March 31, 2009

Versatile Breaux poised for breakout season

No one else seems quite ready to agree, but Lionel Breaux believes he's almost as fast as departed Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Wallace, as was displayed at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, can flat-out fly, running a sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash routinely.

Breaux, a 6-foot, 191-pound junior from New Orleans, said Monday he's "pretty much there," speed-wise as compared to Wallace. His coaches disagree with a smile, but no one on the Rebels' staff underestimates the breakthrough Breaux just might make in Wallace's absence this fall.

"Everybody's been talking about it -- who's faster, me or Mike Wallace," said Breaux, who finally admitted Wallace would likely win a foot race by "a little bit. But it really doesn't matter to me. I just go out there and just compete."

Even with Wallace gone, Ole Miss' receiver corps is still deep, talented and explosive. Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge are clearly the starters, but Breaux and Markeith Summers are getting significant reps while Andrew Harris is maturing into his immense physical skills every day.

"As a group, we're growing," Breaux said. "We're trying to take a rise up instead of going down. Basically, I'm just working out, getting on the field and working on route-running."

Breaux's modesty and work ethic have endeared him to the Rebels' staff. Breaux was a star on special teams last season, making a huge play on a fake punt in a win at Florida and serving as one of the league's best coverage men on punts.

"I just take my role," Breaux said. "I was happy (Ole Miss special teams) Coach (James) Shibest gave me the opportunity to do that and make a big play for the team. I was proud of myself and proud of the special teams."

"Lionel wears a lot of hats," Ole Miss wide receivers coach Ron Dickerson Jr. said Monday. "He's a great player on special teams and he's a great team player. He's had to develop and he's worked really, really hard. Last year, he got in and made some key catches against Alabama, made a key catch against LSU. Lionel's one of the guys where you tell him to do something and he goes out and does it and tries to perfect it. That's where he is right now. He's perfecting his game and I think he's going to be a big factor in our offense.

"He's the Mad Hatter. That's what he is. You wish you had 105 of those guys that you say, 'Hey, I need you to cover a kick, but I need you to come back and block the corner and I need you to run the go route and then I need you to run down on a punt,' and then he looks at you and says, 'Yes, sir,' and then he goes out and does it.'"

Breaux might not have Wallace's blazing speed, but he showed some serious skills last season, starting five of the Rebels' 13 games and catching 12 passes for 178 yards while rushing three times for 16.

"Breaux comes in and out of breaks really good," Dickerson said. "What he doesn't have is that 4.2 speed but he can play the ball really well and he's patient in running his routes and playing the ball when it's in the air."

"He just needs to keep working on what he has been, getting in and out of breaks," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt added. "Play as fast as he did in shorts (at the start of spring drills last weekend) and just keep being consistent when he gets the ball."

That probably won't be an issue for Breaux. Showing up for work never has been.

"I'm just excited to be a top player helping the team out," Breaux said.

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