Spring Practice, Day XI

The Rebs resumed spring practice Monday in the Indoor Practice Facility after taking Sunday off. Things were clipping along pretty good, until. . . . Read about it inside.

In every sports season, you can sense a defining moment.

The Rebs may have had that moment the eleventh day of spring training when OLB D.T. Shackelford - the emotional leader of the team - left the field with a knee injury, the severity of which is unknown right now, but that Coach Houston Nutt said "could be serious."

The scenarios are simple. The response, unknown.

If Shackelford's injury is not "bad," then there's nothing to fret about, obviously.

If tomorrow's MRI reveals something "serious," then the landscape for the Ole Miss football team changes dramatically.

Who becomes the leader? Who steps up? How will the team rally? Right now, it's all speculation.

Hopefully, it won't get to that. We'll see.

In the meantime, the Rebs continued to show some progress on the practice fields.

"I feel like each day, except for a couple of practices, we have gotten better," said Nutt. "The film from Saturday shows there was a lot of improvement from the first scrimmage a week earlier.

"The offensive line, the running backs, the quarterbacks and the receivers progressed. Enrique Davis was outstanding. Our fullbacks - H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson - showed improvement as well. Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie - excellent in their techniques and effort. Matt Hall has really stepped up for us at right guard. He has come a long way since he has been here. He's big, strong and he's learning quickly. A. J. (Hawkins) did a nice job at center and Alex Washington is doing fine, but he's got some competition in (Emmanuel) McCray, Patrick (Junen) and even Jared Duke, who is also playing on the right side. They did much better."

On the defensive side, Nutt said, all things considered, the scrimmage was OK.

"We had four or five potential starters on the sidelines - Carlton Martin, Wayne Dorsey, Damien Jackson, Gerald Rivers, Kentrell Lockett - so we got thin in a hurry," he explained. "(MLB) Ralph Williams showed up. Clarence Jackson is really making strides. Charles Sawyer made a step forward at CB and Wesley Pendleton is having a good spring over - he needs to keep coming.

"We need Damien back in there. His attitude and physical style are important to us. And D.T. was D.T."

Which leads us to today and D.T.'s situation.

"We just don't know right now. The MRI is tomorrow and we are hoping for the best. We won't know until after the MRI," Nutt said.

Toay, Nutt was impressed by the way QB Zack Stoudt threw the football.

"He was on target today. Very accurate today. Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti keep coming and they should thrive this week because we are installing shotgun this week where they are more natural," Nutt stated. "We had to get them under center first to get them comfortable with that and I have been proud of the way they have handled being under center. I have also been impressed with the way Randall has handled snap counts, huddle calls and all of that."

After Saturday's practice, OC David Lee hinted that there was a possibility of a two-QB system. Nutt did not refute that.

"It's still early but Mackey and Brunetti are different than Stoudt and Nathan Stanley. We've done that before when we were together and it's tough on a defense to prepare for different style QBs, but that's only if we have a great combination there," said Nutt.

The biggest reason the Rebs are showing progress right now, according to Nutt, is they are thinking less and are on "auto-pilot" more.

"We've thrown a lot at them. I'm proud that they have been able to retain most of it and are now playing faster. They are starting to get it, the reps are paying off and we are seeing some automatic pilot a little," he closed.

Random Notes:

* Everyone knows that safeties Brishen Mathews and Damien Jackson are very good at run support, but half of being a quality safety is being good in pass coverage as well. Where do they stack up? Damien has come a long way in that area since last fall, according to Nutt. Brishen has shown flashes as well, but needs to keep working on that part of his game. Frank Crawford has been the most effective ball hawk of the safeties, but he has to keep laboring on his run support. Bottom line? It's a work in progress but improvement has been shown.

* The walking wounded today were: Brandon Bolden (ankle), Wayne Dorsey (concussion), Gerald Rivers (knee), Carlton martin (concussion), Marcus Temple (sports hernia), Joel Kight (knee), Josh Tatum (concussion), Kentrell Lockett (knee rehab) and Kyle Horine (stress fracture of foot). No word yet on when they may return to practice or if some will participate in the Red-Blue Game Saturday.

* TB Jeff Scott injured his shoulder in the scrimmage Saturday but he was full speed at Monday's practice.

* OL Mike Brown had back surgery a couple of months ago. His rehab, we've been told, is not going real well. There is speculation Mike may need another surgery on his back.

* The OL has changed a little since the start of spring. Matt Hall has gone from backup RT to first team right guard; Patrick Junen is working primarily at LT now after starting off at left guard; Jared Duke is now backing up Hall at RG; Logan Clair, who started out as the number one RG, is working some now backing Massie at RT along with Terrell Brown; and Emmanuel McCray, who started out as the backup LT to Sowell, is now battling Tank Washington for the starting LG slot. Musical chairs continues.

* Ideally, you do not anticipate a 6-9 guy (Hall) being a guard, but Matt has worked extremely hard on his flexibility and can bend well enough to handle the position. He's big, strong and he's got a little "nasty" to him.

* Today, the Rebs started out in Red Zone offense and defense and Zack Stoudt took the first couple of series with the number one offense. Stoudt is making a move and closing the gap, it seems, on Mackey, who was clearly number one the first week or so of spring.

* Pass scale is a drill that gives the offense a distinct advantage. There is no rush on the QB, no linemen for the QB to see over or around and no bodies flying all around. You expect the offense to win a lot of those battles. Today, the secondary made its presence known with a couple of interceptions (by Sawyer and Pendleton) and with several knocked down passes and pass breakups. That had to be music to Keith Burns' ears.

* The Rebs will practice Tuesday around 4 p.m. and the session will be open to the public.

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