Published February 16, 2011 - 2:45pm
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The 2011 season will be a big one for the direction of the Ole Miss Rebels football program. Houston Nutt does his best work when expectations are low, and they will be low this season. If the Rebels are to rebound in 2011 they must address numerous issues. Here are 5 of the biggest question marks Ole Miss must address heading into next season.
1) Who will be the quarterback?
- Randall Mackey, 6’0, 190, Jr.
The former JUCO All American has great mobility and has been described as the best passer on the team by Houston Nutt. However, it is rumored that Mackey has struggled to pick up the playbook. He was able to redshirt last year while learning the offense, but the Rebels now have a new offensive coordinator, David Lee.
- Nathan Stanley, 6’5, 200, Jr.
Nathan Stanley entered the 2010 season as the starter, but was quickly replaced by Jeremiah Masoli. Stanley did not look bad in limited action completing 17-32 passes for 261 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Stanley has been on campus longer than any of the other quarterbacks, but will be learning from a third offensive coordinator in three years. Stanley is a pro style passer, and he lacks the mobility of Mackey.
- Zach Stoudt, 6’5, 225, Jr.
Stoudt is a JUCO transfer and a mid-term enrollee at Ole Miss. Stoudt spent two years at the University of Louisville before transferring to Iowa Western C.C. Stoudt has two years of eligibility remaining. He is a strong armed pocket passer who was 142-247 passing for 1,812 yards with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions last season at Iowa Western.
- Barry Brunetti, 6’0, 205, Fr.
Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, is seeking a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately for the Rebels this fall. The former 4 star quarterback is a strong runner and passer and could prove to be a wild card in the QB race if he receives the waiver.
Who will start?
It looks to be a wide open competition this spring. At first glance one might think Stanley will be the starter. However, it is hard to believe that Nutt would have brought in Stoudt had he felt good about Stanley being the starter. Stoudt looks like he will make a push and have an opportunity. Like I stated above, the staff would not bring in a guy with only two years of eligibility if they did not think he would contribute. If Stoudt or Stanley does win the starting job, look for Mackey to contribute significantly as a “wild rebel” formation QB. With that said, right now I would give the edge to Mackey to be the starter against BYU. He is the kind of dual-threat option that Nutt loves. He brings much needed playmaking ability to the Rebels backfield that the other two quarterbacks do not possess. It should be an interesting competition to watch during spring practice, but ultimately I believe Mackey will prevail.
2) Who will step up at defensive tackle?
Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent and LaMark Armour are all gone. There is not a single defensive tackle left on the roster that was in the two deep last season. Coach Nutt decided to go the JUCO route to find immediate help. The Rebels signed Uriah Grant and Gilbert Pena out of Junior College, and both look to make an immediate impact whether they are ready or not.
Senior Justin Smith will be counted on to contribute more heavily than he has in the past. The Rebels also have some promising young tackles in Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett, but defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix needs them to grow up fast. Unless Ole Miss’ most controversial recruit, the Rebel Black Bear, can line up at tackle next year, the Rebels might be in trouble up front.
3) Can the Rebels improve their pass defense?
When evaluating defensive backs, coaches usually shy away from slow unathletic guys who can’t tackle. Nevertheless, this was generally the description of the Ole Miss secondary in 2010. If you watched the Ole Miss secondary last year you probably wondered if the late Colonel Reb had suited up in place of the starting cornerbacks. The Rebels were ranked 100th out of 120 schools in passing defense last season. If the Rebels have any hopes of making a bowl in 2011, there must be dramatic improvement. Granted, the secondary was depleted by injuries, but this was far from the sole cause of the problems in the defensive backfield. Nevertheless, there are some positives heading into spring practice.
Charles Sawyer looks like a potential playmaker for the Rebels in the secondary. Damien Jackson looks the part of an SEC safety, and should be improved next year. Sophomore Safety Brishen Mathews was thrust into a key role due to injuries last season, and he should be much improved next season as well. Other notable returnees include Marcus Temple, Frank Crawford, and Cliff Coleman.
Coach Nutt took the JUCO route for DB’s as well, hoping to upgrade speed, athleticism, and depth. The Rebels signed three JUCO DB’s: Aaron Garbutt, Ivan Nicholas, and Wesley Pendleton. All three should compete for immediate playing time.
A couple of signees that won’t arrive until the fall also have a chance to improve the Rebels secondary. Senquez Golson, who must decide between major league baseball and Ole Miss, is a great athlete who looks like he has a bright future at the collegiate level. Also, All American Nick Brassell might get a look at DB as thin as the secondary is.
4) Which freshmen will make the biggest impact?
Houston Nutt signed a top 20 class with several guys who could potentially log early playing time. Here are the four freshmen who look poised to make the biggest impact in 2011.
- Nickolas Brassell, 6’0, 175, WR/DB, Batesville, MS- Rated a 4 star by Rivals
Brassell has the speed and quickness to become a lockdown corner, which is where many project him to play. He also has the playmaking ability to be a star wide receiver. The Rebels need help at wide receiver and defensive back, so Brassell looks to make an instant impact on whichever side of the ball he ends up at.
- C.J. Johnson, 6’3, 235, LB, Philadelphia, MS- Rated a 5 star by Rivals
Johnson was rated as the top player in the state of Mississippi. He is a big, physical and punishing linebacker who looks physically ready to take on the SEC. Johnson absolutely dominated the Army All American game and practices in San Antonio. Johnson will most likely step into the starting middle linebacker position by the time the Rebels line up against BYU in Vaught Hemingway Stadium next fall.
- Tobias Singleton, 6’2, 187, WR, Madison, MS- Rated a 4 star by Rivals
The Rebels only returning wide receivers who made an impact in 2010 are Melvin Harris and Ja-Mes Logan. New offensive coordinator David Lee will be looking for freshmen to come in and contribute immediately. Singleton, another All American, is a sure handed speedster who could become a serious deep threat for the Rebels. Look for Singleton to contribute from day one.
- Donte Moncrief, 6’2, 203, WR, Raleigh, MS- Rated a 4 star by Rivals
Like Brassell and Singleton, Moncrief plays a position of serious need for Ole Miss. Moncrief is another young WR that can flat out run. Moncrief has been timed at 4.45 in the 40 yard dash, and translates that speed well to the football field. Along with his speed, Moncrief has good hands and size that should allow him to come in and compete right away.
5) Will a dynamic playmaker emerge on offense?
The Rebels were clearly crippled by the loss of Dexter McCluster in 2010. For them to be successful in 2011 they must find a game-changer on offense. Coach Nutt tried to use several guys in a similar role as McCluster including Jeff Scott, Brandon Bolden, and Jesse Grandy. What did he learn? Bolden is a solid and reliable SEC running back, but he is not a game-changer. Jeff Scott might be the closest thing to McCluster on the roster. He is small but very quick and elusive. He provides the best chance at becoming the dynamic playmaker that the offense desperately needs. Grandy showed flashes of brilliance, but he recently left the team for personal reasons.
The Rebels must find a guy that they can lean on to make a play in crucial situations, as well as provide a spark to the team with dynamic game-breaking plays. If it’s not one of the aforementioned players, the coaching staff must look to the incoming freshmen to find such a player. If they can’t do this, it will only make life more difficult on whichever young QB wins the job.