he knows that. He's still Jevan.

"I think he'll be even better (this season). He started becoming a student of the game about midway through the season. I thought he started studying hard with defenses and how they disguise things. I really thought he stepped up. You could see it in the last five games. He was so much better and was very accurate. But even more than that, he got us out of a bad play. He was like a coach on the field the last five weeks. That was so important. But I think he'll be the first to tell you he can improve and he's working at it."

While his starter under center is firmly entrenched, Nutt is still concerned with depth behind other returners.

The offensive and defensive lines are lacking according to Nutt, as well as the secondary, where the team lost veterans Dustin Mouzon and Sanford.

"The biggest (concern) is some depth," he said. "As good as we've been in the defensive line, you get scared to death when you think of a Greg Hardy not being out there. On the flip side of that, along the offensive line, there's very little depth. We're going to even need some freshmen to step up to supply us some backup work. Same thing with the secondary. We feel we can put a good secondary out there, but it's all about depth."

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