August 16, 2008

Eason fighting to keep starting job

Cordera Eason could have milked his trip to the dentist this week and taken Saturday night off.

The running back from Meridian, Miss., however, hasn't had any problems with his eyes. Eason has seen more than enough of Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas in the past two weeks, so he's plenty aware that his hold on the starting tailback job could be tenuous if he handed over too many repetitions to his freshmen understudies.

"I've been doing everything I can to hold onto the position," Eason said. "I've been holding onto the ball, which was a problem in the spring. I've improved on that a whole lot. That was my biggest problem. My blocking technique is good.

"It's been a pretty good battle. May the best man win."

Eason was one of the stars of Saturday's 61-play scrimmage inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. He had just three carries, but he made the most of them, picking up 56 yards and a touchdown against Ole Miss' second-string defense. Thomas had nine carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. Enrique Davis had eight carries for 40 yards. Bolden had a pair of carries for 13 yards and Derrick Davis had six rushes for 17 yards and a touchdown.

"He's taken off right where he left off," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said, referring to Eason. "He had an abscessed tooth. I've really admired his toughness and his work ethic. He knew those three freshmen coming in were really, really talented. I've been proud of the way he's been very steady. He's got to keep going for us."

Asked about how he plans to distribute the carries when Ole Miss opens the season in two weeks against Memphis, Nutt said he'll likely use a running back-by-committee approach.

"I like a stable," Nutt said. "I like a stable where you just keep going, 'Next,' and go to whoever's hot and fresh. I love that word, 'stable.'"

Thomas, who has been overshadowed a bit by Bolden and Enrique Davis during the first couple of weeks of camp, worked with the starting offense on Saturday.

"He deserves it," Nutt said. "He has worked himself and he is really deserving to work with that offensive line, so we got him on film tonight. I've been really proud of how far he's come."

It was conventional wisdom this summer that Thomas, who suffered an ankle injury during his senior season of high school, would be redshirted this season. That is no longer a certainty.

"I'd like to redshirt one but it's just hard right now to say," Nutt said. "You never know what's going to happen tomorrow, so we'll just keep them going."

Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead, playing just two series, was 6-for-7 passing for 46 yards. Backup Billy Tapp was 2-for-5 for 20 yards. Third-string quarterback Nathan Stanley's strong camp continued Saturday with his best performance yet. The freshman from Oklahoma was 12-for-16 passing for 164 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Lionel Breaux led Ole Miss' receivers with four catches for 38 yards. Freshman Melvin Harris had three catches for 44 yards. Tight end E.J. Epperson had two catches for 38 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown from Stanley. Ferbia Allen and Andrew Harris had two catches each, while Andy Hartmann, Bolden, Thomas, Gerald Harris, David Traxler, Ben Benedetto and Jacarious Lucas had one reception each.

"We're pretty confident," wide receiver Lionel Breaux said. "We've still got to work on things, but we're coming along good."

"Jevan is a guy we can trust," wide receiver Dexter McCluster added. "He's always in his playbook and trying to get better every day. When you have someone to get you the ball and has the poise to do it, that makes everything good."

STANLEY GETS PRAISE: Stanley still isn't ready for prime time, so to speak, but the freshman from Oklahoma has had a strong camp and appears to have a bright future in Oxford.

"If he can get in all the clock and signals, if Kent Austin were out there in the huddle with him, he'd be great," Nutt said, smiling. "But it doesn't work that way. So the game's moving fast, but what you can see when he's out there is he can spin that ball pretty good and he's accurate and he has escape-ability. I'm glad we've got him."

DEFENSIVE DEPTH KEEPS COMING: Ole Miss' defensive starters got the day off Saturday, providing an opportunity for some backups to make an impression. Nutt said defensive tackle Lawon Scott and outside linebacker Patrick Trahan caught his eye.

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said he "saw some good things, but overall, it wasn't good enough. I saw some turnovers. We created turnovers."

Like Nutt, Nix said he was impressed with Scott's play Saturday.

"He made some plays for us," Nix said. "He's backing up Marcus Tillman inside. I think he can be a quality backup."

Nix said Justin Smith has solidified his spot behind Peria Jerry. Freshman defensive end Gerald Rivers, Nix said, "would be redshirted if we made that decision today. A lot of that will be determined by injuries."

REBEL RAMBLINGS: Wide receiver Shay Hodge missed Saturday's festivities to attend his uncle's funeral. …Fullback Jason Cook has a slightly injured foot. He was wearing a boot Saturday as a precautionary measure. Nutt said Cook will be ready to play against Memphis. …Cornerback Jeremy McGee suffered a concussion early in Saturday's scrimmage. The hit that caused the injury resulted in a fumble. …Wide receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring) did not dress Saturday. Wallace said he will return to action Monday. …Nutt had high praise for wide receivers Markeith Summers, Lionel Breaux, Andrew Harris and Jacarious Lucas Saturday.

Nutt said the Rebels will remain physical in practice the next five or six days, but Saturday's practice was likely the final full-tackling session Ole Miss will have until Memphis comes to town.

"So far, we've had a really good camp," Nutt said. "I've been proud of them. But now we have to turn that corner. We go into (preparing for) Memphis now. We've got to go to work. We've got to get two groups ready to go."

INJURY REPORT: In addition to Wallace, Ole Miss' injury list Saturday consisted of defensive back Brandon Sanders (shoulder), defensive end Chris Bowers (knee), offensive guard Reid Neely (foot), fullback Dan Hoffman (knee), offensive lineman Bobby Peterson (ankle), defensive tackle LaMark Armour (knee) and defensive tackle Justin Sanders (ankle).

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