Heated Battle

The Rebels went through another rugged practice Wednesday and the result was hard-nosed football, but due to the intensity, tempers flared a couple of times with some after-the-whistle pushing and shoving.

The setting for the pre-Christmas bowl practices is akin to a spring or August camp workout.

A good bit of contact, a lot of reps and a lot of intensity.

Consequently, it was not surprising to see a couple of late-practice altercations of the pushing and shoving variety after the whistle was blown.

"The energy was good again. We got a lot of good reps for a lot of players who need it," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "We've had three great days of practice. It sounds like a broken record but the young guys are getting a lot of valuable reps and it's helping them.

"It got a little heated at the end. As long as it doesn't go overboard and the helmets come off, we can understand some of that. No big deal. It just shows me they're into it. Now, we have to know where to draw the line and I think they do."

Freeze was absent some of the practice taking care of some junior college recruiting loose ends.

"I would rather build our program with high school kids, but it's unrealistic and foolish to say that's all we'll do. We'll always fill needs with JUCO players," he said. "JUCO will always be a part of who we are, but we don't want it to be a real big part.

"We have a great junior college system in Mississippi though and it would be crazy not to take advantage of it when you have needs."

Random Notes:

* A lot of eyes are on the younger players this week and the one most want to know more details on is LB Temario Strong, who redshirted during the season. "He's a ballplayer," said Freeze. "He doesn't know what he's doing right now, but he loves the game. Spring will be a big test for him. It'll be important for him to learn the install, be in the meetings and then transferring all that info to the field. No question he loves the game, he's physical and he can run."

Jeff Scott
File Photo

* OT Robert Conyers is another youngster gaining Freeze's attention. "I've been real pleased with Robert. Like all of them, the spring will be big as will the offseason," said Freeze. "If he stays on this path, he'll contribute next year. He just needs to get bigger and I think that will happen with Paul (Jackson) in the offseason."

* For the first time all year during the Egg Bowl, TB Jeff Scott was asked to return punts due to some inconsistencies back there with Korvic Neat. Scott was flawless in that game and is still working in practice fielding punts along with Neat. For a time during the season, he was not fielding practice punts. Does this mean he is likely to return punts in the Compass Bowl? Our guess is 'yes.'

* Tb I'tavius Mathers is starting to turn some heads as well. Early in practice, he was asked to pass protect and took on C.J. Johnson effectively, not giving up much ground to the hard-charging defensive end. Later, he made a scintillating run of about 30 yards that included breaking two tackles and making three tacklers whiff after quick cuts. Good day for the redshirt freshman.

* Everyone remembers the perfect form tackle former Reb LB Patrick Willis had on an LSU running back that stopped the ballcarrier dead in the hole and carry him backwards. Serderius "Bird" Bryant had one of those today on QB Maihkail Miller. Perfect form, stopped in his tracks, no gain. And Miller is a hard-running load. Very rarely do you see the perfect hit. This was one of those.

Donte Moncrief
File Photo

* What more can be said about Donte Moncrief? Well, how about this. Early in the practice, CB Louis Covington had tight coverage on #12 but QB Barry Brunetti threw it up for grabs in the end zone anyway. Moncrief used his width to gain some separation, leaped high in the air over Covington and came down with the TD reception. Ho-hum. That's becoming routine with Moncrief. "I feel the Egg Bowl game helped all of us from a confidence standpoint. Right now, I feel like I'm on a different level than I was, say, a month ago," said Moncrief.

* LB D.T. Shackelford went through individual drills again today and said he "feels great, better than I thought. I still have a lot to do, but I'm very encouraged by the last two days in what I have been able to do without pain or soreness." Good news on the Rebel front.

* In one-on-one drills, one player no offensive linemen seemed to be able to block effectively or consistently was DT Woodrow Hamilton. DL Coach Chris Kiffin is high on Hamilton, who seems to be coming into his own with the extra reps the bowl practices afford. Obviously, the few weeks he missed with injury during the year impeded his progress, but he's catching back up now.

* Think the players aren't having fun? Aside from the two exchanges late in practice, there have been a lot of good-natured challenges being thrown around. Today, kin one-on-one pass drills, Vincent Sanders threw one down on CB Charles Sawyer. When Sanders beat him for a long score, he pulled a Terrell Owens on Sawyer, pulling a pen out of his sock, pretending to sign the ball and handing it to an onlooker on the sidelines. Naturally, the offensive players went wild. Good stuff.

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