Veteran Rebels report amid raised expectations

OXFORD – Ole Miss players have heard since the end of the 2008 season of the high expectations many college football observers have for them this season.
They heard it again Sunday night, but the observer was their head coach, and the tone was more cautionary than praising.
“Just because people are saying nicer things about us this preseason versus last preseason means nothing,” said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, beginning his second year with the Rebels. “It’s what you do out on the field now, how you get better, your attitude, your work ethic. Those are the things we’re concerned with.”
Nutt and his staff can address those concerns beginning today at 5:45 in the team’s first practice. Early camp workouts are open to the public.
The Rebels have been idling, eager to get on the field while many of their SEC rivals have begun practice.
“It is what it is, but I like the way we have it,” Nutt said. “I like when school starts, and the whole thing. We don’t have to worry about class for a couple of weeks.”
All players are available to begin practice, even those held out of spring drills like senior defensive end Greg Hardy and redshirt freshman wide receiver Melvin Harris.
Hardy and senior utility player Dexter McCluster survived a fiery car crash in July in which Hardy tweaked the surgically repaired foot that caused him to miss spring drills. He injured the foot with a hairline fracture last preseason and, though effective for short series of plays, was never able to go long stretches in games in 2008.
“We will take it slow with Greg and see what he can do,” Nutt said.
McCluster, the offensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl, had 1,280 all-purpose yards last year, doubling the output of his first two seasons in which injuries limited him to 14 games. He played in all 13 games last season. Nutt began to use McCluster at tailback in the back half of the year, a trend that should continue.
“I still want to use him at tailback. He’s too exciting and dangerous there, and he’s just now starting to get a feel for tailback at this level. I’m not talking about 25-30 carries, but we’ll use him a lot like we did last year.”
Harris, at 6-foot-6, offers intriguing possibilities. Nutt was disappointed to lose the more relaxed learning pace of spring drills with the redshirt freshman.
The pace quickens this month as the Sept. 6 season opener at Memphis approaches.
“We feel so much better compared to this time last year, because we know more about our guys, and they know what to expected. We’re very excited about this camp,” Nutt said.

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal