Spring Practice, Day XIII

As the countdown to Saturday's Grove Bowl winds down, Coach Houston Nutt put his squad through a shorts-and-helmets practice session going over a lot of special teams work and running offensive and defensive sets. Read his thoughts about the Grove Bowl inside.

The Rebels spent most of Day 13 of spring training Thursday polishing up and getting ready for Saturday's 1 p.m. Grove Bowl.

Although the players were donned in shorts and shoulder pads, which eliminated any contact, Nutt was pleased with the practice session.

"We really got a lot of work done for being out here in shorts," said Nutt. "We came out and had good focus, we kept the ball on the ground and everyone played in a good football position."

Nutt was asked what he thought the defense has accomplished this spring.

"I think they are tougher and I think their attitude is much better," he continued. "We have been on this journey since January, to get the bad taste from our mouths, and to do that we have to improve, which they have.

"Our goal has been to get better fundamentally and they've done that. Body position, first step, things like that, we've gotten better. You look at guys like Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett and how much they have come on. Charles Sawyer, Mike Marry, Ralph Williams, Justin Smith, Ivan Nicholas, Wesley Pendleton, all the JUCO guys, Sam Noblin - the list of guys who have improved goes on."

On offense, the Rebels have installed a new offense. Retention is always a key in those situations.

"David Lee, Gunter Brewer, Derrick Nix, Mike Markuson and James Shibest have done an excellent job of teaching and it hasn't been easy when you change terminology and change a lot of plays," Nutt stated. "It's been a full day every day since when they came back in January, but that's good. That's what they are here for - go to school, get a degree and play the best football of their lives."

Before getting into the Grove Bowl, Nutt wanted to say a little more about the departure of QB Nathan Stanley, who has opted to transfer from Ole Miss.

"We appreciate everything he has done for us. Nathan has always been a class act and done what's right in school," Nutt stated. "He was raised the right way. I know how it is for a quarterback, from personal experience, they want to play and it's hard when you just have one ball. We are going to help him every way we can. A lot of people (schools) are already coming after him.

"I know he's going to get a degree, he's going to go play some ball somewhere. I have had other examples in my career like like him, Mike Cherry at Murray State being one. I really wish Nathan all the best."

Nutt is excited about the format of this year's Grove Bowl.

"We divided the teams up evenly with a draft. It should be fun. Hopefully nobody gets hurt and we have some fun," said Nutt. "We're just going to turn it loose and play and keep our fingers crossed.

"We've had a lot of injuries, but several of them have been flukes. Like D.T.'s and Bryon Bennett. Hopefully we have gotten all those flukish things out of the way and won't have any in the fall."

There is something at stake for the winner of the Grove Bowl, as Nutt explains.

"When they come to my house and eat this summer as a team, the losers have to serve the winners and clean up after the winners when they get through eating," Nutt smiled. "It's going to be good."

Random Notes:

* Philander Moore was signed as a return specialist, but he has turned some heads this spring at receiver as well. "He's much tougher and he's in better shape now. He's always had real good hands, but now he's playing faster. His routes are better and he's developed, " Nutt noted. "You see him getting confident in the offense. We can move him around a little now and that's exciting."

* D.T. Shackelford made his first appearance at practice, on crutches, since his injury and he was extremely upbeat. There were a lot of well-wishers patting him on the back and typically of D.T., he said "Don't count me out for BYU!" He's in great spirits, but they were lifted even more at the end of practice. The team was huddled listening to Nutt in the middle of the field. When it was time to break the huddle down, all the defensive players ran over to Shack and huddled around him. "Break us down, D.T.!" He did and it was awesome. That's respect and caring.

* WR Derrick Herman practiced full speed for the first time all spring. He's been out with a pulled hamstring. he will participate in the Grove Bowl. . . . OL Josh Tatum, who missed a lot of spring with a concussion, was also back on the practice field Friday.

* The word on LB Joel Kight's surgery is "successful, and he will be running (straight line) in three weeks." Good news.

* The Rebs will hold a coaching clinic all day Friday with the guest speaker being former Ole Miss Coach Billy Brewer and three state championship winners, including South Panola's Lance Pogue.

* Tonight is the annual Chucky Mullins Banquet at the IPF. Billy Brewer is the guest speaker. Brad Gaines, the player who Chucky hit on that fateful play that paralyzed the former Rebel, is here - again - to honor Chucky's memory. "I think this is the 20th banquet - I have never missed one," said Gaines. "His memory is just as strong to me today as it was the day it happened. I've got more wrinkles, and have put on a few pounds, but this is still one of the most important things I do every year." Brad Gaines - good people.

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