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March 17, 2008
Ole Miss has a new coach and a couple of important questions that need to be answered this spring. Houston Nutt should provide more solid coaching decisions, but he needs to find a quarterback and a tailback and beef up the defense. Here's a look at the Rebels as they prepare to open spring drills.
Houston Nutt has plenty he needs to accomplish this spring.
Defense—8: FS Johnny Brown, T Peria Jerry, FS Kendrick Lewis, CB Dustin Mouzon, LB Ashlee Palmer, LB Jamie Phillips, SS Jamarca Sanford, E Marcus Tillman.
Offense—6: FB Jason Cook, G John Jerry, T Maurice Miller, G Reid Neely, T Michael Oher, WR Mike Wallace.
Special teams—2: K Joshua Shene, P Justin Sparks.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster give Ole Miss three wide receivers who combined to catch 101 passes for 1,635 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. The Rebels also have two stars on the defensive line. E Greg Hardy only made four starts last year, but he led the SEC in sacks per game and ranked second in the conference in tackles for loss per game. Peria Jerry had 14.5 tackles for loss as a defensive tackle last year. Oher, a potential first-round pick, heads an offensive line that returns four starters.
HELP IS NEEDED
The departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis leaves the Rebels with a giant hole to fill at running back. Ole Miss has four starters back on the line, but the Rebels will need to break in a new center. Ole Miss doesn't lose anyone of note at linebacker, but that position was a big problem for the Rebels last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON
C Brandon Green: There's a decent chance this junior college transfer, who already is enrolled, could open his career in the starting lineup because Ole Miss doesn't have many experienced candidates at center.
DE Kentrell Lockett: After Lockett performed well in spring practice last year, an injury knocked him out for the start of the season, and he never regained the momentum he'd established in the spring. Another spring practice gives Lockett one more chance to move up the depth chart.
QB Jevan Snead: Inconsistency at quarterback the past two seasons caused Ole Miss to sink to the bottom of the SEC West and eventually led to former coach Ed Orgeron's demise. New coach Houston Nutt is hoping the quarterback problems will end now that Snead is eligible after transferring from Texas.
HIS TIME IS NOW
RB Cordera Eason, a former four-star prospect, has carried the ball just 10 times at Ole Miss while helping back up Green-Ellis, who rushed for at least 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons. Now that Green-Ellis is gone, Eason has a chance to prove he deserves more playing time. Eason needs to make the most of his chance now before five-star prospect Enrique Davis arrives on campus this summer.
The arrivals of Nutt and Snead will garner the majority of the attention this spring. The Rebels sank into oblivion the past couple of season while getting poor play at quarterback. Nutt already has proved he can deliver in the SEC after winning three Western Division titles in his 10-year tenure at Arkansas. Snead doesn't have much of a track record, but he was a good enough prospect to get recruited by Florida and Texas. Ole Miss fans can only hope the Nutt-Snead duo works as well as the David Cutcliffe -Eli Manning combination, which led the Rebels to a 10-3 record and Cotton Bowl title in 2003.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.