SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Ole Miss' Spring
Nix - a lot of work to do
Nix - a lot of work to do
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 6, 2011


With spring upon us, we're rolling out analysis from each team's off-season sessions. Check it out as CFN's SEC Bloggers give you five different perspectives on some key questions facing the Rebel Black Bears this spring. Who wins the QB derby?! What must Tyrone Nix do to stop the bleeding? And just how good are those five juco transfers?

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SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On MSU's Spring


Billy Gomila: What does Tyrone Nix need to accomplish this spring

Ole Miss had a defense in name only last season, allowing about 400 yards per game and 6.3 per play -- dead last in the SEC by a wide margin. It was the kind of job that would get a lot of coordinators fired in this league.

But between his recruiting prowess and the solid units he fielded in 2008/09, Nix managed to hold on to his gig. So, how does he pull the plane out of this nosedive?

It'll have to start in the secondary, where the Rebs were downright laughable at times. Ten of 12 opponents passed for 200-plus yards in 2010, and in third-and-long situations, when secondaries should know a pass is coming, teams completed an astounding 80 percent of their throws. Shocking.

Nix wants his crew to be aggressive and loves to pressure opposing quarterbacks, but a lot of blitzing does no good if the quarterback finds his hot reads wide open.


Brian Harbach: On whether Houston Nutt should be excited about 2011

What speech or opening statement does Houston Nutt make without using the phrase "I'm excited?" Nutt's optimistic attitude is why he is one of the best player coaches in the country, but there is a lot of work to be done over the next five months before his attitude turns into results on the field.

Yet even with all of the work that needs to be done, Ole Miss has the pieces in place to back up Nutt's optimism. We can begin with the NCAA granting a sixth year to DE Kentrell Lockett, who will be sorely needed as a leader and playmaker on a very underachieving defense from a year ago. The offense also has some good pieces with underrated running back Brandon Bolden and young speedster Jeff Scott.

The rest of the team is extremely young, with new players all over a secondary struggling to forget 2010, at wide receiver, and there will be another new starting quarterback this fall.

But with a good recruiting class coming in and a number of impact freshmen looking to contribute (including my favorite incoming freshmen in the country, linebacker C.J. Johnson), there's are enough tools in the shed. Now it's just a matter of putting the pieces together properly.

Why shouldn't Nutt be excited about his team in 2011?

While most prognosticators will foretell mediocrity for Ole Miss this season, and they will probably be right, Nutt always does better as an underdog. So here the Reverend sits again...with everyone counting him out, a team he likes, talented freshmen on their way to campus and yeah, he should be excited.

Excited? Yes. But we'd be more optimistic if Ole Miss played in the East.


Barrett Sallee: On who wins the quarterback derby

So Ole Miss, how'd that Jeremiah Masoli experiment work out for ya? A ton of negative PR and a 4-8 season later, the Rebels find themselves exactly where they were last season at quarterback - in flux.

Nathan Stanley entered the offseason as the clubhouse leader, but he went out for the early morning round and has another group of contenders still "on the course."

Junior Randall Mackey, junior college transfer Zack Stoudt and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti all have been sharing reps in spring practice, so consider the derby a dead heat at this point. Burnetti hopes to get a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible in 2011, but so far, that hasn't happened.

According to Kyle Veazey of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, head coach Houston Nutt is throwing the whole playbook at his quarterbacks, hoping to find out which one is the most capable of handling it.

So will it be Stanley, or will one of the other three step up? At this point, it's anybody's guess, but Mackey appears to have a leg up on the competition so far this spring. However, my hunch is that, if Stoudt can catch on to new offensive coordinator David Lee's system quickly, he may be the guy taking the snaps when Ole Miss hosts BYU on September 3. At this point though, that's just a guess; a lot can (and will) change before the first game of the season.

Nutt and Lee need to at least narrow it down to two contenders by the end of spring practice. Those voluntary summer workouts go a long way towards developing chemistry before fall camp opens up. If the Ole Miss wide receivers have a general idea on who the favorites are at quarterback, the eventual winner of the quarterback derby will have a much easier time transitioning into the role.


Gabe Harris: On what position is undergoing the biggest overhaul

Ole Miss really came crashing back to earth in 2010 after back-to-back Cotton Bowl seasons. The Rebs' defense was the primary culprit for that drop-off, and now they have to replace four senior defensive tackles (including nose tackle Jerrell Powe)? Ouch.

First things first - the Rebel Black Bears need to get back to being the attacking group that went after QBs in ‘08 and '09. We can start with Gilbert Pena. The 6-2, 336-pound JuCo transfer is already on campus and going through spring drills with the Rebels.

After that, Ole Miss will be searching for bodies this spring, as the only players returning with any experience are senior Justin Smith and sophomore Corey Gaines (don't say super-senior Kentrell Lockett who got a sixth year of eligibility – he's an end). Pena will literally need to step of a NYC subway and perform in Oxford.

Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin will get every chance to show what they can do, but they have zero playing experience as they will be redshirt freshmen. Early word from Houston Nutt is that DE Wayne Dorsey and DT Justin Smith have really stepped up this spring, and the Rebels need that help. The SEC West demands that they do.


Russ Mitchell: On whether there's a Fairley or Newton among the five juco players brought in this spring

Impossible to say. Remember, Fairley wasn't all that his first year; he made quite possibly the best one year leap that many of us have ever seen. And at this point last year, the best SEC pass Newton had ever thrown was a laptop out of a window in Gainesville. (Satire.)

More than focusing on whether there's a Newton/Fairley-caliber talent in the lot, let's instead concentrate on what Nutt has accomplished - recruiting to match immediate team needs.

Safety Ivan Nicholas earned all-conference honors in 2010 with ASA CC in NYC. He won't get much of a honeymoon in Oxford - Nutt is counting on him today to fill a slot in a secondary thinner than a runway model on meth. Wes Pendleton doesn't have the same upside as Nicholas, but where there's need...

WR Philander Moore might not start right away at wide out, but he'll likely fill the void left at KR.

After losing four senior DTs this January, DT Gilbert Pena was a critical sign for the Rebs. Compared to most college students, Pena's a grown man in terms of both experience and size - the 6'4", 310 lb Pena spent three years after high school caring for his ailing mother before joining Nicholas at ASA CC, where he also earned on-field honors. (His mother's doing better now.)

As for Stoudt, as Barrett points out above, he's in the thick of it for the starting quarterback job.

All told, and halfway through spring ball, not a bad job by Nutt & staff. Though it's all just flirting until September, when it begins to count for real.


Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.


SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Auburn's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Bama's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UT's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UF's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UF's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On USC's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On Hogs' Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On LSU's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On UGA's Spring
SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts On MSU's Spring