OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt has
raved constantly about his incoming freshman class, saying it's one
of the most talented groups he's had in 14 years of coaching in the
It better be, because it appears he'll have to use it
The Rebels went through their first preseason practice on
Saturday evening, with several true freshmen receiving ample
playing time with the starters or second team. The practice was
indoors because of the threat of thunderstorms in the area.
"I love (the freshmen) even more today than I did on signing
day," said Nutt, who is entering his fourth season at Ole Miss.
Nutt and the Rebels enter the season under pressure to win after
a miserable 2010 season that produced a 4-8 record, including an
embarrassing loss to Football Championship Subdivision opponent
Jacksonville State and a second-straight drubbing at the hands of
rival Mississippi State.
Nutt's first two seasons in Oxford produced a combined 18 wins
and two Cotton Bowl wins. But most of that success was forgotten
after such a difficult time last season.
To pull out of that hole, it appears Ole Miss will count on
several true freshmen. Linebacker C.J. Johnson, cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Chief Brown, tight end Jamal Mosley and receivers Donte Moncrief and Nick Brassell received most of Nutt's praise on Friday. Nutt has even said Brassell could play both ways as he tries to build depth in the secondary.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Johnson was the jewel of Nutt's
recruiting class last February, ranked as a five-star recruit by
Rivals.com. His quick development became even more important after
junior D.T. Shackelford went down with a season-ending knee injury
during the spring.
Nutt admitted it was rare for him to count on so many young
players so quickly.
"Most years you'll have one, two or three guys you put out
there right away and see what they can do," Nutt said. "But I've
never had this many, where it's nine, 10 or 11 guys."
The Rebels also have a three-man quarterback race to settle over
the next month. Sophomore Barry Brunetti was the first-team
quarterback during the first practice, but Nutt said juniors
Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt will also have an opportunity to win
Brunetti is the only one of the group with experience at the
Football Bowl Subdivision level, playing sparingly as a backup at
West Virginia in 2010 before transferring to Ole Miss in the
"They were a little off early, but they came on with some good
throws at the end," Nutt said.
Ole Miss is also trying to mix and match players on a revamped
defense that hopes to be much better than last season's group,
which gave up an SEC-worst 35.2 points per game.
A few veterans return, including defensive end Kentrell Lockett,
linebacker Joel Kight and cornerback Marcus Temple. But once again,
the Rebels are using several inexperienced players, including
defensive tackles Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin, who are both
"We had a lot of energy today," Nutt said. "The key for us is
to keep it going."
The strength of the team appears to be on the offensive line,
which returns all five starters including left tackle Bradley
Sowell. There are nine returning linemen who made at least one
start last season.
On Saturday, Nutt wasn't concerned about his veterans. Instead,
he wanted to see the freshmen. And at least for the first day, he
"We're going to put them right in the middle of things and find
out in a hurry what they can do," Nutt said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)