March 25, 2008

McCluster ready for multiple roles

Dexter McCluster is sporting a brilliant smile these days.

After two injury-plagued seasons, the Ole Miss junior wide receiver is healthy. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound rising junior from Largo, Fla., is also emerging as a key component of Houston Nutt and Kent Austin's multi-faceted offense.

For example, McCluster is one of quarterback Jevan Snead's favorite targets. Plus, he's the quarterback in Ole Miss' "Wild Rebel" offense, a formation in which McCluster lines up at quarterback in the shotgun formation.
"I like it because there's nothing but speed in there," McCluster said Tuesday, minutes after the Rebels finished their fourth practice of the spring. "When I've got the ball in my hands, I get to show what I can do. It's fun. It's a lot of fun."

McCluster played some quarterback as a senior in high school, "but all I did was run the ball," he said with a laugh. "I never threw a pass."

McCluster is being used in much the same way Nutt used Darren McFadden at Arkansas. McCluster just wasn't aware of the Razorbacks' offensive wrinkle.

"Actually, I didn't know about the Wild Hog because I really didn't follow any other schools,'' McCluster said. "But he would tell me stuff he had for me every day he'd see me. I was excited about it and I was just up for the challenge."

On Tuesday, McCluster lined up as a running back in a single-back set behind quarterback Jevan Snead. He took a couple of handoffs, once breaking free for a long run and once being stopped behind the line of scrimmage by Ole Miss defensive tackle Ted Laurent.

"It's sort of like second nature," McCluster said. "I've been playing it all my life, so when he told me they wanted to put me at some running back, I was happy. My eyes lit up like a deer in the headlights. I was just ready to go out there."

The plethora of offensive formations has made practice fun.

"It's more exciting," McCluster said. "You want to go out there and show the coaches what you can do, but you want to have fun at the same time."

Like any quarterback, McCluster has already begun campaigning his coaches to throw more.

"Oh, yeah, I can throw it," McCluster said. "Hopefully, that's still to come."

As a freshman, McCluster caught 15 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, adding eight carries for 68 yards and a score. Last season, McCluster caught 27 passes for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding six carries for 63 yards. This season, McCluster has three goals -- improve on those numbers, stay on the field and serve as one of the Rebels' leaders.

"I'm a junior this year this year coming up," McCluster said. "I do want to step into a role as a leader. I feel like I can do it and I can do a lot to help this team this year. Staying healthy is my main goal this year."

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