It's almost real football. The preliminaries are almost over.
The Rebels donned shoulder pads and helmets today and the sound of the thudding means football is, almost, really here.
"We were a moving a little slower today with the shoulder pads on, but that's to be expected a little," said Coach Houston Nutt. "Despite that, we are developing some intensity on this team - especially on defense - that I like. It's not there all the time, but a lot.
"I thought our defensive line moved around real well today. Wayne Dorsey, Jason Jones, Carlos Thompson and Gerald Rivers all showed up. Also, DT Uriah Grant is showing he can be a strong force in the middle and will be able to help us.
"Our three young linebackers - Keith Lewis, C.J. Johnson and Sederius Bryant - also made a step forward. They are starting to show up a little more each day. They still get lost a lot, but they are coming. They are starting to see things, they are starting to run to the ball better as they recognize and they are getting off blocks a little better. They are starting to make a play here and there."
Nutt put the Rebel offense in some stress situations - it was third-down day.
"We put them in the worst situations we could - 3rd and 10, 3rd and 8, 3rd and short. That's a tough deal, but we have to see it and work on it and get it right," he explained. "We'll keep doing that as August progresses."
"He pushes the pile back. He's a strong guy who holds his gap well and gets off blocks," Nutt noted. "He's coming to the front. I like what we have seen."
Three Rebs left practice with issues. DE Kentrell Lockett was suffering from some tendonitis, but there is no structural damage to his knee. . . TB Brandon Bolden and TB Jeff Scott left late in practice from cramping up.
"All three of them are going to be fine," said Nutt. "With what Kentrell has been through with his knee, you expect a little soreness and tendonitis. He can deal with that. We may have to rest him a little along the way, but the knee is sound."
The Rebs also got some good news from the NCAA as practice was starting. Safety Denzel Nkemdiche was declared eligible by the NCAA after they questioned one class he took.
"That's some real good news. We are excited about that. He has to go through compliance, but I think he will be out here tomorrow if things go smoothly," said Nutt.
The quarterbacks struggled some Sunday, but Monday they looked a bit sharper. In pass skelly drills, Barry Brunetti was 6-9 and Zack Stoudt was 2-3, including a bomb to Melvin Harris.
"Yesterday, they were trying to force some things that weren't there and today you saw they worked underneath when the vertical routes were not open. Consequently, some more vertical routes opened and they hit them."
* While the heat has been a factor, the Rebel training staff is doing a terrific job of keeping the Rebs hydrated. In Sunday's practice, they used 3,300 pounds of ice and had several coolers full of "ice towels" players would wrap around their necks when they got too hot.
* Freshman OL Aaron Morris is already making an impression on OL Coach Mike Markuson. "He has a great punch, his feet are outstanding and he's got some natural talents you just can't coach," said Markuson. "Talent-wise, he's in our top eight already." Morris is backing up Bobby Massie at right tackle."
* In one-on-one pass drills, CB Charles Sawyer made Coach Keith Burns make a 30-inch vertical leap today on one play. Charles cut underneath a post pattern and picked off the pass. Burns jumped and shouted "Perfect! Perfect! That's it!" Sawyer struggled some in spring finishing plays, but so far this fall, he's finished more often.
* In warmups today, freshman Center Ethan Hutson, at 6-3, 312 pounds, stretched by doing full splits. For a man his size, that is amazing flexibility.
* Safty Aaron Garbutt has the arms of a linebacker, maybe a defensive tackle. Kid is put together right.
* Sunday, Gilbert Pena was running with the number one DL next to Carlton Martin at DT. Today, it was Grant, as Nutt said. That was the hope - when the Rebs put on some hardware, Grant, one of the three strongest players on the team, would rise up. So far, it's going according to plan.
* Right now, the number two OL is LT Emmanuel McCray, LG Tank Washington, C Evan Swindall, RG Jared Duke and RT Morris. Not bad, not bad at all.
* DE Carlos Thompson had back-to-back QB sacks in team drills. He is quick, quick, quick coming off the edge. All the sophomore needs now to start earning more PT is to get more physical against the run. Hopefully, his extra weight - he's gained 25 pounds since arriving at Ole Miss last summer - will help him achieve that.
* Once again, the freshmen wideouts showed their mettle and while it's easy to get caught up in the trio of Brassell-Moncrief-Singleton, and rightfully so, Collins Moore continues to impress with his hands. The kid catches everything and it doesn't matter how tight the coverage is. So far, impressive.
* The Rebs will be in shoulder pads and helmets again tomorrow and the practice will be very similar to today's. Wednesday - full pads.