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2008 Ole Miss Preview - Offense
Ole Miss OT Michael Oher
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What you need to know:
It’s not like
the Rebels are going to crank out an Arkansas-like rushing
offense right away, but it might have the talent to do it. The
league’s worst scoring attack got a huge boost this off-season
with the emergence of QB Jevan Snead, an immediate upgrade for
the passing game. Now, the talented receiving corps, led by Shay
Hodge and Mike Wallace, should do far more, while Dexter
McCluster will be used in a variety of roles. The strength of
the offense should be up front with OT Michael Oher returning
for his senior year to lead a big, beefy group of veterans. RB
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is gone, but pounding junior Cordera Eason
had a good spring and star recruit Enrique Davis is almost certain
to be used right away. Yeah, when all is said and done, Nutt
really does want to run the ball.
Rushing: Dexter McCluster
6 carries, 63 yds
Receiving: Shay Hodge
43 catches, 593 yds, 6 TD
Star of the offense: Senior OT Michael Oher
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Dexter McCluster
Best pro prospect: Oher
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Oher, 2) RB BenJarvus
Green-Ellis, 3) OG John Jerry
Strength of the offense: Running back, offensive line
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, passing game
Projected Starter: Sophomore Jevan Snead
came to Texas as a top recruit who battled well in the fight to
replace Vince Young. Colt McCoy won the job, and the writing was
on the wall that Snead either had to transfer or become a career
backup. After sitting out a year, he's ready to become the
quarterback the program has been missing ever since Eli Manning
finished his career, and while he's not Manning, he's a mobile
passer who's great in the pocket and is tough as nails. At 6-3
and 215 pounds, he has good size and he isn't afraid to take a
shot or two. After a great spring, the expectations are sky
Projected Top Reserves: While Snead is the
unquestioned starter, 6-4, 230-pound junior Billy Tapp
won't be completely out of the mix. He's a good bomber who a
live arm and nice deep touch. Originally a quarterback, he was
moved to tight end for a while and then moved back to
quarterback where he had a nice spring establishing himself as
the clear cut No. 2. The coaching staff will try to get him work
here and there in case something happens to Snead.
Watch Out For ... Snead to be everything the
offense had wanted last year. The passing games came up with
some decent yards, but was woefully inefficient; Snead will
change all of that right away. He's a player.
Strength: An upgrade to the passing game. While Tapp
hasn't seen any time yet, he's a smart, promising passer who can
drive the ball well. Snead is an instant impact thrower and
leader for an offense that didn't have one.
Weakness: Experience. Tapp hasn't gotten on the field,
and was almost a tight end, while Snead hasn't seen significant
live action in years. Memphis has a decent enough pass rush to
pressure him on August 30th.
Outlook: It's not like Brent Schaeffer and Seth
Adams were awful, but they threw too many interceptions and
failed to put enough points on the board. Snead is a real, live,
top-shelf quarterback who'll be able to hold his own against
anyone in the SEC over the next three years. Tapp is promising,
but there's a huge drop-off from the one to the two. It's vital
that the backups see time early on to get their feet wet.
Projected Starters: At the moment, 5-10, 224-pound
junior Cordera Eason is the starting tailback after a
nice spring. A pounding back who was shoved aside last year,
getting only three carries for six yards, he showed off good
breakaway speed this spring to go along with his power. With his
combination of skills, he's not just going to hand over the
starting job this fall, but he'll most likely end up in a number
two role in the rotation.
Houston Nutt isn't afraid to use his fullback in a variety of
roles, which means 5-11, 248-pound senior Jason Cook
should see more work after not getting any carries and catching
seven passes for 85 yards. He hasn't had any issues since
suffering a broken arm in 2005, and he has grown into a thumper
of a blocker.
Projected Top Reserves:
Is Enrique Davis the real deal? The running game
has been in a holding pattern as it waits for the star recruit
to hit campus. After originally signing with Auburn, Davis
couldn't get in academically and moved on to Ole Miss where he
has the potential to be the next great back to be coached by
Nutt. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he has the size, and has the speed
and toughness to be dangerous workhorse.
5-10, 224-pound sophomore Derrick Davis has the No. 2 job
on the depth chart going into the fall, but that could quickly
change. He was a great prospect coming out of his school with a
good blend of quickness and power, but he has never quite
bounced back after missing his senior year of high school with a
knee injury. He has his moves back, but now he has to see live
Working behind Cook at fullback will once again be 5-10,
243-pound junior Andy Hartmann even though he was hurt
throughout spring ball. Mostly a special teamer so far, he has
caught a few passes and returned a kick here and there, but his
main role will be as a backup blocker.
Watch Out For ... Eason to not be the backup right
off the bat. Most are assuming Enrique Davis will step off the
bus and be the Ole Miss running game for the next four years,
but Eason was groomed to become the starter after spending last
year on the bench while BenJarvus Green-Ellis got all the work.
Strength: Options. There were options last year, but the
ground game quickly became all about Green-Ellis, who got 230 of
the team's 379 carries. Now, there's Eason, along with Enrique
and Derrick Davis, to form a good rotation to add more overall
pop. It's not like Nutt is shy about using all the running backs
at his disposal.
Weakness: Experience. There isn't any. Eason got a
minimal number of carries last year, and that's it as far as
appreciable playing time among the tailbacks. While that's not a
horrible thing considering the talent upgrade, it could be an
issue early on.
Outlook: Unlike last year when Brent Schaeffer
spent a little bit of time under center, and Green-Ellis was the
rushing threat out of the backfield, there should be more
production from a variety of options. It might take a little
while to find the right rhythm, but the backfield should turn
into a positive.
Projected Starters: Senior Mike Wallace
didn't necessarily become a number one receiver, catching just
38 passes, but he remained the team's most dangerous deep threat
averaging 18.8 yards per grab with six touchdown. He has a
career average of 18.2 yards per catch and has been a great
kickoff returner, but now the 6-0, 180-pounder has to be more
consistent. He caught 11 passes for 275 and three touchdowns in
early back-to-back games against Missouri and Vanderbilt, and
then was lost in the passing attack. He caught a 77-yard
touchdown pass against Florida and had a few good moments here
and there, but he failed to shine late in the year once Brent
Schaeffer took over.
The team's leading receiver, junior Shay Hodge, will
start at split end after catching 32 passes for 593 yards and
six touchdowns as a consistent No. 1 target all year long. While
he's not going to do anything spectacular like Wallace can, he's
a tough 6-1, 207-pounder who isn't afraid to make the big catch
and will be good for three-to-five catches a game, every game.
The X factor, or the H factor, will be junior Dexter
McCluster, a 5-8, 165-pound jitterbug who Nutt has said will
be used in a variety of ways. Whether it's as a running back, a
slot receiver, a kick returner, or even possibly lining up from
time to time at center to throw a wrinkle into the mix,
McCluster will be everywhere. He was fourth on the team with 27
catches for 326 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 10.5
yards per carry as he handled the ball six times towards the end
of the year, but he has to stay healthy. A shoulder problem kept
him down two years ago, and he missed the first four games of
There will be a battle for the tight end job with 6-5,
245-pound junior Gerald Harris the likely first option to
take over for Robert Lane. The JUCO transfer got to school early
and was a part of spring drills, and it should be just a matter
of time before he becomes an integral part of the running game.
While he has nice hands and caught a few passes in the spring
game, he's a blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Lionel Breaux
didn't get to do much more than play on the special teams,
but now he'll be used as a possible home run threat playing
behind Wallace at Flanker. The 6-0, 191-pound speedster as a
Louisiana state high school champion sprinter, and now he has to
use his wheels to start stretching the field.
Bringing more size to the mix is 6-2, 197-pound sophomore
Markeith Summers, who'll work behind Shay Hodge at split
end. He got three starts last year and saw action in almost
every game, but he didn't catch any passes. A big-time recruit
who has a great combination of skills. Fast enough to be a deep
threat, and physical enough to consider moving to defensive back
after coming to Ole Miss, he'll be a factor.
Working along with Harris at tight end will be 6-6, 255-pound
senior David Traxler with the size and ability to grow
into a starter. Originally a light tackle, he'll be a pounder
for the running game and he is expected to grow into a decent
short to midrange target.
Watch Out For ... the receiving corps to blow up
now that Snead is at quarterback. There's speed, experience, and
talent just waiting to be unleashed with a good, consistent
passer to bring out their skills.
Strength: Skill. This is a talented corps put together
by past coaching staffs, but it hasn't been able to fully show
what it can do. Wallace, Hogde and McCluster will be weapons;
they've been around long enough to know what they're doing.
Weakness: Receiving tight end. That's not a must in the
Nutt offense, and there's plenty of time for Harris and Traxler
to grow into a role, but they're blockers. It could take a
little bit for one of them to become something of a deep threat.
Outlook: It has taken a few years, but the Rebels
have a veteran receiving corps ready to shine. The change at
quarterback will have a lot to do with this, but the talent and
explosion is there to be dangerous, especially if the running
game comes through as expected. A lot will be asked of this crew
to instantly improve the offense. The pressure is on.
Projected Starters: Four starters return to the
line, and it could've easily have been three had senior left tackle
Michael Oher decided to become a millionaire this year rather than
in 2009. The 6-4, 318-pound All-American has gotten in better shape,
slimmed down a bit, and should be one of the nation's most dominant
all-around tackles. Inconsistent over his career, but very talented,
he's a rock who should only up his draft status after coming within an
eyelash of leaving early. He's an improving pass protector and is great
for the running game, and more than anything else, he's dependable. A
starter from the day he arrived on campus, he plays through everything
and is a true anchor to work around.
Benefiting from being next to Oher is 6-6, 310-pound junior Reid
Neely, a dependable blocker who started every game at left guard
after spending the first part of his career as a reserve. He has the
size and the ability to pound away, and he grew into the role as last
season went on becoming better and better at combing with Oher to form a
wall. While he's still improving, he's light years better than he was a
few years ago.
The big change this off-season came on the right side where senior
Maurice Miller moved from tackle, where he started 11 games last
year, to guard, and junior John Jerry, who started most of the
season at guard, moved to tackle. The 6-5, 350-pound Jerry is more of an
inside presence and will have to prove he can consistently handle
smaller, quicker speed rushers, and he has to come back healthy after
missing all of spring ball. If nothing else, he'll be a bruiser for the
running game and should remain one of the SEC's best road graters.
Miller, at 6-4, and 343 pounds, is a more natural guard who was a bit
out of position on the outside. He's a bruiser for the running game and
was fine, but inconsistent, in pass protection. Now he'll have to battle
with Darryl Harris for the starting job and will be listed as the backup
Working in the middle, and taking over for Corey Actis, is 6-2,
312-pound junior Daverin Geralds after starting out last year on
the defensive line. Originally an offensive lineman, he as moved around
by the former coaching staff after originally projecting to be a guard.
While he'll have to be consistent. With a veteran line around him, he
just has to be solid and hold his own in the running game.
Projected Top Reserves: It's not a lock that
Miller will start at right guard with Darryl Harris getting an
extra year of eligibility after having injury problems earlier in his
career. He started a bit at right tackle against Auburn, but he's a
guard. A former starting center with good athleticism and nice size at
6-3 and 300 pounds, if nothing else, he'll be a vital backup at several
6-7, 310-pound redshirt freshman Bradley Sowell almost had the
spotlight on him when Oher almost left for the NFL, but now 2008 will be
about learning on the fly to be ready for 2009. With great size and a
long frame, he's a good pass protector who'll be good when he gets his
hands on a defender.
6-1, 300-pound junior Brandon Green was a top JUCO player with
good smarts and excellent upside. Geralds is firmly entrenched as the
starter, and Green will need a little time to grow into a backup role,
but he should be decent when needed over the next few years.
Watch Out For ... more domination for the running
game. This is a very big, very experienced line that should be able to
line up and hit defensive lines in the mouth. Nutt will get his ground
game going, and it'll start with the line.
Strength: Size and experience. With four starters
returning and the projected starting five averaging close to 320 pounds
per man, there's enough girth to pound away on anyone. The former
coaching staff did a good job with the group, and now Nutt and his staff
will reap the rewards.
Weakness: Pass protection. Part of the problem was
indecisiveness at quarterback, but the line didn't do a good enough job
of providing time for the passing game to go. Oher is growing into a top
pass blocker, but the rest of the line has problems with smaller,
speedier D linemen.
Outlook: The solid recruiting classes of the last
few years will pay dividends this season as offensive line coach Mike
Markuson will have plenty of talents to work with. The line would've
been fine if Oher left early, and now it should be positively fantastic
at times. However, this is prove it time. The line has been good, but it
hasn't been as dominant as it should be. That could quickly change.