They'll have to find a new quarterback, learn a new offense, fill holes at wide receiver, figure out who can play in the defensive trenches, try to work with a lean secondary and develop leadership, all while meshing the habits and techniques of three new coaches. Good luck with all of that.
Day 2: What's the bright side? Look for the positives.
Coach Houston Nutt has definitely helped himself with the additions on the staff. The only person on the planet he trusts to remove himself (mostly) from the offense is new OC David Lee, bolstered in the passing game by Wideout Coach Gunter Brewer, two guys who not only think like Nutt, but who have been there and done that. And on defense, Secondary Coach Keith Burns, it was easy to identify instantly, will have a major impact on his group and the overall defense.
Next, the most experienced group may be the running backs/fullbacks. A huge plus to get Brandon Bolden back in the fold after a mid-year flirtation with going pro. Enrique Davis only has one more shot to make an impression on NFL scouts.
I know it's in there somewhere. Jeff Scott is bigger, thanks to a good offseason, and that will help his confidence. H.R. Greer and E.J. Epperson have what it takes to be the roadgraders at fullback.
The linebacker unit has no seniors, but it has some veterans and some talented young players who are ready to take the next step and increase their roles. (D.T. Shackelford is the man in leadership.)
Day 3: Pads. Real football. Men-from-boys separation stuff.
Nutt declared and promised this spring would be "very physical" because he did not think his 2010 Rebs were hard enough, tough enough, for the SEC. It all started with a more intense offseason under the strength and conditioning staff.
Even though, with the installation process of the offense going on, it looked like controlled chaos, with players winging it the best they could while swirling in confusion, the hitting was crisp and frequent. The positions projected to be pretty good were and the ones needing work do.
Day 5: Scrimmage time! Some things will be sorted out for further review.
It's normal for the defense to start out spring ahead of the offense, which is what happened. It was clearly visible that while the Rebel stoppers are smaller in stature than a year ago, they will also be more active and will be able to create more chaos with their athleticism and speed. If everything holds up as anticipated, the unit will be faster. Now, if they can just piece it all together and get the back end of the defense more solidified and effective, not bad at all.
Day 8 – The walking wounded.
Nutt holds firm on his declaration that spring training would be very physical, almost brutal. It's taking its toll from an injury standpoint, which Houston knew was a distinct possibility. That's the price that had to be paid.
Senior DE Wayne Dorsey was doing better – concussion; RS freshman DT Carlton Martin had moved up the depth chart ladder - concussion; DE Gerald Rivers was making nice strides – knee; OL Josh Tatum didn't get a chance to do much – concussion; OLB Joel Kight was a number one – knee, minor surgery; DE Kentrell Lockett is still rehabbing – knee; WR Derrick Herman didn't practice any this spring – hamstring; and FS Damien Jackson had pretty much taken over that slot – shoulder stinger.
The Rebels are thin in some areas with all hands on board. Was the tradeoff to opt for a tough spring worth the risk of injury? Absolutely. There is no other way to develop the toughness required to compete in the SEC.
Day 9 – What happened?
In every spring scenario, there is usually a day of overload, of slacking effort, or of poor performance. It's just going to happen.
This was the day.
It got so bad, Nutt called practice off 20 minutes early and gave the team a stern lecturing, and that's putting it mildly. He was visibly upset and everyone on the field knew it. It would be extremely wise to get it right in the second scrimmage Saturday.
Day 10 – Scrimmage redemption.
The tongue-lashing Nutt gave the team on Friday served its purpose on Saturday in the second scrimmage. The effort was excellent and for the first time all spring – which is unrelated to the stern talking to – things appeared to be clicking mentally and the team, particularly the offense, was not showing the level of confusion previously exhibited in the installation of a new offense. They were not thinking as much – they were reacting and playing faster.
The run game, spurred by TB Enrique Davis, who was kicking tail and taking names, was very good; the receivers caught the ball far more efficiently and the defense was still flying around.
Day 11 – Nightmare.
Since January, OLB D.T. Shackelford had literally taken the team over from a leadership and defensive performance standpoint. Coaches use the term "bell cow" a lot. D.T. was the bell cow, not only of the linebackers and the defense, but of the whole team.
After that fateful Friday practice that was sloppy and uninspired, D.T. supported Nutt's admonishment with one of his own, and he could back it up with his habits on and off the field and with his results in both areas.
Out of nowhere, D.T. went one way and his knee went the other. Blown ACL. Surgery and 6-8 month rehab. Likely out for next season, likely taking a redshirt.
Shock waves – from top to bottom. Nutt was white as a sheet of 20-pound copy paper, the blood drained from his face when he saw it and anticipated the results.
How big a blow is this? Time will tell, but the immediate reaction was a huge "uh-oh." And the sadness felt by all for D.T. was palpable. Why does it seem that bad things seem to happen to good people? Maybe because they are strong enough to overcome them. D.T. is and will.
Day 12 – Rally time.
Not knowing what to expect in the aftermath of Shackelford's injury, we approached practice cautiously, but Nutt and the team did not.
They took a positive approach of someone-else-has-to-step-up and several tried to fill the void – DE Jason Jones, LBs Mike Marry and Ralph Williams to name a few – and the practice was right at the top of one of the better spring efforts.
It was crisp, it was clean and it was productive.
It just goes to show that sometimes adversity can bring people together and make others emerge as leaders. Certainly, that's just a one-day, emotional showing, but it's definitely a good start and the not the somber reaction one might expect.
P.S. – QB Randall Mackey started out spring training on fire, but tapered off some toward the end, which opened the door for a surging Zack Stoudt and quickly improving Barry Brunetti. We still have a quarterback race, one that won't be decided until fall practice.
QB Zack Stoudt had to sit out due to missing class, which denied fans and coaches one more look at the JUCO transfer.
Like several of the spring training practices, you could detect flashes of good things happening, but there was very little continuity and the playcalling was very vanilla.
So where do we stand?
One man's opinion. If you could somehow, someway take out the injury to Shackelford, it was a productive spring. The offense is in and now just needs fine-tuning. The influence of the new coaches is evident. For evaluation purposes, the coaches know all they need to know to move forward effectively. They have identified the team's strengths and weaknesses and can adjust accordingly as August approaches.
The injuries put a damper on the final grade, but overall, the Rebs were a better team at the end of the spring session than they were at the beginning. Much better.