December 24, 2009

Cotton working on accuracy, waiting on his turn

Raymond Cotton has played a lot of roles this fall.

He's been dual-threat speedster Joe Webb one week, strong-armed gunslinger Ryan Mallett another.

This month, however, Cotton has finally gotten a chance to play the role he covets the most. After a redshirt season running the scout team, Cotton has taken some snaps as Ole Miss' quarterback.

"The development is coming along pretty well," said Cotton, a former four-star recruit from Meade, Md., who signed with the Rebels in February. "Even though with the scout team, I don't do plays that the team runs, it develops me still going against one of the best defenses in the SEC like this. Just getting a chance (during bowl preparations) has helped me out getting ready for next year.

"I've done a small package daily, but when he throws in the plays for me to run, I get excited. Who doesn't? As a team, all the freshmen and redshirts, we just try to go out there and have fun."

Cotton, who ranked as the nation's No. 11-rated dual-thread quarterback as a high school senior, said he picked up Ole Miss' complex quarterback over the course of his first semester in Oxford. What proved to be more difficult, however, was the nuances of being the scout-team quarterback.

"The most difficult part is just picking up on the cadence they use," Cotton said. "That's basically the different part. We read off cards the plays that they run and we try to do that to the best of our abilities, but picking up on cadences and the way they step or the way they spin, that's basically the hardest part."

Cotton impressed along the way, routinely displaying what is probably the strongest arm on campus as well as the speed and athleticism needed to punish an overly aggressive pass rush.

"He's a lot more comfortable with the offense," Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin said. "He's got a lot more growing to do there. He's physically talented. He came in strong. He came in fast, but the thing that I noticed, too, was I knew he was competitive but when Coach (Houston Nutt) puts him in a scrimmage situation, he's very, very competitive. He's very aggressive. He's not scared to run the ball up in there."

Cotton said he plans to focus on his accuracy in the coming months, knowing that if he can refine the placement of his throws to go along with the sheer strength of his passing, his ceiling will rise even higher.

"He's accurate," Austin said. "Some quarterbacks are just born with pure accuracy. It's hard to coach that. Some quarterbacks need to be fundamentally correct most of the time to have a chance to be accurate. Ray's somewhere in between."

Cotton figures to get even more reps and a longer look in the spring, though starter Jevan Snead and backup Nathan Stanley are expected to return for their senior and redshirt sophomore seasons, respectively.

"They just told me to just compete," Cotton said. "Whether it's first, second or third, just compete. You try your hardest and who knows what will happen."

"My biggest focus will probably be accuracy. I'm going to try to be as accurate as I can. I want to put the ball right there in the facemask or on the numbers, right, left, whatever. I just want to help the receiver get down the field."

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