Missing McCluster

It's bad enough that the Ole Miss Rebels lost eight starters from their 2009 offense. The fact one of them was the electrifying Dexter McCluster makes matters even worse.

McCluster, a second-round pick in the recent NFL Draft, last fall became the first player in Southeastern Conference history to post at least 1,000 yards rushing (1,169) and 500 receiving (520) in the same season. He was the national player of the week after gashing Tennessee's defense for 282 rushing yards and 42 receiving yards last November. Many of the rushing yards came as a shotgun quarterback.

What the 5-9, 170-pound McCluster meant to the Rebels' rushing AND passing attacks last season is almost beyond measure. Replacing that production may be beyond possible.

Junior Brandon Bolden (5-11, 215) will try to assume a bigger share of the rushing load after carrying 129 times for 614 yards last season. He rambled 57 yards on the opening play of the Grove Bowl spring game, then didn't carry again.

Magnifying the loss of McCluster in the passing attack is the fact Ole Miss also must replace Shay Hodge. He became the first 1,000-yard receiver in program history as a senior last fall and left as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,646.

The imposing task of replacing Hodge and McCluster as pass catchers falls to Markeith Summers, a 6-3, 205-pound senior. He caught just 17 passes last fall but converted four of them into touchdowns and posted a team-best 23.2 yards-per-catch average. He showcased his big-play ability in the Grove Bowl, with two receptions for 113 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown grab.

Ole Miss' offensive losses from 2009 also include quarterback Jevan Snead, the starting tight end, the starting fullback, the starting center and both starting guards. One of those guards, John Jerry, was a four-year starter and third-round pick in the NFL Draft.

Snead, the heralded Texas transfer who was touted as a leading Heisman contender last August, grossly underachieved in 2009. Still, he passed for enough yards (5,394) and touchdowns (46) in two seasons at Oxford to rank second all-time among Rebels in each category.

Filling Snead's shoes will be Nathan Stanley, a 6-3, 215-pound sophomore who completed 11 of 23 passes for 163 yards in mop-up duty last season. He performed well in the spring game, completing 11 of 16 attempts for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton projects to be the No. 2 quarterback after completing 5 of 7 passes for 178 yards, including an 80-yard TD pass, in the Red & Blue game.

Defensively, Ole Miss must replace five 2009 starters, including three/fourths of the first-team secondary.

The Rebels should be very good in special teams. Tyler Campbell returns after ranking second among SEC punters last year with a 44.0-yard average. Jesse Grandy is back for another season as the kickoff return specialist, having run back two for touchdowns last fall - an 88-yarder vs. UAB and an 82-yarder vs. Auburn.

Grandy also is a candidate to replace McCluster as the shotgun QB in the "Wild Rebel" formation. The 5-10, 165-pound Grandy averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 10.8 yards per catch in limited scrimmage action last fall.

Having lost almost all of their playmakers from a team that went 9-4 last season, the Rebels appear ticketed for a rebuilding season in 2010.

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