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Rebels excited about getting to work

By By Jeff Byrd / staff writer
Aug. 8, 2002
OXFORD All systems are ready to go for the Ole Miss Rebels in 2002. That appeared to be the assessment of head coach David Cutcliffe here Wednesday at the Rebels' Media Day inside the Hollingsworth/Manning Memorabilia Room.
Ole Miss' veteran players reported back to campus on Tuesday and met with the state-wide media on Wednesday. The first, full-team practice will start today on the Ole Miss intramural fields.
Cutcliffe was upbeat about his team, especially when all 90 returning veterans passed their conditioning tests.
Leading the way for the Rebels is a potential All-America quarterback and preseason second team All-SEC pick in Eli Manning.
The Ole Miss defense was a source of concern last year. The unit allowed 156 points in the final four games an average of 39 points a game. Three of those games were losses, spoiling a solid 6-1 start.
Ole Miss finished 7-4 after beating Vanderbilt in the season-ender but missed out on a bowl for the first time in four seasons. The Rebels were picked to finish third in the SEC West in 2002 at the SEC Media Days.
Cutcliffe brought in a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Driesbach from Texas Christian.
The new defensive scheme will rely on a combinations of coverages.
Eddie Strong, the Rebels' defensive leader at strong-side linebacker, is looking for big things.
Perhaps an even bigger factor is that the Rebels will be able to add some new faces to the unit.
With 23 red-shirt freshmen moving up, the Rebels have 90 veteran players. The team has just 15 newcomers.
Cutcliffe, who is 23-13 in three seasons in Oxford, is also pleased that the new addition to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is near completion. The entire stadium is now enclosed and the additions will bring the seating capacity up from 50,577 to 60,580.
The team will spend the next three days in shorts and helmets. On Monday, the Rebels will don pads for their first contact work.
The season opener is set for Aug. 31 when Louisiana-Monroe visits.