Opportunity Knocks

Part III of our spring football outlook is a closer look at the Rebel wide receivers and their quest to replace 1,000-yard producer Shay Hodge and the contributions to the receiving corps Dexter McCluster made prior to being moved to tailback. Read about it inside.

70 catches, 1135 yards.

Gone.

44 catches, 520 yards.

Also adios.

Those are the numbers of Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster, respectively, from the 2009 season.

Both have graduated and take with them 56 percent of the 205 pass completions recorded by the Rebel offense last year.

Granted, some of McCluster's snags came while he was playing tailback, but the rough illustration of how much they meant to the receiving corps/passing game is noteworthy.

Obviously, spring training will be very important for the Rebels in establishing who will be on receiving end of the aerial attempts in 2010.

The issue will be compounded by another major factor - who will be delivering those passes now that Jevan Snead has hit the road for the pro circuit?

"It's not just the wide receivers we have to develop - it's the whole passing game," said Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt. "From a personnel standpoint, it's almost like we are starting over."

"Almost" is the operative word there.

Nutt concedes there are some talented returning players, but everyone's roles will have to change drastically, as in, they've got to produce more, much more.

Statistically, the next most productive Rebel wideout in 2009 was Markeith Summers with 17 catches for 394 yards and four TDs. His 23.2 yards per catch led the team, but his lack of consistency did not allow him to become one of the true go-to guys on the team.

"In spring, Markeith needs to be one of the main guys. He's a senior, he's got a lot of ability and he's a big target," Nutt noted. "We have to start with him."

In offseason tests, Summers is one of the shining stars in all categories. Now, that has to translate more to the playing field, especially with no Hodge around. In short, unless someone else takes the bull by the horns, it's Markeith's turn to be the next Mike Wallace or Shay Hodge.

Lionel Breaux, who plays all three wide receiver positions and is WR Coach Ron Dickerson's jack-of-all-trades, has also got to move his game to the next level and to a higher role. Breaux was expected to have more of a breakout year last season, but it never materialized the way it was anticipated.

A pair of sophomores who played as true frosh in '09 will also be counted on to jump up a notch or two - Jesse Grandy and Pat Patterson.

"We need Jesse to get bigger and stronger because not only is he penciled in to be a major part of our passing game, but he will most likely return kickoffs and punts," Nutt stated. "He's going to have to be durable and in great condition.

"Patrick has a lot of skills, but he needs to become more consistent in everything he does, on and off the field, to make the impact on the field that matches his talent. He did a lot better leading up to the Cotton Bowl, but spring training is important to him. He needs to show a lot of urgency in spring."

Lurking around the corner hoping for an opening are Andrew Harris, Melvin Harris and RS freshman Ja'Mes Logan.

Andrew made a push late in the season to get more playing time and has always been a physical wideout. Melvin still needs to live in the weight room and gain more strength on his 6-7 frame. Logan has put on some weight since his arrival last summer, but he also needs a terrific offseason to make an impact in spring.

"We like the available talent we have, but some will be in the hurry-up mode this spring, especially since we are going to have a new starting quarterback for them to get used to," Houston closed.

There will be roughly 200-250 receptions up for grabs in 2010.

Who wants them? Who will get them?

It appears, whoever wants them the most. . . .


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