By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is adamant that his base defense won’t change from the 4-3, but don’t be surprised to see new wrinkles here and there in the quest for improvement.
The Rebels struggled in most major defensive categories in 2010. They were ninth in the SEC against the run, 61st in the nation with 152.83 yards a game allowed.
They were 11th or 12th in the SEC in every other major category but did manage to finish 20th nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss.
The early days of practice have often seen a safety lined up as a linebacker resembling a 4-2-5 alignment that adds a fifth defensive back.
“I like open practices, I really do, but I don’t like for everything to be talked about. There are a lot of things we’re looking at, but we’re a 4-3 team. We like two safeties, two linebackers, but you always have to prepare for injury. We are thin at some positions, and you always try to give your team the best chance to win,” Nutt said.
Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said there’s no looming change in scheme.
“We have to be a physical, tough, hard-playing defense, and that’s what we’re trying to stress to our young men. The pads will separate the men from the boys,” Nix said.
The Rebels will work out in full gear for the first time on Wednesday.
West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti is the current leader in a three-way quarterback race, and his biggest advantage is his mental approach to the game.
“The amount of work he did this summer with the receivers and tight ends, the running backs out there, they had about 21 sessions, he made a big investment,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee said. “He’s mentally in really good shape right now. I see a calm about him, communication under pressure, performance under pressure.”
Brunetti, a sophomore, appeared in four games with the Mountaineers as a true freshman last year. The NCAA granted him a hardship waiver of its one-year residency rule in the spring.
At speaking engagements throughout the summer Nutt described Brunetti as slightly ahead in a race that also includes Randall Mackey, athletic and accurate, and Zack Stoudt, a true pocket passer.
Mackey got off to a fast start in spring drills but hasn’t gotten off to a fast start in camp.
“There are some things, some reads, that he should be doing better with right now. When he knows what he’s doing and where he’s going he’s accurate. We’ve got to get the mental part right with him, because he can hit what he’s throwing at,” Lee said.
Lee said he considers Mackey tied with Stoudt at this point of camp.
Scott’s role grows
Speedy tailback Jeff Scott rushed for 429 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman last year.
Nutt singled out Scott for his weight gain and effort in the off-season conditioning program.
“He’s been very tough, very committed. He’ll have a tremendous role, how much more will depend on him. He has tremendous speed. He’s a game-changer, a big playmaker. He took that ball 80 yards against Auburn, not everybody can do that,” Nutt said.
Scott was also used in the return game in the spring with both kicks and punts.
Options with Brassell
Nutt has described freshman wide receiver Nick Brassell as a two-way player whose main responsibility is offense first.
That could change.
Brassell has been impressive on both sides of the ball, particularly at cornerback, with two interceptions in two days.
It’s possible his main responsibility could become defense. The Rebels have five freshman receivers in the signing class.
“I have not seen that speed since (former receiver) Mike Wallace. I can’t say where he’s looked better. We’ll just have to see how everybody else does. If the others progress, we may look at that … where he spends more time on defense,” Nutt said.