BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – Weak side linebacker Jonathan Cornell will likely miss the Vanderbilt game, Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said Monday.
A sophomore from Azusa, Calif., Cornell left the Rebels' 38-25 loss to Missouri late in the first quarter with what was described as an injury to his left arm.
Cornell's absence and matchups against the Tigers' spread offense pressed reserves Brandon Thomas and Jamie Phillips into more action than they would have received otherwise.
Orgeron indicated he would try different players at linebacker this week in practice.
One of those will not be strong safety Jamarca Sanford – at least not officially. Orgeron said Sanford has expressed a strong desire to remain in his position, but defensive coordinator John Thompson reserves the right to call formations in which the strong safety lines up like a linebacker.
Guarding against the spread offense has helped Orgeron to prioritize some recruiting needs for 2008.
“We are thin at linebacker, and we have to recruit more safeties and linebackers with speed,” he said. “We have enough big linebackers. We need faster linebackers on our team.”
The speed of departed linebackers Patrick Willis and Rory Johnson was critical in the Rebels' 17-10 win over Vanderbilt last year, Orgeron said.
– Coaches indicated in August camp that their top three running backs – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bruce Hall and Cordera Eason – would all carry the ball.
With Hall injured for the Missouri game, Green-Ellis carried 33 times for 226 yards, the sixth-highest rushing total in school history.
Eason, a sophomore from Meridian, carried once and lost yardage when Missouri surged from the left side of the Rebels' line.
Orgeron later expressed concern that Eason carried down near the Tigers' 10-yard line but said he has confidence in Eason, who is the likely successor to Green-Ellis next year.
“We like Cordera, but he hasn't proven himself in a game yet,” Orgeron said. “Our games are so close, it's hard to give a guy a chance to go prove himself. It might be the difference in winning and losing.”
Waiting on McCluster
– Orgeron said it is extremely unlikely that he would consider a redshirt for injured wide receiver Dexter McCluster.
“No, and he wouldn't consider it either unless we absolutely have to,” Orgeron said. “We are not going to rush him. We'll be very careful with him, and hopefully when he comes back, he'll be able to perform.”
McCluster had 15 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown in five games last year. He has not played since sustaining head and shoulder injuries on the opening kick return against Vanderbilt last Oct. 7.
He is sidelined with a shoulder injury right now.
– Orgeron confirmed that walk-on linebacker Todd Cox has left the team and will likely transfer to Memphis. Cox is a former Tennessee signee. Ole Miss hasn't won its season opener since beating Vanderbilt 24-21 in Nashville in 2003. Rebels quarterback Seth Adams is currently third in the SEC in passing yards per game (253 ypg) and sixth in pass efficiency (134.8 rating).