Watching, Waiting

As Ole Miss junior quarterback Jevan Snead mulls his future in the coming weeks, much attention is being paid to the development of backups Nathan Stanley and Raymond Cotton with the 74th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic around the corner.

Snead, a redshirt junior, is draft eligible upon season's end. And while his year hasn't quite lived up to personal expectations, an early departure to the NFL is still within the realm of possibility.

For the year, Snead was good on 178-of-328 passing attempts for 2,464 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, his 17 interceptions on the year led the SEC. As a sophomore, Snead logged 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

"It's tough to say right now," Snead said of whether he'll forego his senior season. "I'm really just focusing on the bowl game. I guess after the bowl game, I'll sit down and evaluate some stuff. I'll weigh the pros and cons of each and go from there."

Stanley, the elder statesman of the two freshmen reserves, is recognized amongst the Ole Miss fanbase as a high-upside quarterback with a strong arm. Stanley served as Snead's backup this season, and accounted for 160 passing yards and a touchdown on 9-of-16 attempts.

However, somewhat of the unknown commodity is Cotton. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback, the Fort Meade, Md. native has been a continual focal point of the Ole Miss coaching staff throughout bowl preparations.

"He's about where we would anticipate him being," Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin said of Cotton's development to this point. "Most guys that come out of a high school program, it's a pretty big jump to this level. You've got terminology issues. You're doing things that are a lot more complicated, especially in the passing game."

A SuperPrep All-American selection out of high school, Cotton was rated the No. 22 quarterback in the nation by As a senior at Meade Senior HS, he held offers from Ole Miss, Arkansas, Auburn, Kansas State and Southern Mississippi.

Early in the recruiting process, the former four-star standout committed to Auburn with hopes of tutoring under then-head coach Tommy Tuberville. Following Tuberville's dismissal, however, Cotton reopened his recruitment.

He then found a home with Houston Nutt and Ole Miss, where he's in the midst of a redshirt season.

"He's a lot more comfortable with the offense. He's still got a lot of growing to do there," Austin said of Cotton. "He's physically talented. He came in strong and he came in fast. He has all the tools and all those qualities. He's very competitive and very aggressive. He's not scared to run the ball up in there."

Relegated to scout team duty in his debut season, Cotton has held the unenviable task of mimicking the styles of the opposing quarterback for Ole Miss in a given week.

May it be Ryan Mallett or Greg McElroy, Cotton's done the part. And while he's getting some added time with the first teamers during December practices, his current responsibility is playing the role of Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson.

"The most difficult part is picking up the different cadences they use," Cotton said of becoming a new quarterback each week. "That's the different part. We read off cards the different plays that they run and we try to do that to the best of our ability. But picking up their cadences, the way they step, or the way the spin, that's basically the hardest part."

To a lesser person, leading the scout team against one of the SEC's better defenses would be a tough pill to swallow. Consider this: In his final season at Fort Meade, Cotton passed for 2,300 yards, rushed for 700 more and totaled 33 touchdowns.

But for Cotton, a year spent learning from the sidelines has been beneficial.

"The development's come along pretty well," he said. "Even though with the scout team I don't do plays that the team runs, it develops me still going against a good defense in the SEC like us. Bowl week has helped me out getting ready for next year."

Austin, who works one-on-one with Cotton daily, has seen a gradual improvement in the youngster. When Cotton arrived on campus, his arm strength was certainly a plus. However, polishing accuracy and hammering home mechanics were needed steps.

"He's accurate. Some quarterbacks are just born with pure accuracy. It's hard to coach that," said Austin. "Some quarterbacks need to be fundamentally correct most times to be accurate. Ray's somewhere in between."

Admittedly, Cotton is still learning the ins-and-outs of the deep and intricate Ole Miss playbook. Absorbing such a demanding workload is expected for any young signal-caller.

"I've done a small package (of plays) daily," Cotton said. "But when (Coach Nutt) throws in the plays for me to run, I get excited. Who doesn't? As a team, all the freshmen and redshirts, we just try to go out there and have fun.

"When I first got here, I thought the playbook was going to be really hard when I first looked at it. Now that I break it down, we run over plays more and more, it seems to get easier."

And as he continues in his maturation, the expectation is for those responsibilities to become second nature.

"The volume of stuff (to learn) is a little overwhelming at first," Austin said. "But over time it sinks in. I haven't had a quarterback yet where the light bulb didn't go on at some point.

"It will with Raymond as well."

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