PARRISH ALFORD: Despite record, enthusiasm abounds for Ole Miss

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

They’ll gather at Ole Miss and start playing football this week with all the enthusiasm that comes with this time of year.
Having watched this scene on an annual basis for a while now, an observation: Coming off a 4-8 season enthusiasm may be higher in other places, but the enthusiasm is real.
In August, players believe – and that certainly beats the alternative.
For those new to the college game, as many Rebels will be, that belief system comes in large part from accomplishments at previous levels, which upon arrival in the SEC are worth … not much.
That experience, however, is what young players can hang a hat on. In the days to come it will drive some to work hard and find success.
That’s what Ole Miss coaches are banking on, particularly along the defensive front.
The popular belief a year ago was that a strong front would off-set inexperience in the secondary and keep the Rebels solid on defense. It really didn’t work out that way, as Ole Miss finished ninth in the SEC in rushing yards allowed at 152.8 a game.
While defense in 2010 was something less than desired, four interior linemen who are no longer around – Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott, Lamark Armour and Jerrell Powe – were part of some pretty good squads.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt saw this day coming and prepared for it. He’s proud of his recruiting, and this is the time for the unknowns to announce their presence. They’re lighter than last year’s group but can get off blocks with quickness and athleticism.
Redshirt freshman tackles Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett were high school teammates at Madison Central where they were both ranked among the state’s top 10 prospects.
Junior college transfer Uriah Grant once signed with West Virginia. His route to Oxford included a 2009 season at Eastern Kentucky in which he posted five tackles for loss and two sacks. He had 17 tackles for loss and six sacks last year at Fullerton (Calif.) Community College.
There will be the acclimation period and growing pains, but the Rebels desperately need the new linemen to play above their experience level.
They needed that from heralded juco recruit Wayne Dorsey last year, and it didn’t happen. It’s not uncommon for junior college guys to blossom in their second year, and Nutt believes that’s what’s in store for Dorsey.
Soon we’ll know.
Here’s what we know now. Kentrell Lockett’s return at one end is great news. Lockett is a known commodity, but he has been away from the game for a year. Stay tuned.
The other three spots are unproven, and the linebackers behind them – a position waylaid by injury and indiscretion in the off-season – aren’t loaded with experience or depth.
Run defense begins up front, and the new guys will be thrown into the fire.
How they respond will play a part in determining the level of enthusiasm for October.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.