Meet one Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss' sophomore cornerback, the beneficiary of the game finally slowing down.
"I've been in a learning mode for a while now," said Sawyer after practice. "I'm not saying I have everything down pat - you can always grow and continue to get better, but I am comfortable back there now."
Sawyer had trouble finishing plays in spring ball. Translation: He'd be in good coverage position to make plays on the ball, but would lose the receiver or the ball at the last instant.
New Secondary Coach Keith Burns' style and Charles' maturity are starting to solve those issues.
"Coach Burns teaches an aggressive style of play where we are always hawking the ball. He preaches it every day and we are listening," Sawyer said. "He's help me become more aggressive and helped me widen my vision. Everything is like second nature now and that has allowed the game to slow down to me.
Sawyer sees a difference not only in himself but in the defense overall.
"We're coming together more as a unit. We have a chance to be pretty godo this eyar. We are more aggressive and up-tempo. We have more competition out here and that will make us all better," noted Sawyer.
Sawyer and the rest of the squad went through a hot practice session Wednesday afternoon in full pads.
Most of this week has been a little cooler, but Wednesday, the heat, humidity and bright sunshine returned.
"It was hotter today, but we had another good day," said Coach Houston Nutt. "That's back-to-back for us and that's what you like to see. Our installs are over and we are starting to see better results now. We pushed through the heat.
"Some of our younger guys are growing up and some of our older guys are really stepping up now. Guys like Kentrell Lockett, Brandon Bolden, Joel Kight, Brandon Bolden, Bradley Sowell, Ferbia Allen, Enrique Davis - they are starting to assert themselves as the leaders. that's good to see. It was just another overall good day."
Nutt said the only negative right now are the number of defensive injuries they are dealing with.
"It's aggravating to have a pull here, groin or hamstring there, but we don't expect them to be out long. We just need them out here now," he noted.
Barring the injuries, how does Nutt feel about the overall conditioning of the team at this point?
"After the first week, I wasn't happy with the conditioning. We gave them some time off before they reported to camp and we expected a little drop off in conditioning," Houston stated. "We've been grinding them in camp. No huddle, two-minute drills, running them hard - so now I feel we are in much better shape. We're getting to where we need to be."
The past few years, the Rebels have been blessed with some pretty good holders for placements - Rob Park, Justin Sparks, Richie Contartesi come to mind quickly. This year, PK Bryson Rose will have another holder to work with - sophomore backup Punter Chris Conley. Chris was Richie's understudy last year and Rose is pleased with him as the season approaches. "We've got it down. Chris is doing a good job. (Backup QB) Robert Ratliff has also done a good job there, but Chris is who I have worked with the most," said Rose. Conley has some big shoes to fill. The Rebel placekickers have been spoiled the past three or four years. Conley believes he's ready to keep spoiling them.
* The kickers, snappers and punters always come out to practice 30 minutes before the rest of the team to get in a little extra work and to get loosened up, but when the rest of the team starts trickling out of the locker room, one particular player is always the first out. Freshman Wide Receiver Donte Moncrief. Seems like he can't wait to get to practice.
"(Center) Chase Hughes has really made some strides, he just needs to get his shotgun snaps more consistent. And I like all the freshmen - Justin Bell, Mitch Hall and Ethan Hutson. They are just young and need work out here and in the weight room." The starters and freshman Aaron Morris have been getting all the ink in the early going, but some others are developing as well. It's all about building depth.
* PK Bryson Rose hit the crossbar from 70-yards out in pre-practice drills. He had a slight helping crosswind, but not much. His leg has gotten progressively stronger each year. When he first came to Ole Miss three years ago, his outside range was 55 yards.
* A lot of fans want to know about the progress of freshman S/OLB Denzel Nkemdiche. You'll have to wait a little longer. After his first day, when he showed some excellent promise and potential, he pulled a hamstring and has been slowed with that since. He's practicing, but not going through many full-speed drills. We'll keep you posted.
* Once again, in early drills, Randall Mackey was taking the most snaps with the number one offense but Barry Brunetti and Zack Stoudt also split some reps with the ones as well. But it was Brunetti and Stoudt who drew Nutt's prasie Wednesday. "Barry jumped back up today. Zack threw the ball really well. I was proud of both of them. It's just a reallty competitive deal right now. Seems like each day someone else has a real good day," he explained.
* It is doubtful both freshmen safeties, Cody Prewitt and Chief Brown, will play this season. One will most likely redshirt, we're guessing. Which one? Right now, there's a good battle going on between the two. So far, Cody, who is already 210 pounds and runs very well, is a nose ahead. Chief is also producing and doing a good job, so we aren't counting him out. Today, however, the nod would go to Cody, by a whisker.
* CB Senquez Golson was expected back for Wednesday's practice, but apparently his return to Ole Miss was delayed a day due to some issues with his vehicle. The coaches said he will be back for Thursday's practice. "He's on his way," said Nutt.
* Surprise, surprise. Due to several injuries on the DL, and due to the crowd at running back, FB/TB Nick Parker was moved to defensive end in Wednesday's practice. Nick was wearing number 91 instead of his usual #4. Will it stick? Too early to tell.
* One DT who has stayed healthy, knock on wood, who has had health issues in the past, is senior DT Justin Smith, who has been running with the one defense for over a week. "He's another senior who is playing well, providing good leadership, staying healthy and just generally getting it done. I am very proud of him. He's been real tough in camp," noted Nutt. "With Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant out right now, Justin, Carlton Martin, Corey Gaines and Bryon Bennett have had to carry a heavy rep load and they have done it. We need those other two back through.". . . . Smith is proud of what he has accomplished so far. "I started off with the twos after having a so-so spring. I worked hard in the summer and have regained some confidence. There is a lot of competition on the DL, so that's made us all better," Smith said. "I have focused really hard on fundamentals and I think I am more mature now. I know my assignments and am working hard. I just have to keep giving the effort and, most importantly, stay healthy. I am 100 percent and feel great. I had a little hamstring tweak early in camp, but I fought through it and that's important to me. I want to be healthy so I can help lead the team my last year."
* Patrick Junen remained at the number one left guard Wednesday after sharing that spotlight with Aaron Morris Monday and regaining the slot Tuesday. Morris is at number two RT behind Bobby Massie.
* It appears the right end situation has turned into a 1A and 1B deal with Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley. They seem to be splitting time with the ones now. Good situation.
* Not practicing: DT Gilbert Pena (broken hand), DT Uriah Grant (groin), DE Carlos Thompson (hip flexor), LB Ralph Williams (ankle), DE Jason Jones (knee), OL Josh Tatum (concussion) and WR Melvin Harris (back spasms). TE Alex Williams is out for the year with a torn ACL. . . . On the good side of the injury situation, MLB Mike Marry returned to practice Wednesday. Marry has been out with a pulled hamstring for over a week.
* Workers were putting up the new script Ole Miss on the West side of the stadium today to replace the old painted on helmet. So far, they have "Mi" up.
* Saturday's scrimmage will be at 6 p.m. after Meet The Rebels.