Wednesday Practice Report

The Ole Miss coaches spent another day trying to ready the players who will be replacing the missing (injured) veterans. Read about it inside.

For Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt and his staff, it's hurry up time as the Rebs prepare for the Saturday morning SEC slugfest with Kentucky.

"We had a good Wednesday work day. We've got to get several new guys ready for an increased role in a hurry," said Nutt. "With several veteran players out of action, we're spending a lot of time getting their replacements up to speed.

"We got those guys a lot of reps trying to get their recognition up to par. They'll see different formations and the OL will see different fronts, so we have to get them ready and better."

Houston Nutt

Nutt is not discouraged, by any means, with that process.

"We'll get it done. We have guys who want to learn, we have cut back on some things we are doing and all the older guys still out there are helping them," said Houston optimistically. "We have to be careful not to flood them with too much. We have to pick and choose what we want to put on them. At the end of the day, you always feel like you have given them two or three things too much, but the goal is to stay simple and have them playing fast.

"I can see them gaining confidence. They are getting better. They certainly have to keep growing and they will have a real test Saturday, but I think they are ready to give it their best shot."

But even with Nutt's assurances that things will be OK, there has to be some concerns.

SS Johnny Brown (bruised knee/hamstring) will not play this weekend, leaving the safety position thinner and without their leader.

In his absence, JUCO Damien Jackson, who has played in all four previous games and has one start, will be in the starting lineup with senior Fon Ingram. The Rebels, however, prefer a three-man safety rotation and that third slot will now have to be filled by true freshman Brishen Mathews, who has played sparingly thus far.

Senior CB Jeremy McGee (concussion) was not participating in practice again Wednesday. If he does not come back tomorrow, the coaches are looking at increased exposure/playing time for true freshman Tony Grimes to go along with projected starter Charles Sawyer, a redshirt freshman, and Marcus Temple.

Grimes is excited about his opportunity.

"I come to practice to work hard every day and get better. I am gaining more confidence every day," said Tony. "I am starting to be able to stick to our receivers better and better, and I know they are good, so that boosts my confidence. I want to play aggressive and fast. You always have to go hard. You can't get away with some stuff on this level that you could in high school. If you make a mistake, or get lax, you pay dearly. I'm looking forward to playing against Kentucky. It's a challenge, but I'm ready to compete."

Without senior leader Kentrell Lockett (knee) and true frosh Carlos Thompson (groin) at defensive end, the Rebs will have to turn to Gerald Rivers to start in Lockett's place with backup duty from freshman Delvin Jones, who got his first action against Fresno State last week, and D.T. Shackelford, who has been use dsome at DE in certain situations this season.

Suddenly, a defense that was tabbed "experienced" at the start of the season has taken on a more youthful look as the teeth of the schedule stares the Rebs in the face.

Jeff Scott

On the offensive side of the ball, there's been a youth movement going on all year, and it continues.

With junior TB Enrique Davis (knee) out for 3-4 weeks and TB/WR Korvic Neat (hamtring) out for a couple of more games, most likely, the load gets heavier for freshman Jeff Scott and sophomore Rodney Scott, to go along with junior Brandon Bolden.

"Rodney was discouraged a little bit early on when he wasn't playing much, but the last three weeks he has worked extremely hard and he now realizes what Coach (Derrick) Nix has been telling him about being one play away is true," Nutt stated. "He's giving us great effort on special teams and he ran really hard against Fresno State."

And we all know the story on the offensive line with true frosh Patrick Junen now the starting left guard and junior Logan Clair, who has one start under his belt on this level, at right guard.

Despite all of that, Nutt's optimism does not fade.

"This is a big game. It's the last home game we have for a while and we need to win an SEC game to keep the ball rolling in the right direction," Nutt closed. "We will give it our best shot."

Random Notes:

* Who would qualify as the Rebs' "most versatile" player? Based on what they are asked to do in practice, it would have to boil down to five

Senior WR Lionel Breaux, who has to play all wideout positions and is also a special teams stalwart. It's not as easy as it sounds to leanr all four wideout slots but Breaux seems to do it with relative ease.

Sophomore WR Jesse Grandy is also the main punt returner and top kickoff return man, but he also works in practice as the quarterback in the Wild Rebel some. Lots of hats to wear.

"Jesse was a little tentative the first couple of weeks, but I'm starting to see the old Jesse emerge now. His punt return for a TD was beautiful - he broke two tackles at 165 pounds," Nutt stated. "He has to be a playmaker for us and we have to get him the ball more in routes at wide receiver. He's got the speed and I see things happening now."

Junior Tailback Brandon Bolden also lines up out wide and at fullback. He is also a backup on kickoff returns and punt returns in case of injury.

Even though he doesn't get as much playing time as Grandy, Bolden, or even Breaux, junior Derrick Herman is counted on big on special teams, and is practicing at tailback, wide receiver and in the Wild Rebel.

Sophomore D.T. Shackelford, one of the more dynamic players on the squad, is counted on heavily at all three linebacker positions and has even thrown his hat in the ring for defensive end play. Add to that his duties as the personal protector on the punt team and his value is difficult to measure.

Versatility is a powerful weapon in one's arsenal and the Rebels have several very versatile players.

* With former QB Romaro Miller's recent fan/game atmosphere letter spreading like wildfire, what has Nutt thought of the crowds in the first three home games?

"They were phenomenal in the first half. They were kind of like my team sometimes. Very good the first half, but finish, finish, finish," he said. "The first half was awesome. Energetic and loud, but we tailed off in the second half. But really, I'm not concerning myself too much with the crowd. I'm more concerned on how we finish so we can give our fans something to yell about."

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