HOOVER, Ala. – There were a number of topics addressed from the podium ranging from his loss of offensive playmakers, his faith in the defense, his gratitude to SEC media for picking his Ole Miss team last.
“Thank you,” Houston Nutt said.
But the first topic the Rebels’ coach was asked to address was a local problem.
Nutt was in the final rotation of coaches as SEC Media Days wound down Friday, but before his scheduled time in the ballroom he spent a few minutes with Mississippi media where he talked mainly about a quarterback – not his starter but his backup.
Redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton is still considering whether to leave or remain part of the Ole Miss program.
A prep star in Fort Meade, Md., Cotton has overcome the shoulder injury that plagued him in a spring-time competition for the starting job eventually won by third-year sophomore Nathan Stanley.
If he remains, Cotton will enter August camp as the No. 2 quarterback, but of three players who could wind up the opening day starter – a mix that includes junior college transfer Randall Mackey who just arrived this summer – only Stanley has attempted a game-day pass. And Stanley has appeared in only one game – last year’s Cotton Bowl – that wasn’t already decided when he entered.
“It just makes no sense. It’s not like one guy has a lot of experience,” Nutt said.
Cotton’s parents would prefer their son remain at Ole Miss, and that may yet be the case. It’s a decision that late Friday Cotton had not reached or had not made known to his coach, but Nutt said he expects everything to be resolved for better or worse today.
Stanley developed and won the job during the spring but was aided by the fact that Cotton was held out of some practices and limited in others. In the spring game Cotton completed 5-of-7 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while Stanley had a rougher time. He completed 11-of-16 passes for two scores but also threw two interceptions.
“You could see in the spring game he was better than Nathan,” said Nutt, who added that he’s planning a “big role” for Cotton.
If Cotton chooses not to return Mackey, who could also play some wide receiver, will become much more important at quarterback. The only two other quarterbacks on the roster are walk-ons Whit Haggard and Evan Ingram.
Players hope Cotton is part of the team but with one very important stipulation.
“You can say, ‘We need you, we want you here,’ but if he’s here and he doesn’t want to be here, he’s not going to perform like we need him to,” senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. “Eventually, if he’s not all the way in, he’s going to hurt us more than he’ll help us.”
If Cotton does not stay, the walk-ons will get a much closer look, Nutt said.
“I’ve gone to the intramural field to get a quarterback before, and that’s not fun,” Nutt said. “It’s very, very difficult.”
In 2000 in response to a rash of injuries to his Arkansas quarterbacks, Nutt asked student body flag football star John Rutledge, a former walk-on, to rejoin the Razorbacks. Rutledge came on as an emergency option and played four series against Ole Miss in Fayetteville in a 38-24 Rebels victory.
“I don’t want to rush and say Raymond Cotton is out of the picture. I’m hoping he’s going to wake up and see the light, get back to being himself and compete for a job. You watch the spring game, he wasn’t that far off,” Nutt said.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal