Physical Practice

Rain forced the Rebels inside - again - but it did not stop Coach Hugh Freeze from holding a very physical practice the first day of full pads Friday morning.

"We had a physical day. We got after it a little bit today," said Freeze. "I liked what I saw. Both sides did some good things.

"We have a long way to go, but there is no question their energy and passion was good."

The Rebels had a spirited Oklahoma drill - three on three at the line with a running back trying to advance the ball 10 yards on three runs in a tight space.

"It was good. It was hard to tell who stood out because bodies are flying everywhere, but there was a lot of contact on both sides and, again, the energy was real good," Hugh continued.

DT Issac Gross (groin), DE C.J. Johnson (broken leg) and DE Cameron Whigham (minor knee) were missing from practice Friday, but the defense was still able to have a positive day.

"The younger guys are now getting some valuable reps. Guys like Channing Ward, Woody Hamilton, Carlos Thompson and some others and they are doing some good things," Freeze noted. "The defense has looked pretty good, despite those guys being out.

"The guys are more comfortable in the system. They know what to do and are executing pretty well. The guys on the back end aren't busting as much. I thought Nick Brassell had a tremendous day, forcing two turnovers and making some big hits. The defensive development is coming right along, we just have to keep developing more depth."

Johnson, who broke his fibula Wednesday, had successful surgery yesterday.

"Everything went well," said Freeze. "We expect him back full speed by fall camp."

Trae Elston
File Photo

The procedure, as it was explained to us, entailed wiring the tibia and fibula together to get the proper alignment of the two bones, and then putting a plate and screws on the fibula break. C.J. also will have to overcome some ligament damage. The prognosis is for him to be back going strong by July, in time to get in playing shape for the season.

Random Notes:

* WR Terrell Grant was MIA with a pulled hamstring. Slot Receiver Korvic Neat is still out with turf toe. He expects to be back in action Monday.

* Cody Prewitt and Trae Elston are what veteran SEC safeties are supposed to look like. Good strength, good size, good wheels. Cody is now a ripped 220 and looks very comfortable in the system and in directing traffic. Trae is as physical as ever - headhunter. Chief Brown, Quintavius Burdette and Anthony Alford also have that "look." It's good to see some depth coming around at those key positions.

* Today, Jeff Scott, Nick Brassell, Elston and Q. Mireles were all fielding punts. Jeff and Nick have both returned punts in the SEC successfully before. That situation should be in good hands next fall.

* In the Oklahoma drill, a best-man-wins, very physical drill, some of the players who stuck out were predictable - D. T. Shackelford, Donte Moncrief, Denzel Nkemdiche, Pierce Burton, and Mike Marry, but two newcomers also had their moments - Mireles and walkon RB Darryan Ragsdale. Ragsdale showed he is a physical back who attacks would-be tacklers and keeps going forward and Q. showed some physical blocking for a newbie wideout. Good showing for those two.

* Redshirt freshman John Youngblood was moved from tight end to defensive end. With Johnson and Whigham being out, the lack of depth was starting to show. We'll see how Youngblood fares on the defensive side of the ball. Recall, he was signed as a DE.

Jeff Scott
File Photo

* A couple of the big plays in full contact "Red Ball." QB Barry Brunetti hit WR Ja-Mes Logan in stride for a 60-yard TD and found Logan again a few plays later for a 30-yard completion. TBs Jaylen Walton and I'tavius Mathers had some solid runs as well. On defense, backup DE Kameron Wood plucked a Maikhail Miller pass out of the air at the line of scrimmage with a great catch and returned it for a TD.

* S Anthony Alford acts as the QB when the defense is on their end of the field running coverage drills. It's easy to see why he was a QB at USM before his transfer. Good arm. Good athlete.

* We have already mentioned the intensity of the one-on-one battle in practice when Moncrief and CB Senquez Golson lock up. In a good way, it seems to be getting more and more heated. They are good for each other and will make each other better. Fun to watch.

* With Whig and C.J. out, Thompson and Ward are working with the first defensive unit at DE. Both are benefiting from the extra reps and working with the first team. Ditto for DT Woody Hamilton while Gross is out. Even a novice can see marked improvement from all three.

* On the OL, experience is vital. It shows. That's why RT Pierce Burton and LT Emmanuel McCray are the anchors this spring on the OL. They are fine-tuning their craft, they are not wasting reps and their work ethic has paid off and is paying off constantly.

* DT Carlton Martin remains an enigma. He's arguably the strongest player on the team. He's quick and explosive. It appears his effort is better. What separates the ones ahead of him from Carlton? One can only guess, but the bottom line is that his production does not match his skill set. Hopefully that light will come on because the tools to be real good are there. We'll see.

* We place so much emphasis and focus on the "young guys" and newcomers that sometimes we take for granted the proven performers in spring drills. Scott is one of those. If he stays healthy, Jeff, who is more mature in his approach to football these days, will have an excellent senior year. You can't teach speed.

* The Rebs will resume practice Monday at 8 a.m.

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