By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Meeting the local media Monday morning to discuss his 2011 football team, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt didn’t promise that change will come.
He said it’s already here.
The Rebels were 4-8 last year, 1-7 in the SEC, the least-productive conference season in Nutt’s 13 years in the league.
“We didn’t have fun last year. Now your mindset has to be different. You have to change, and if you don’t believe it, you’re never going to achieve it,” Nutt said. “We live in a world that says, ‘I’ll believe it when see it.’ That’s what some of y’all might say, and I understand that after going 4-8.”
The importance of instilling confidence in players is something Nutt says was emphasized at every level of athletics he’d seen before beginning his coaching career.
Nutt has praised his newcomers in the early days of practice, and the recruiting class has brought in physical evidence of change with speed and skill. Nutt wants to instill in his players a belief that change doesn’t stop there, that it can carry over to wins and losses.
A newly hung banner in the north end zone of the indoor practice facility reads: “If you don’t believe it you won’t achieve it.” The accompanying logos are the Ole Miss script and the logo for the SEC championship game.
If belief took a hit last year when the Rebels gave up more points than any team in school history and ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense, pass defense efficiency and turnover margin, players say their confidence level can turn on a dime and rise upward again.
“I’m a winner. I want to win. And it’s not about me, it’s about the team. So if I can have that attitude and have that affect on the team, I’m helping,” free safety Damien Jackson said. “Everybody believes that, because I don’t play with losers, and everybody on this team is a winner.”
“We have to believe it. We have to believe that we are going to have a better season,” tailback Brandon Bolden said.
For the belief to translate to results the Rebels will have to get a lot of production from the recruiting class.
Inexperience is rampant along the defensive line where only one – perhaps none – of the top four tackles will have played in a college game by the time the opening day two-deep works itself out. Depth is painfully thin at linebacker and cornerback where freshmen stand a great chance of filling in the two-deep, perhaps starting.
“The No. 1 thing is for us to put our best 11 fast, physical football players on the field,” defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “We will rely on hard work and determination. We can’t control who that young man is. Players will dictate that. The ones who practice at a high level will be the first ones to go on the field.”
Who’s the QB?
Inexperience is the dominant characteristic at the most important offensive position, quarterback.
Offensive coordinator David Lee says sophomore Barry Brunetti has the edge in a race among three transfers. Randall Mackey, who turned heads early in spring drills, is closer to Zack Stoudt than to Brunetti, Lee said.
None have been counted out. A clearer pecking order could come by the middle of camp.
“I would say Barry is ahead now. I like him. I felt his presence in the spring game. That’s the best way to put it. I didn’t have that feeling all spring long, but it weighs heavy on me,” Lee said.
Brunetti was 12-for-21 passing for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the spring game. He rushed seven times for 37 yards.
Quarterback is one of many positions that will feature a new name against BYU on Sept. 3.
Three days into camp that hasn’t shaken the belief system.
“Anything can happen. Look at Auburn. It’s not hard to believe,” Bolden said.