COLUMN: Randall Mackey bounced around the turf of Jerry Hollingsworth Field on Saturday, smiling and joking with teammates and friends alike under a clear Mississippi sky at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium — and rightfully so.
Minutes before, the former PARADE All-American and two-time NJCAA All-American, who is in a four-way battle for the right to quarterback the Ole Miss Rebels, appeared to take a step in the right direction during the first scrimmage of the spring.
After a week of practices has Mackey began to separate himself from the other three contestants? Officially the answer is no, according to Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt.
In talking to Nutt and offensive coordinator David Lee, however, it was clear one player stood out to both of them.
“Generally speaking I thought Mackey and (Barry) Brunetti had the best days,” Lee said. “I haven’t looked at the tape or graded it, but that’s just my initial observation.”
“I thought the quarterbacks each had their moments,” Nutt said. “Randall stood out today, but it’s early.”
Who is the common denominator from the two assessments? Mackey.
Mackey’s stats — 4-for-7 passing for 41 yards including a 9-yard touchdown to Korvic Neat and 12 yards rushing — were anything but gaudy.
But it’s his field presence and ability to find the correct receiver and the right time that made the 5-foot-11, 195-pound signal caller stand out.
“He is the most accurate guy we’ve got. He can hit what he’s aiming at if we give him a chance to set his feet and throw it,” Lee said. “He is oblivious to the rush, just absolutely oblivious. He sees nothing except what he’s throwing to down field and where he’s going to put the ball to give the receiver a chance to intersect it, better than all our guys right now.
“That’s why he’s the most accurate and why we move the ball so fast when he’s in there because he gives you a chance to catch the football when he’s in there.”
Mackey’s ability to extend plays and elude the pass rush wasn’t lost on junior transfer Zack Stoudt.
“One heck of an athlete. He does some things I can’t do,” joked Stoudt, who completed 6 of 14 passes for 43 yards and an interception. “He’s a good guy. You can see him run and move and it’s fun to watch him.”
Tough to defend
Rising senior Wayne Dorsey knows all too well about what Mackey brings to the football field.
After all, not only did he face Mackey quarterbacking the scout team last fall, he was also charged with the task of chasing after him for two seasons at junior college.
“I get tired of seeing Mack, man,” Dorsey joked. “I’ve seen him for four years now almost. He’s probably one of the most elusive quarterbacks I’ve ever played against and I’m excited that he’s on our team and we’re not facing him.”
A lot has been made during the offseason of what has held Mackey back — a speech impediment of which the origin is apparently unknown.
While Mackey was not allowed to answer questions regarding his disability, Lee said he’s noticed improvement even over the last couple of weeks.
“Better every day. I’m really proud of him. This isn’t easy. There’s a lot of plays on this wrist band,” Lee said, pointing to a sheet that’s covered in plays the quarterbacks must learn.
According to Lee, the team has installed around 75 percent of its offense, not including red zone and goalline packages, and a “speedball series.”
“The first five days was a lot of installing,” Mackey said. “Coach Lee threw a lot at us, he said he was going to do that. We’ve been working hard trying to get the offense right and working as a team.”
Like Nutt, Mackey was unwilling to name a leader in the race.
“We’re just going to compete with each other and let Coach Lee decide that one,” he said. “We all just go out there and do the best we can at practice.”
After another week on the practice fields like this one, it may not be required that Nutt officially name a starter.
By then it may be a foregone conclusion. (April 4, 2011, Page 6A)