Spring Training Revisited?

Usually, football teams back off from a lot of the physical contact during the season - save it for the games. Toughness is developed in spring training and early August. But during the open week, Coach Houston Nutt reverted back to a spring training-type practice.

Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt said in Monday's press conference the Rebels, now 2-3 after a nice road win at Fresno State and in the middle of an open week, have to play more physical.

He used the words "tougher" and "more intense."

So it came as no surprise Nutt opted for a spring-like, very physical practice session Tuesday.

Nutt wanted the Rebels to spill a little blood, not literally but figuratively.

His message to the team before practice was direct and simple.

At times, he said, the Rebs looked soft. At times, the OL didn't stay on blocks and the DL didn't get off blocks quickly enough.

The challenge - to become more physical and tougher - began in Tuesday's practice with drills designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, to get down to the bone of football, even if that included some bloody noses.

He also sent a stern message about doing things correctly with the theme "look-what-happens-when-you". . . get a turnover, stay with a block, execute, don't get a penalty, etc. In essence, do things correctly and the game becomes easier.

These tactics by Nutt are not new. Toughness has been stressed since last spring, but he felt it is time to reemphasize and make sure the message is clear because the Rebs are about to play "real" football with the likes of Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn, all ranked in the Top 20, the next three opponents on the slate.

"We need to get tougher and we need to get sharper. When we get a turnover, the offense usually has a short field to work with and finds a way to score," he said. "When we don't jump offsides and face a second or third and long, we move the chains fairly regularly. When we execute the way I know these kids can, we make plays.

"Those are the things we're emphasizing this week."

Tuesday's practice was the first reminder of all those issues.

"We had a real physical practice today. We did a lot of good-on-good work and we started with the Oklahoma drill," Nutt said. "We did a lot of one-on-ones. But we need it. We have to get more physical during this open week because we're playing one of the best teams in America in 10 days or so.


C.J. Johnson
File Photo

"We're going to hit every day this week that we practice. You teach being physical by having physical practices. It's not natural to some kids to be physical, to hit like that. All the coaches I've ever worked for have taught me to be physical you have to practice physical.

"The problem with that is that during the season, when you aren't a real deep team, there's a fine line. We have to be smart with it. We won't work Brandon Bolden and Jeff Scott much. We're talking more about the lines more than anything."

Nutt said he was proud of the way the team responded to the extra demands Tuesday.

"They all showed me something. They all stepped up. I'm going to watch the film to get an idea of exactly who - Bryon Bennett showed up off the top of my head - but I was pleased with the team effort today," Nutt said. "The young ones like Serderius Bryant, Cody Prewitt and Keith Lewis showed me something too."

The defensive line getting off blocks is a point of contention with Nutt.

"There were times we looked like magnets with the Fresno offensive line the other night. You can't do that; you have to get off those blocks and go make plays," he said. "You just can't let people have their way with you. You have to fight to get off those blocks and use good technique. We're stressing all of that this week as we get ready to take on a great team."

Random Notes:

* Versatile freshman Cody Prewitt is making more and more of a mark on the team with his presence. Cody is already on three first-team special teams units - punt, punt return and kickoff - and he's been schooled at safety, spur and tailback as a substitute when someone needs a breather. Cody has a good frame, good speed and apparently acumen for the game of football. His value increases weekly.


D.T. Shackelford
File Photo

* LB D.T. Shackelford, who is out for the year with a knee injury he is rehabbing, has come a long way since his spring surgery. He's been jogging some for a little over a week, but today, for the first time, he did some light cutting in cleats on natural turf. So far, no pain. There are no plans to try and rush him back on the field - it's already been decided he will sit out the whole year - but at the rate he's going in his rehab, he should be good to go in 2012. In short, he's on schedule.

* Freshman DT Woodrow Hamilton missed a couple of days last week with a sprained knee, but he was back at practice Tuesday in full pads.

* Freshman C.J. Johnson has been alternating back and forth in practice between the linebacker group and the defensive linemen. Tuesday, he was practicing with the defensive ends.

* MLB Mike Marry was in a walking boot Tuesday and is likely to stay in it until next week. This will be a perfect time to rest his foot (plantar fasciitis) and the trainers are hopeful extended rest will go a long way in curing him.

* We reported last week sophomore Safety/Spur Brishen Mathews was going to try to go the non-surgical route to repair a bulging disk in his back and he is likely out for the season. That still holds true.

* Freshman Aaron Morris was back with the first team offensive line Tuesday at left guard. Tank Washington started the Fresno game while Aaron gets a little more tutoring under his belt, but the belief is with two intensive weeks of practice Morris will be ready to roll against the Tide.

* Also, it appears A.J. Hawkins and Evan Swindall are alternating with the first team at center.

* Senior DE Kentrell Lockett got his first start in three weeks against Fresno and apparently he did a good job. He was still with the first team Tuesday ahead of Gerald Rivers, who started games 2-4 in Lockett's place.

* Redshirt freshman DT Bryon Bennett remains at the top of the DT food chain ahead of Uriah Grant, but Grant, and LB Ralph Williams, forced a fumble against Fresno that led to a Brandon Bolden touchdown from 12 yards out.

* The Rebs will have another "slobber knocker" practice Wednesday, will practice again Thursday and then take Friday and Saturday off to rest some weary bones.


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