2011 Ole Miss Football: Ten Players That Need to Step Up Their Game
After winning the Cotton Bowl in back-to-back seasons, Houston Nutt and the Ole Miss Rebels took a big step backwards in the 2010 season, going 4-8. The season opened with a humiliating loss in Oxford to Jacksonville State that set the tone for the rest of the season. Some other season lowlights include: the Jeremiah Masoli controversy, a home loss to Vandy, and a second straight beat down from rival Mississippi State.
Most people have the Rebels pegged to finish last in the West and towards the bottom of the SEC this coming season, but the Rebels hope to get back to a bowl game in 2011. If they plan on doing that, they are going to need some players step up and make that happen.
Here are the players that can get the Rebels going in that direction.
Harris will be relied upon heavily in the passing game in 2011 with the transfer of Jesse Grandy and the graduation of Markeith Summers and Lionel Breax. He is now the veteran of the receiving corps, as he was second on the team in receptions (30), receiving yards (408), and receiving touchdowns (3) last season.
He has the size (6’6", 210 lbs) and ability to be a very good receiver in the SEC, but will need to become more consistent and straighten up off the field, as he was suspended for last year’s Egg Bowl for breaking team rules.
After coming off the best year of his Ole Miss career, Bolden is poised to take his game to the next level. With the entire offensive line returning, look for Bolden to rush for over 1,000 yards this season.
Bolden is one of the most underrated players in the SEC. Despite playing behind Dexter McCluster for two years, he managed to rush for over 500 yards in each of those two seasons before rushing for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010. He also led the team in receptions (32) to go along with 3 receiving touchdowns, so don’t be surprised if he catches a lot of passes next season. He has shown big play capability with long touchdown runs of 50 and 71 yards last year, but is more of the consistent work horse type player.
The once rich and plentiful defensive tackle position at Ole Miss has been depleted. The first and second string defensive tackles are all gone from last year. Gilbert Pena hopes to come in and help out the defensive line immediately.
Pena is a JUCO transfer from ASA Institute that shows surprising quickness and athleticism for such a large man. At 6’2", 336 lbs, it is likely that Pena will draw the attention of opposing players next season. He has the ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage and make plays in the backfield, as he had 17 tackles for loss coupled with five sacks in 2010. The Rebel defense could benefit tremendously if Pena doesn’t have problems adjusting to the speed and physical play of the SEC.
In 2010, the Rebels were one of the worst teams in the country against the pass. The pass defense could improve greatly if Damien Jackson continues to build on his success from last season. Jackson played well in 2010, but there were some growing pains. He still managed to come in second on the team with 68 tackles.
After getting an SEC season under his belt, look for Jackson to step up and play better. He plays very aggressively and has a physical presence on the football field. He dishes out some pretty jarring hits as well—just ask a couple of Kentucky players that were likely seeing stars shortly after seeing a flash of Jackson flying around the field.
Sowell will be the leader of an offensive line that returns all the pieces from a 2010 group that was shuffled many times before it solidified. Look for the offensive line as a whole to be much improved from last season, but expect Sowell to be a much better player as he enters his third season as a starter.
In 2009, he received a lot of harsh criticism for his play, especially against Eric Norwood and South Carolina, but he rebounded and played well enough to earn second team All-SEC honors. He has been playing much better ever since and has recently said that he intends to be a more vocal leader this year.
Scott is a nice change of pace back to compliment Brandon Bolden. He is very small, but is extremely quick and can hit the homerun. Just ask Auburn; Scott ripped off an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game against the Tigers.
He rushed 66 times for 429 yards last season as a true freshman while averaging 6.5 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. With the departure of Jesse Grandy, he will figure to be a much bigger part in the punt and kick return game as well.
This 5’11",175 lb sophomore corner looks to help the secondary by building on his freshman campaign in which he intercepted two passes. The Ole Miss defense as a whole only intercepted six passes all season. Sawyer also had 49 tackles and 2 pass break-ups.
Nutt has spoken highly of him and his football abilities since last spring, and Sawyer appears to be a young player that this Ole Miss team will use as a building block for the future. It is time for Sawyer to step up and help close some of those holes in the secondary.
Much was expected of Dorsey last year in replacing DE Greg Hardy, but Dorsey struggled to catch on and play like he is capable of, only netting twelve tackles and one sack. If the defensive line expects to make its return as a primary team strength, then Dorsey will have to turn his play up.
He has great size (6’6", 265 lbs) and athleticism, but adjusting to the speed of the SEC was a problem area. He should benefit from his experience last season and from practicing against a better offensive line this spring.
The Rebel defense suffered a huge blow when D.T. Shackleford went down with a knee injury this spring. This was a huge loss not just because of his physical ability, but also because of his leadership and locker room presence.
The return of Lockett should help the Rebels tremendously because he is not just a huge pass rush threat, but he is a very vocal leader and a player that the team can rally around as well. In 2009, Lockett had 39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, and 13 quarterback hurries. He was the Chucky Mullins award recipient in 2010 and figured to be a huge factor in the Rebel defense, but went down early with a knee injury and missed the majority of the season.
He was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and has been given a new start for his football career. Look for him to make the most of his second chance when the 2011 season starts.
Randall Mackey is a talented, athletic option the Rebels have at QB. Mackey is known for his feet, but has a big arm as well. He has the potential to run the Wild Rebel very successfully. Mackey red shirted last year so there should be no learning curve as far as knowing the system is concerned.
His accomplishments at the JUCO level are well known. He garnered All-American honors over Cam Newton, led his team to a state title, and accounted for over 7,000 yards in two seasons. He turned heads this spring and appears to be the front runner for the starting quarterback job, but has two other quarterback hopefuls nipping at his heels.