April 16, 2008

Five revelations from spring practice

Houston Nutt's first spring practice likely enlightened him to individual player capabilities, but also served to re-enforce some of his concerns.

While former head coach Ed Orgeron couldn't produce a winning team on the gridiron, he did attract some talent to the program.

Nutt now gets the benefit of those efforts.

However, even among the talent assembled, Nutt is still faced with changing the culture - meaning holding players more accountable for their actions on and off the field.

While Nutt had a considerable number of off-field issues involving his players during his ten years at Arkansas, he, along with several assistant coaches, have expressed concern over players' academics and self-discipline, to include attending classes, meetings and workouts on time.

Aside from instilling discipline and changing the culture, there's any number of questions that confront the team headed into the fall. Following are five areas that confront the team when it heads into fall camp and the season opener in late August.

Quarterback: Ole Miss fans are thrilled with Jevan Snead and rightfully so. He showed this spring why he was recruited by the likes of Florida and Texas out of high school. While many Ole Miss fans are ready to declare him the next Eli Manning - and he's clearly the closest thing the Rebels have had to Eli in going on five years - Snead still has limited college experience and there will be a learning curve, especially when he faces some of the upper tier SEC teams. There's no reason to doubt that Snead will live up to his potential, but expectations in his first full season to see action since he was a senior in 2007 should be take into consideration his lack of college experience. A bigger concern than Snead is the backup quarterback situation, where absolutely no experience exists.

Offensive line: Big names abound along the line like Michael Oher and John Jerry. The line was to have been a strength last season and disappointed more often than not. In the spring game, the line wasn't overly impressive and the starting unit giving up some sacks didn't go unnoticed by Nutt, who admitted more work remains. New offensive line coach Mike Markuson has his work cut out for him to get the talented group to play to its potential. That will start with getting Oher to play a lot more aggressive that he has ever played in his three years at Ole Miss, successfully transition Jerry, who missed many practices this spring, and finding capable depth.

Running back: Cordera Eason was praised as having improved over the course of the spring after Saturday's spring game. With three new signees inbound and Nutt's penchant for finding a way to run the football, it's almost a given that he'll find a feature back in 2008.

Linebackers: The emergence of Allen Walker, formerly the top player in the state, at linebacker is a big plus for Ole Miss. Defensive coordinator Tyronne Nix has challenged the group to tackle more at the point of attact than seven or eight yards (or further) downfield as was often the case last fall. With Walker, and returning leading tacklers Ashlee Palmer and Tony Fein, the group could emerge as a positive before the season is over. However, the addition of junior college transfer Patrick Trahan, who is an academic risk, is crucial.

Kicking game: Another area where Nutt raised the red flag after spring practice was the kicking game. He said he was pretty comfortable with punting and place kicking, but kick offs and coverage is cause for concern. While his predecessor was dedicated to finding a player who could kick the ball consistently into the end zone from 70 yards away, Nutt passed on signing a kicker, relying on an already full roster of candidates. Ole Miss was disadvantaged time and time again with teams getting field position near midfield last year, and the challenge for Nutt is either to field some terrific athletes who can cover short kicks, or find a kicker who can give coverage teams time to get down field.




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