Fall Focus: Quarterbacks

In the weeks leading up to fall practices, The Ole Miss Spirit will be filing frequent reports previewing each position area of the 2010 Ole Miss football team. Tuesday's edition covers the Rebel quarterbacks, including the possible addition of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

Overview – Outside of SEC Media Days, June and July are usually quiet months for Ole Miss football. Offseason workouts are the news with few, if any, season-altering headlines as fall camp inches near.

However, in the summer of 2010, the landscape quickly redirected from the norm. The routine was broken. Raymond Cotton, a redshirt freshman, grew disenchanted with Ole Miss, deciding Saturday to leave the program for South Alabama.

His reasons for leaving, most notably playing time, have been well-documented. Friday at Media Days, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt added Cotton was disappointed he wasn't allowed to go to the Manning Passing Academy.

Nutt felt it best for Cotton to rest his sore throwing shoulder, which sidelined the Ft. Meade, Md. native for multiple practices during the spring.

Nathan Stanley

Ole Miss was thrust into a tricky situation, and left with only two scholarship quarterbacks in Stanley and junior college transfer Randall Mackey. The two have combined for a total of five Division-I appearances between them, all by Stanley.

"We were fine with Nathan Stanley, Raymond and Randall Mackey, but now we are not," Nutt said three days ago. "We are going to be considering all options now. I don't want to use the word desperate, but Raymond left us in a dire situation.

"Nathan has done a great job of leading this team during spring and summer, and Randall has a lot of ability, but we're unsure of his readiness to play QB at this point. We will certainly try the hurry-up approach in getting him ready, but that still only leaves us with two."

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Stanley completed 11-of-16 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the annual Grove Bowl game. For his career, he's completed 11-of-23 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. Mackey, meanwhile, threw for over 3,800 yards in his final season at East Mississippi Community College. He also rushed for over 580 yards, and totaled 32 touchdowns.

A little over a week ago, we at the Spirit first reported the soon-to-be circulating rumors surrounding Ole Miss and former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

At the time Ole Miss, while interested, had no room. With three quarterbacks already on scholarship, there wasn't a pressing need, especially for a troubled talent with such a checkered past. Even more, Masoli, a former Heisman candidate, had only one year of eligibility remaining.

Jeremiah Masoli

Not an ideal situation.

But following Cotton's abrupt departure, the lines of communication between the respective parties were reopened. Nutt was then faced with a difficult, risk/reward decision, which could be decided later this week, if not earlier.

Nutt and athletics director Pete Boone have arranged a meeting Tuesday to discuss the possibility of adding Masoli to the roster.

The result of said meeting will have an undeniable effect on the dynamic of the position once fall camp rolls around in two weeks. Stanley is the current front-runner to replace Jevan Snead, but Masoli, strictly from an on-the-field standpoint, could provide an immediate impact.

His arrival would allow further time for the development of Stanley, who is still considered the future at the position, as well as Mackey, who enrolled in classes in June.

According to sources close to the third-year head coach's thinking, a key sticking point to Nutt was disrupting the chemistry the team has built in the last few months. As reported on the Spirit, Nutt did not want to do anything to damage the respect the program had gained in the last two years, and he certainly did not want to rock the boat with Stanley and Mackey.

While those same concerns still hold true, the rumblings of Masoli likely joining the team have only grown louder in recent days.

Now full attention turns toward the UMAA building and the Lyceum for the end result – a verdict that will go a long way in determining the outlook under center for the upcoming season.

Returning Starters: None

Other Key Returnees: Nathan Stanley

Key Signees: Randall Mackey, Witt Haggard (walk-on), Pack Toler (walk-on), Sam Noblin (walk-on)

Key Losses: Jevan Snead

Quotable:

Head coach Houston Nutt

On Nathan Stanley:

"I'm really proud that we have Nathan Stanley. Had a really good spring, got better. I thought his decision-making process got better. Improved each time he went out on the field."

On Randall Mackey and the possibility of playing multiple positions:

"We're going to give him a lot of attention at quarterback. We'll really have to get him going quickly.

"He's one that can make things happen. He probably could play some wide receiver. He's been an outstanding quarterback. He was an All-American junior college quarterback. He has escape-ability. He can make things happen. Fun to watch."

Sophomore Nathan Stanley

On his improvement this summer:

"Coming out of spring training, I set a goal to get better in every area - mentally, physically, footwork, throwing the ball, breaking down film, evaluating the teams we will face this fall. I've been working on all of that this summer."

On his anticipation for the start of the season:

"I'm excited and I'm starting to get some nerves about it, but I can't wait for two-a-days to start to get out there and compete. Our 7-on-7s have gone good this summer. We are getting more and more comfortable with each other in terms of body language. I'm learning more about how everyone runs their routes and the timing is getting there."

On Randall Mackey, the lone scholarship quarterback remaining:

"Randall is going to be fun to watch. You can tell he's adjusting to the playbook, but you can also tell he's got a lot of talent. He can run the ball, he can throw the ball, he can throw on the run and he's got a strong, accurate arm. That's a talented football player."

On outside expectations, compared to last season:

"Everyone knows we're young, myself included. But I think that's good to know. You've got a bunch of young guys, but there's nowhere else to go but up."

Final Analysis: In front of some 800 credentialed media inside the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., Nutt stood at the podium and claimed the offensive line was the one position that "keeps me awake at night."

Little did he know the predicament he'd face four days later.

While the offensive line certainly has its issues, of greatest concern, at least currently, is the status of his quarterbacks.

Jeremiah Masoli

Stanley has long been considered the heir apparent to Snead, but was at least expected to compete with a pair of capable signal-callers in Cotton and Mackey until the season opener against Jacksonville State in September. The position was still up for grabs, even after Stanley somewhat separated himself in spring practices.

Until the ultimate decision on Masoli is in, breaking down the quarterbacks is simply premature. It's an intriguing storyline, as Masoli's past transgressions and possible addition has led to heated debate on Ole Miss message boards everywhere.

The general fan consensus appears to be positive surrounding Masoli. For a rebuilding team, adding a proven talent can only help in maintaining the program's momentum following consecutive nine-win seasons. Ole Miss will surely receive its share of backlash if Masoli indeed arrives, so Nutt's decision is of vital importance not only for the present, but the foreseeable future.


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