April 21, 2011 9:10:00 AM
Two of the biggest areas of concern for University of Mississippi fourth-year football coach Houston Nutt entering spring practice have produced positive results.
The Rebels lost starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who exhausted his eligibility, and Nathan Stanley, the one-time candidate to replace Jevan Snead, the 2009 starter, who left during spring practice.
Stanley''s departure turned out to be a signal of the depth and talent at quarterback, as juniors Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt and sophomore Barry Brunetti impressed during the spring, Nutt said Wednesday.
Despite Mackey''s reported troubles of communicating in the huddle, Nutt said the former East Mississippi Community College standout is "ahead" of Brunetti and Stoudt.
However, he stopped short of naming Mackey the starter.
"It''s probably the best three we''ve had all at one time on campus," Nutt said. "Randall Mackey had an outstanding spring, and you can see why he was a junior college All-American quarterback. He can really extend the play, buy the time, and has some escapability. He''s very accurate. We knew what he could do in the shotgun, but he got up under the center well."
Nutt lauded the addition of offensive coordinator David Lee, who left the NFL''s Miami Dolphins to re-join Nutt and call plays at Ole Miss. Lee and Nutt also worked together at the University of Arkansas.
The addition of Lee and former Oklahoma State offensive assistant Gunter Brewer has given Nutt enough confidence to keep closer watch of the defense and special teams, he said.
"He''s probably one of the best, if not the best, quarterback coach in the country," Nutt said of Lee. "He''s just so good at analyzing and teaching. From the throwing motion to the steps, to the transfer of weight, and reads and preparation, it''s just such a natural fit for us."
Ole Miss'' defensive line, which is still awaiting word on Kentrell Lockett''s appeal for an extra year of eligibility, must replace tackles Ted Laurent and Jerrell Powe.
The leading candidates to fill the inside roles are second-year players Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett. Both players received high praise from Nutt.
In the absence of vocal presence injured linebacker DT Shackelford, who will be out six to eight months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, defensive linemen Jason Jones and Wayne Dorsey filled that role and "took complete ownership in the way he went about things."
"We knew we were going to be young there after losing so many guys with experience," Nutt said. "(Bennett and Martin) were really outstanding for as young as they are.
"I also think Wayne Dorsey came out and was much more physical and was a better pass rusher. There''s a lot of names you''re not familiar with, but the progress is good."
Of the defensive line players Nutt praised, Jones had the most significant contribution last season (17 tackles, two and a half sacks.
Ole Miss will look to freshmen
With just 13 seniors entering the 2011 season, Houston Nutt feels some of his prized signees will hit the field out of necessity this season.
Wide receivers Tobias Singleton and Nick Brassell, and linebacker CJ Johnson will be pressed into immediate action. All three were consensus top-10 players in the state and four-star recruits or better.
Ole Miss lost receivers Jesse Grandy and Markeith Summers in the offseason, and running back Brandon Bolden is the team''s leading returning receiver.
"CJ Johnson looks like a sophomore in college, physically," Nutt said. "Then you have three receivers that can fly. We''re excited about this class. We still have some missing pieces to the puzzle, but this will probably be the biggest number of freshmen that will probably play than we''ve had in a while."
To help Ole Miss'' league-worst pass defense, Nutt said incoming freshmen Senquez Golson, who is contemplating playing baseball, likely will see the field.