SEC: Ted Laurent
What’s new: With Kent Austin leaving for the Cornell head coaching job, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt brought in Dave Rader to be his co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. It’s still Nutt’s offense, so don’t look for the Rebels to change much on that side of the ball.
Sidelined: Defensive back Tig Barksdale has been dismissed from the team after being suspended for the spring. The Rebels are still waiting to hear on whether five signees made it academically -- receivers Vincent Sanders and Quadarias Mireles, defensive linemen Bryon Bennett and Delvin Jones and cornerback Tony Grimes.
Key battle: The Rebels feel pretty good about senior Markeith Summers as their starting split end, but they still need to settle on their other featured receivers. Senior Lionel Breaux, sophomore Jesse Grandy, redshirt freshman Ja-Mes Logan and sophomore Melvin Harris will be fighting it out for those spots.
New on the scene: Three junior college newcomers could play key roles this season. Damien Jackson made a ton of big plays in the spring and will push to be the starter at free safety. Wayne Dorsey enters the preseason as the starter at defensive end opposite Kentrell Lockett, and Nutt wants to get Randall Mackey the ball in several different spots on offense. Mackey was a quarterback in junior college, but may bounce around a little bit for the Rebels. Redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer will compete for a starting cornerback job. True freshman Mike Marry should play some at linebacker, while true freshman Carlos Thompson may be hard to keep off the field at defensive end.
Breaking out: Sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford showed enough flashes as a freshman that you knew it was just a matter of time before he became a marquee player in this league. That time may be now.
Don’t forget about: Senior nose tackle Jerrell Powe gets most of the publicity on Ole Miss’ defensive front and rightfully so. He’s one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league. But senior Ted Laurent is equally imposing in the middle of that defensive line and was named the Rebels’ most improved defensive player in the spring.
All eyes on: Senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Nobody in the SEC, maybe the country, will have more eyes on him than Masoli, the star of the Oregon team until he was dismissed following his second run-in with the law. Nutt said Masoli’s on a zero-tolerance leash. But if he stays out of trouble and plays the way he did at Oregon, he’s just the kind of playmaker the Rebels are looking for on offense. Masoli still has to beat out sophomore Nathan Stanley for the job. Stanley exited the spring as the starter, although he doesn’t have any meaningful experience. Nutt’s probably not going to thrust Masoli to the top of the depth chart right away, but he also didn’t roll the dice on a player with Masoli’s baggage to have him sit on the bench and serve as a backup all season.
Quoting: “Nobody gave us a chance when coach Nutt first came in. I think we do really well when we don’t have a lot of expectations.” -- Ole Miss nose tackle Jerrell Powe
Strongest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: Senior end Kentrell Lockett (39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, 13 quarterback hurries), senior tackle Jerrell Powe (34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks), senior tackle Lawon Scott (24 tackles), senior tackle Ted Laurent (12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss), senior tackle LaMark Armour (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks)
Key departures: End Marcus Tillman (31 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks), end Greg Hardy (16 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, five sacks), end Emmanuel Stephens (22 tackles, 7.5 tackles, 5.5 sacks)
The skinny: The Rebels have tackles coming out of their ears, four seniors to be exact who’ve played a lot of football. Powe is the leader of the group, and this may be the season that he becomes an every-down, dominant force. He showed signs of that last season. The best thing Ole Miss has going for it up front is that it will always have an experienced guy inside on the field. Powe, Scott, Laurent, Armour and Justin Smith all know their way around this league. Lockett returns as the Rebels’ top pass rusher from his end position. They were second in the SEC last season with 36 sacks and led the league with 96 tackles for loss. Finding a complement to Lockett on the other side was one of defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix’s concerns, but he feels better about that after watching junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey come into his own this spring. There’s still another level Dorsey needs to get to. Physically, though, he’s exactly what you’re looking for in a defensive end in this league.
Weakest position: Cornerback
Key returnees: Senior Jeremy McGee (19 tackles, one interception), junior Marcus Temple (16 tackles, one interception)
Key departures: Cassius Vaughn (56 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups), Marshay Green (29 tackles, four pass breakups)
The skinny: One of the Rebels’ priorities going into the spring was to solidify their cornerback positions, particularly after losing their two starters from a year ago, Vaughn and Green. Nix was encouraged by redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer's performance this spring, and Sawyer put himself in a position to be a starter. He has very good ball skills and had a pair of interceptions in the Grove Bowl spring game. Of course, it’s never ideal in the SEC to be breaking in a first-year starter at cornerback. McGee played a good bit last season and will likely start at the other cornerback position. Temple will also battle for a starting spot and factors in as the Rebels’ nickel guy in passing situations. Nix will hold his breath and hope nobody gets hurt at cornerback. There’s very little depth and even less experience. One guy to watch is incoming freshman Cedric Smith of Prattville, Ala. Smith has a chance to come in and play right away, and the Rebels may need him to.
Strongest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: Kentrell Lockett, Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott, LaMark Armour, Justin Smith
Key departures: Marcus Tillman, Greg Hardy, Emmanuel Stephens
The skinny: If junior college newcomer Wayne Dorsey is as good as the Rebels think he is, then they have a chance to be even better than they were last season in the defensive line. The 6-6, 255-pound Dorsey will step in at the end opposite Lockett and has all the tools to be a dominant pass-rusher. There’s not much proven depth behind him at end, but Ole Miss will again be one of the deepest teams in the country at tackle. Powe returns as one of best interior linemen in the league. Lockett and Powe combined for 22 tackles for loss last season, including eight sacks. The good news for the Rebels is that they have enough quality interior defensive linemen that they should always have a fresh guy in the game. You win with muscle up front in the SEC, and the Rebels have plenty of it.
Weakest position: Quarterback
Key returnees: Nathan Stanley, Raymond Cotton
Key departures: Jevan Snead
The skinny: The silver lining to Snead’s disappointing season last year was that he would at least have his senior season to put everything together. He was brilliant as a sophomore, but threw an SEC-high 20 interceptions last season as a junior. But after the season, he surprised most people by announcing he was turning pro, which leaves sophomore Nathan Stanley and redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton to duke it out for the starting job this spring. Neither has any meaningful experience, and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said this week that getting them ready to play in the SEC next season would be the biggest challenge of their coaching careers. Stanley has at least played some in a mop-up role and probably has the advantage, but Nutt said it would be an open competition. When junior college transfer Randall Mackey arrives this May, he will also get a shot. Mackey is more of an athlete and should fit nicely into the Wild Rebel package.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
One of the biggest questions about one of the biggest players at Ole Miss has been answered this spring with promising results.
Defensive tackle Jerrell Powe appears to be in some of the best physical shape of his career. He said he's lost more than 20 pounds from where he was at the Cotton Bowl last season and hopes to keep losing. He said he's down to 321 and has a target weight of 310 by the fall.
"I don't think [the weight] is hard to get off, but it's hard to turn down a meal after practice," joked Powe, a highly rated prospect coming out of high school who had to sit out two years for academic reasons.
He admits that the layoff hurt him more than he thought it would, but that everything is starting to come back more naturally this spring.
"I'm a lot quicker, but I'm still getting the rust off," Powe said.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has noticed a big difference.
"He's a lot harder to block in these scrimmages," Nutt said. "He's penetrating and doing what we need him to do. He has a lot more confidence. [Last year], he just wasn't ready after being away from the game.
"Now, after a year in the offseason weight room with coach [Don] Decker, the weight loss and more knowledge of what we want done, it makes it a lot easier."
If Powe does indeed emerge as a solid contributor next season, the Rebels should be as good and as deep as anybody in the country on the defensive line.
Tackles Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott and Justin Smith return along with both starting ends from last season, Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman.
And that's not even counting end Greg Hardy, who had a team-high 8.5 sacks in nine games last season. He's been sidelined this spring while recovering from foot surgery, but should be out of the walking boot later this month and running again.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
David Brandt of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger asked the question recently that all football fans have about their respective teams.
In this case, who throws around the most weight on Ole Miss' team?
The answer is offensive tackle John Jerry and defensive tackle Ted Laurent. Jerry, working this spring as the starting right tackle, has bench-pressed as much as 480 pounds. Laurent, vying for one of the starting defensive tackle jobs, can squat 660 pounds.
Final UCF 10 20 Missouri 38 Final Massachusetts 31 Vanderbilt 34 Final Arkansas 49 Texas Tech 28 Final 6 Georgia 35 24 South Carolina 38 Final Louisiana-Lafayette 15 14 Ole Miss 56 Final Mississippi State 35 South Alabama 3 Final Southern Miss 12 3 Alabama 52 Final Louisiana-Monroe 0 10 LSU 31 Final/3OT Kentucky 30 Florida 36 Final Tennessee 10 4 Oklahoma 34 Final Rice 10 7 Texas A&M 38