March 26, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Itâ€™s time to move on.
As much as University of Mississippi football coach Houston Nutt would love to enjoy the fruits of a 9-4 season that ended with a six-game winning streak and a victory against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, heâ€™s ready for another ride.
On Wednesday, Nutt addressed members of the media in preparation for todayâ€™s Pro Timing Day at the school.
At 3:50 p.m. Friday, the Rebels will have their first spring practice. The work will lead up to the Grove Bowl at 1 p.m. April 18.
A 31-30 victory against Florida on Sept. 27 in Gainesville, Fla., might have been the early highlight of the 2008 season.
But that victory came in a 3-4 start that could have gone the other way if the Rebels didnâ€™t buy into Nuttâ€™s system.
A 23-21 victory against Arkansas (Nuttâ€™s former team) in Fayetteville, Ark., sparked Ole Miss to victories against Auburn (17-7), Louisiana-Monroe (59-0), LSU (31-13), Mississippi State (45-0), and Texas Tech (47-34).
But those games wonâ€™t mean much starting Friday.
After all, the season opener Sept. 6 at Memphis is less than five months away.
â€œWeâ€™re on the radar so we have to work a little harder,â€ Nutt said referring to his teamâ€™s ability last season to be an underdog and to be underappreciated. â€œIf you think youâ€™re working hard, you have to work harder.â€
Nutt said senior defensive lineman Greg Hardy is doing great with his rehabilitation and he is proud of Hardyâ€™s attitude and that he has made all of the teamâ€™s 5:30 a.m. workouts.
Hardy had foot surgery prior to last season and missed four games. Despite seeing limited action in nine games due to the injury, Hardy still earned third-team All-America honors from Rivals.com and second-team All-Southeastern Conference recognition from the league coaches. He had a team-high 8.5 quarterback sacks (third in the SEC), and his 0.94 sacks per game would have ranked seventh in the NCAA if he had played in 75 percent of the games.
Nutt said Hardy has his cast off and is in a walking boot. He said Hardy is being a â€œgreat teammateâ€ and is doing everything the doctors tell him he can do, including plenty of upper body weightlifting.
With Hardyâ€™s status uncertain, the Rebels also will have to look to replace leaders like offensive tackle Michael Oher and defensive tackle Peria Jerry.
Oher, a consensus first-team All-American, started 47 consecutive games in his career, while Jerry led a defense that ranked No. 2 in the SEC and No. 4 in the nation in rush defense (85.5 yards per game).
But the Rebels still have plenty of weapons.
Six starters return on offense and eight more on defense. Leading the way will be junior quarterback Jevan Snead. The transfer from the University of Texas completed 184 of 327 passes for 2,762 yards and 26 touchdowns last season.
Senior starters Cordera Eason (running back), Shay Hodge (wide receiver), Gerald Harris (tight end), John Jerry (offensive tackle), and Daverin Geralds (center) also return with senior all-purpose performer Dexter McCluster.
The defensive line welcomes back senior Marcus Tillman, junior Kentrell Lockett, and junior Ted Laurent. Linebackers Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker and Marshay Green, Cassius Vaughn, and Kendrick Lewis in the secondary also return.
Green was the defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl. He returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown.
On paper, that figures to be a pretty potent mix, but Nutt doesnâ€™t want his players to get caught up in the talk that they are a top-5 or a top-10 team.
He cautioned the Rebels that the same â€œexpertsâ€ who are behind them this year picked them to finish at the bottom of the SEC.
â€œThe reason we got to the Cotton Bowl was we had an unselfish and a tremendous attitude,â€ Nutt said. â€œWe spent a lot of time nurturing and talking and convincing Marshay to go from offense to defense. Whoever thought he would be MVP of the Cotton Bowl? Those kinds of attitudes and togetherness are what helped build that team and that family. It was a great journey, but itâ€™s over and what weâ€™re going to have to do is work harder. Everybody has a bullâ€™s eye on you because you might be a top-5 team, but thatâ€™s on paper. It doesnâ€™t mean anything.â€
Nutt wonâ€™t be able to welcome in a class of newcomers until the fall, but he also is excited to bring Noxubee County standout wide receiver into the mix.
â€œPatrick Patterson is a big-time guy with tremendous hands,â€ Nutt said. â€œHe is going to be a freshman and he will be on a learning curve, but I think he will take off very quickly.â€
Nutt hopes he will be able to say the same thing about his team when it kicks off the 2009 season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.