Proving Time

For a relatively young team, senior offensive lineman Bradley Sowell stands out.

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He's been there, done that. Sowell is a three-year starter at left tackle. He's experienced the ups and downs of the Southeastern Conference, what to expect come the team's season opener against BYU Sept. 3.

However, despite all the miles on his 6-foot-7, 315-pound frame, all the practices he's participated in over his career, he admitted Friday that no fall camp has been as physical as this one -- one full-pad practice after another.

"It's gone pretty well," he said. "It's been a lot tougher than the past years. We had a lot more practices. It's just longer and more physical. I feel like we've done good so far, but I'm ready to get to a game and see what we're all about."

Not that the extra work has bothered him, mind you. A long, grind-it-out month of practices have apparently reaped rewards. The much-maligned Ole Miss defense, which allowed the most points in the conference last season, has gotten better.

Well, at least to Sowell.

"The defense has gotten a lot better, and they've become a lot tougher to block. The pass rush is pretty quick," he said.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said the return of a few key members of the defense -- most notably linebackers Joel Kight and Ralph Williams, as well as defensive tackles Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant -- have helped the defense play faster this week.

Bradley Sowell
Chuck Rounsaville

And other players battling injuries practiced through the bumps and bruises. Ole Miss went light Friday, the team practicing in shoulder pads and shorts after three straight days in full pads.

"This was a really good day mentally for us," Nutt said. "Took the pads off of them after a very tough camp and went over a lot of kicking situations. Everybody was really concentrating today. I was impressed with how they went about things. Still a little dead-legged, but we'll get back. Looking forward to tomorrow's rehearsal.

"(The defense) came back strong towards the end of the week. Wesley Pendleton fought through some things, Mike Marry's been fighting through a hamstring (injury). They've been fighting through it, so I've been pleased with how they've been going about it. And Ralph came back, so that's been good."

More than anything, though, Sowell said the better play defensively over the last week or so of preseason camp has come from the improvement of some of the veterans who will be counted on to produce this season.

"I think (Wayne) Dorsey has come miles," he said. "He's become one of the hardest ones to block out of all of them. I just feel like they're getting a lot more physical. They're doing a lot better against us than they were at first.

"He's so much faster this year. He's tough to block. I feel like he's going to have a breakout year. He's my guy to have a breakout year."

Ole Miss will hold a game-like scrimmage Saturday inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Nutt said the scrimmage will cover all aspects of game day, from the pregame locker room routine, to in-game substituting.

"Everything from A-Z," Nutt said. "You have all new freshmen. We start with the locker room, how we want the locker room -- the temperament there, what's being said, how you take the field, who goes out first to warm up. We go through the whole routine: where we stretch, where we warm up, so everybody knows what to do.

"And we'll play it like a ballgame. Everybody in the press box, and just have basically a routine game. Whole script. What helps is you learn how to substitute, and you see where your freshmen are as far as alignment, substituting and those things. This is a really important day."

The scrimmage will be full speed, but without tackling to the ground.

Chuck's Random Notes:

* Is it finally Derrick Herman's time? Herman has been injured some during his career, beaten out some during his tenure and has changed positions a couple of times. It appears Herman has now found a home at slot wide receiver, and is currently holding down the number one spot. He's also the lead blocker in the two-deep kickoff return formation. It's a little surprising he's the number one slot, simply because he missed all of spring training with a pulled hamstring while others were practicing and trying to impress new wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer. Herman has had to make up a lot of ground due to his absence since then. Apparently he's done so. Is it his time? We'll see soon enough.

Houston Nutt
Chuck Rounsaville

* DT Gilbert Pena got a little relief today with the big cast on his hand. For a few days, due to recent surgery on the hand he broke in the first scrimmage, Pena was practicing with a Patrick Willis-type club. Today, he's was in a hard cast that freed up his fingers and allows him to use the injured hand more effectively while still protecting it.

* DT Uriah Grant declared himself "100 percent healthy" today at practice. He missed several days the past week or so with a pulled groin, but he came out on the field for practice smiling and making the healthy declaration.

* DE Carlos Thompson, who suffered with a hip flexor issue for about a week, is also 100 percent healthy and ready to roll as the first game approaches quickly.

* Big Terrell Brown, for now, is practicing exclusively at defensive tackle. The experiment was first tried about a week ago, moving the big man from the offensive line. Apparently the coaches like what they saw and are now giving him a shot to be a defensive stopper. Nobody moves him out. . . .

* TE Ferbia Allen (hyperextended knee) is set to make a return to practice Saturday. It's a light workout, so it will be a good time to loosen the knee up and see where he stands with it.

* WR Melvin Harris (back) and DE Jason Jones (knee) are still out. No information on when they might return. "Still hopeful," Nutt said. "Still hopeful. We'll know more Tuesday."

* There is still no word on the eligibility status of safety Tanner Burns, Keith Burns' son who is applying with the NCAA to be immediately eligible after transferring from Kansas State.

* LB Ralph Williams is still limited in what he can do practice-wise due to a bum ankle, but the word around practice is that he's getting close to being back full speed.

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