By David Brandt/The Associated Press
OXFORD — Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee hopes that sometime over the next three weeks his choice for starting quarterback will be obvious.
The three guys competing for the job are making it very difficult.
“They all do good things,” Lee said. “It’s tough to brush a guy aside because they’re all making good reads and they’ll all have moments when they struggle. There’s going to be a lot of practice tape studied in the next few weeks.”
Sophomore Barry Brunetti and juniors Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt are locked in a three-man quarterback race that could take most of August to decide. Coach Houston Nutt and Lee have said that Brunetti has a slight advantage.
The 6-foot-0, 213-pound Brunetti transferred to Ole Miss from West Virginia during the offseason and was cleared to play immediately by the NCAA because of a family hardship. His hometown is Memphis, about an hour away from the Rebels’ campus.
Lee likes Brunetti’s accuracy, fundamentals and the way he leads the two-minute offense. But the most important evaluation won’t come until the Rebels play BYU in the season-opener on Sept. 3.
Lee came to Ole Miss after three seasons as quarterbacks coach with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. The NFL has four preseason games for each team — something Lee wishes he had at the college level for evaluation.
“Who’s under control?,” Lee said. “Who’s ready to handle this pressure and hit the passes? Who can do it all without having disasters happen? That’s who I want to be our quarterback.”
Brunetti came to the Rebels in the spring, giving him time to digest the playbook and develop a rapport with receivers. Now that he’s been on campus for six months, he’s much more comfortable, but said Lee keep pressing for improvement.
“Coming from the NFL, he wants perfection,” Brunetti said. “You can’t take it as disrespect because he wants you be the best player you can be and the best person off the field.”
At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Mackey is much like Brunetti. Both can throw the ball, but one of their best assets is speed. Nutt has a history of using mobile quarterbacks during his 14-year Southeastern Conference coaching career, especially with Matt Jones at Arkansas and Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss.
Mackey has been with Ole Miss for a year, redshirting last season after transferring from East Mississippi Community College.
“I’ve been having good practices,” Mackey said. “We’re just focusing, getting the offense down pat. The competition on the field is fierce, but the three quarterbacks have all been good about supporting each other.”
Stoudt is much more of a pro-style passer. At 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, he has the typical size associated with a quarterback. He’s also got a terrific arm, but isn’t the type of quarterback who can extend plays with his running ability.
Lee said that hasn’t been a deterrent.
“Barry and Randall have 100 percent of the playbook and Zack has about 95 percent,” Lee said. “The only thing Zack doesn’t do is a few run plays, because that’s not his strength. But he can do a lot of different things.”
Stoudt’s standing in the three-man race was hurt when he was suspended for the team’s spring game after Nutt said he violated team rules. Lee said scrimmages over the next two weeks will be very important in determining Stoudt’s readiness.
“He’s got a strong arm, he likes the drop back game and understands it really well,” Lee said. “He’s had some good days. We can’t push him aside because he made a move last spring and continues to develop.”
Stoudt said the coaching staff hasn’t given many clues as to who the starter will be. He says no news is good news since that means the starter hasn’t been decided.
“We all bring something different,” Stoudt said. “… We’re just trying to get the timing with the new guys on the offense.”
Nutt said there isn’t a deadline day for settling the quarterback race, though the goal is 10 days before the BYU game because that’s when actual game preparation will begin.
“We can’t put it in stone,” Nutt said. “We can’t do it until we know that’s the right guy and it’ll take a couple scrimmages, maybe three. It’s going to be interesting.”