Nutt excited about spring

Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt knows spring training, which starts Saturday at 10:30 a.m., will be challenging with all the players he and his staff have to replace off back-to-back Cotton Bowl teams, but he's about as excited as we've ever seen him about the process. Read a transcript of his pre-spring press conference inside.

Normally, when Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt calls a press conference, he gives about a two-minute opening statement and then opens the floor for questions.

Today, in his pre-spring press conference, he couldn't hide his excitement about spring training as his opening comments went for almost 15 minutes.

The following is a transcript of his talk, including his complete opening statement.

Houston Nutt: I love spring time. There's nothing like going from the winter workouts and 5:30 a.m. runs and then going into spring, this year especially. Most of ya'll saw the Pro Day yesterday and the great group of kids, who helped themselves in front of the pro scouts, we lost this year.

For the first time in Ole Miss history, we had a 1,000-yard receiver in Shay Hodge. He's gone. For the first time in the history of the SEC, we had a player in Dexter McCluster who rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 500 yards receiving in the same season. He's gone. QB Jevan Snead is gone, and he looked great yesterday throwing the ball. Three defensive ends are gone and I think they will all be drafted. A prolific placekicker (Josh Shene) is gone. The entire secondary, except one (Johnny Brown) is gone. Three interior linemen on the offensive line are gone. That's a mouthful to swallow as a coaching staff.

When we first got here, we knew we had good looking athletes and we knew this day was coming. This will be our biggest challenge.

We know we are going to be challenged so we are going to challenge our fans too. We want to make Vaught-Hemingway one of the toughest places in the country to play. The fans have to do that. I loved the basketball atmosphere we had last night. That's what we need in football. I have heard a couple of people say 'I don't like our schedule.' This is the SEC - you have to love our schedule. You have to love Ole miss.

On our end, we will have to go to another level as coaches with our teaching. We have a brand new quarterback after expecting a two-year starter to come back who is not. He won 18 games for us. We are starting over there and we will have to teach our brand new guys how to react to live bullets.

This will be the biggest challenge of our coaching careers, even though we have prepared for it with back-to-back excellent recruiting classes. They are very good, but we have to play with them now. Not two years from now - now. We will have three brand new OL. Josh Tatum, Evan Swindall, Emmanuel McCray - they have to play, to name some of them. Swindall should be in a freezer, but he can't he has to play.

This is where coaching takes place. This is where we have to do our best, even better than before. We have to.

Looking at our team, let's start on defense. I feel good about our defensive line when I go to sleep at night. The recruiting the years before we got here on the DL was very good - you know that. Kentrell Lockett, Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, LaMark Armour, who just got the OK for his sixth year, and Ted Laurent are returning and that's a good starting point. Lockett is doing a tremendous job of leading, as is Powe. Now we have Wayne Dorsey, who we are excited about. Cameron Whigham, another one we'd like to put in a freezer, has to get ready. He has to play. He's in the two-deep by default. Mike Thomas, Gerald Rivers and Jason Jones have to get ready to play. Justin Smith had surgery two days ago on his foot and he won't go through spring, but he'll be ready by fall.

At linebacker, Jonathan Cornell has been a leader. He's a senior and a winner. Allen Walker just had hernia surgery, but he'll go through spring. He won't scrimmage every time we scrimmage, but he'll do everything else. Now it gets exciting - Joel Kight is a starter at the Will LB right now. Alex Williams and Rudy Wilson are behind him. D.T. Shackelford will be behind Cornell - he played a lot last year, as did Kight, but they are true sophomores. Mike Marry is behind Walker - another greyshirt who sacrificed to be here. The MVPs are the Moms and Dads of our greyshirts, in my opinion. Also, Brandon Sanders is in the mix at linebacker.

We have a job to do in the secondary. Jeremy McGee and Marcus Temple have played some in nickel and dime situations, but have not been fulltime starters. They have to step up. Ryan Campbell and Charles Sawyer are RS frosh who will be the backups to start with along with Julien Whitehead and Demareo Marr. At safety, Johnny Brown and Fon Ingram, very good players, have the experience and we're glad we have them. Johnny has stepped up his leadership. Behind them, Frank Crawford sticks out. 151 pounds when he got here and coming off knee surgery. He's 182 now and looking good. He has excellent ball skills and athleticism. He, among a lot of others, is not a scout team guy anymore. Terrell Grant, a big kid who was moved to safety from wideout, is another guy back there. He can run and he's strong. He's learning on the run. Dele Junaid, Damien Jackson and Tig Barksdale are also back there with George Helow.

On offense, we start up front where we feel good about our edge guys - Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie, who are stepping up. Logan Clair, behind Massie, and Emmanuel McCray will back them up. Matt Hall, who looks great, will be out there too, but he can't play next year. Bradley is becoming a leader for us. Bobby is doing well too. In the middle, Alex Washington, A.J. Hawkins and Michael Brown are starting out on the left side. At center, Evan Swindall, Hawkins, Chris Gill, Chase Hughes and Rishaw Johnson, maybe. Chase will not participate in spring training due to a shoulder surgery he just had. Rishaw is doing great - we are excited to have him back. At right guard, Josh Tatum is important to us. He got hurt over spring break - he said he stepped in a hole and hurt his ankle. Hopefully we will get him back quickly. We need him back for every rep he can get. Rishaw will also work there.

At tight end, Ferbia Allen, who is up to 255 pounds, is doing very well. He is becoming a leader as well. He's smart, has good hands and is physical for his size. Reggie Hicks is another senior who I think is going to help us this year. It's amazing how sometimes seniors just go to a completely different level and I look for that from Reggie. Z. Mason is our project who has come a long way. He certainly looks the part and has come 1,000 miles. He just needs to keep coming.

At wideout, Markeith Summers, also coming off sports hernia surgery, has to be a go-to guy. He has to stretch the field for us and have a big year. He's an excellent athlete. Lionel Breaux is a guy who we are expecting a lot from too. He's a true team player who we can move around. Jesse Grandy will be much more involved in the passing game this year. He will still be our return guy. He's one of our fastest guys. Melvin Harris - it's time for him to step up. He had a really good offseason. He's gotten bigger - you can't tell it but he has. He's stronger and better. Now, he has to go out there and catch the ball. We moved Jared Mitchell out there from safety. He's big and physical and about a 4.6 guy. We hope he can learn the position and help us. Ja'Mes Logan is a redshirt guy who has shown flashes. We need him to grow up and mature. He's working hard to do that.

We have suspended Patrick Patterson for spring training. We have to have him. He broke team rules and will not go through spring, which I hate for him.

At quarterback, I'm glad we have Nathan Stanley and Raymond Cotton on campus. Both are nearly 6-5, both are athletic and both can throw. They are getting ready to see something they haven't seen before though. Whoever responds the best will be the guy who wins the job. Nathan will get the first snap and we will go from there.

At fullback, E.J. Epperson is a big body who had an excellent offseason and we feel good about him. I'm hoping he can stay healthy and be physical for us. H.R. Greer was moved back to FB from MLB. He's about 226 pounds and had a vertical of 35". He wants to play badly and has worked very hard to reach that goal. We'll see. Derrick Davis is another who has played TB and FB. He's a senior and we think he can help us.

At tailback, Brandon Bolden has had an excellent offseason. He's slimmed down to around 210 and is running faster and looking quicker. He looks good in all our movement drills with Coach (Don) Decker. Rodney Scott, Enrique Davis with Bolden give you three guys who have played and are physical backs. We are just looking for the ones we can trust to hold on to the ball and make plays. We moved Derrick Herman to TB. He's got excellent quickness. He can plant the foot and cut on a dime. Korvic Neat and Devin Thomas round it out. We have a good group of backs. Who will step up?

Q: What kind of offseason progress did you see from those young OL you will be counting on?

Nutt: Tatum has come the furthest. He and Logan Clair are so strong. McCray is probably the best athlete of the group. Now, the gym classes are over. Who's going to step up? Now we are going to go play football. Who's tough? All look good. All are around 300 pounds. Now they have to go against Lockett and Powe and Laurent and those guys. Now, they are going to see speed. Now they have to be physical. Those are the unknowns.

Q: Could we see some musical chairs with maybe McCray and Clair moving inside if the guards are not stepping up?

Nutt: It's possible. We are going to find the best five and then find the next three or four. We have to find a backup left tackle though. I'm ready to see.

Q: How will you handle the quarterbacks this spring?

Nutt: That will be easy because we only have two and a walkon. They will all get plenty of reps. We are going to work both of them with the ones and both with the twos. They won't get many breaks. The bottom line will be which guy puts their team in the end zone? Which guy will execute, take care of the ball and put the team in the end zone? That's your QB.

Q: What are your feelings on a two-QB situation?

Nutt: I have done that. I don't mind as long as I know there is production and they will take care of the ball. That could very well happen between Stanley, Cotton and Randall Macket. You never know. I wish Mackey was here this spring. They may all have a package. Who knows yet?

Q: Who are your Wild Rebel guys?

Nutt: Bolden, Grandy, maybe Herman. Cotton may be able to do that and add the passing dimension to that package. Mackey might be a good one. Again, we'll see.

Q: This is Pat's second suspension. Is he running out of chances?

Nutt: I think he knows that and I have been real proud of him here the last few weeks. It's amazing when you take something away from them that is important, they start to understand. He is starting to get it that he has to do right every single day. Not do right three days and bad things one day. He has to be more consistent and more accountable and he has been the last three or four weeks. It's a combination of academics and off the field things as well. He's got to do it our way and do it right and he knows that. He has great parents and they have been here. It's goign well now. I just hate he is missing the 15 days of valuable reps. He needs them because we saw the inconsistencies last year. He will have to work a lot on his own and I have seen him doing that lately. We expect a lot from him and he knows that. I really believe he is finally on the right track.

Q: What about placekicker?

Nutt: Shene was so valuable. That will be a great race. Bryson Rose starts out number one. That will be the first thing we do Saturday. I'm anxious to see who will step up.

Q: Do you think this team likes the challenge of being told they can't replace those who are graduating and will accept the challenge?

Nutt: I hope they take that attitude. I'd rather see us picked toward the top, but it might not be that way. I hope they take that position that they are offended if they are not picked highly.

Q: You were spoiled with your deep snapper for two years in Preston Powers. Where do you go from there?

Nutt: We sure were spoiled. He was excellent. Again, that job is wide open. Wesley Phillips has been working hard to be ready when it was his turn. His brother is also here - Chad. We signed one too, so we know the importance.

Q: Return men besides Grandy?

Nutt: We'll work Herman at PR and maybe Neat. At KOR, Grandy, Bolden, Rodney Scott, Enrique mostly.

Q: How is Tim Simon?

Nutt: He won't go through spring training. Justin will be ready to go by mid-June, but we don't know about Tim yet. What a player. What a kid. We are more confident after Tim's second surgery, but the road is still long. We are cautiously optimistic we will have him back by August, but we still are not sure. What a great kid and you hate it for him, but we feel better now than we did.

Q: Will Tig play any tailback?

Nutt: He may. We'll see. He needs to keep working on his conditioning.

Q: Who do you appreciate the most?

Nutt: All of them, but I tip my hat to the greyshirts. They really sacrificed to be here and they are working very hard to get on the field in a hurry. I appreciate what they did and what their families did for them to be here with us more than I can say.


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