Notes: Spring Football Picks Back Up

The football team enjoyed 10 days off for spring break, but when they came back to campus, a rugged spring practice session was waiting as Coach Hugh Freeze put them through the proverbial wringer for a couple of hours Monday. Here are some random notes of our observations.

Random Notes:

* The week before spring break, the Rebel offense couldn't get much going for the most part. Why? Quarterback Chad Kelly was out with a nagging groin injury and, as good as they are going to be, young QBs Shea Patterson and Jason Pellerin are not ready - yet, nor should the be, for what Freeze and staff call "dirty ball," periods during practice where there are no holds barred from the defensive side of the ball in terms of blitzing and different looks. "Those young guys have a hard time setting the protections and recognizing a lot of things right now. At times, it's a mismatch for the defense," said Freeze prior to spring break. However, with Kelly back in the fold now - groin injury apparently healed after roughly 15 days rest, the Rebel offense was more effective in Monday's workout. There were some sustained drives, decent ground game and really good pass plays during the day, evening the field with the quickly improving defense. Good to see the give and take that wasn't there prior to spring break.

* A little bit of an OL update on four key players for 2016  - LT Alex Givens comes off the ball hard and is very willing to mix it up. This summer is critical for him as he needs to gain some strength, but so far, so good in his development. Javon Patterson is having a very good spring, but we were told he needs footwork refining in a couple of the blocking schemes. Another one on track. Sean Rawlings sprained his ankle the last day of practice prior to spring training but he returned to practice Monday and was working mostly at right tackle. Converted TE Jeremy Liggins has seen action at both left tackle and right tackle and is apparently making big strides as his last two practices have been characterized as "excellent." He just needs to stay the course.

* There seems to be a real battle going on at the Husky slot on defense between three players who are said to be "dead even" at this point - Montrell Custis, Greg Eisworth and Myles Hartsfield, who had an interception in a scrimmage portion of yesterdays' practice. The good news is that all three are also capable of playing the other safety slots as well, but have been worked at Husky because it is the easiest of the three positions to learn and Coach Corey Batoon wants those youngsters going full speed and reacting rather than thinking as quickly as possible. Zedrick Woods seems to have the edge at Rover right now and C.J. Hampton, who has switched from #3 to #4 jersey for the record,  is the heir apparent at free.

* Converted tight end Willie Hibbler has been moved to linebacker this spring, but LB Coach Dave Wommack has not gotten much of a live look at the talented redshirt freshman yet. His right had is in a cast, so he has been excluded from contact. The word on the inside though is that Willie learns quickly in the chalk and film sessions, so that is encouraging, but Dave is wanting to see how that translates on the field via reaction time and recognition, etc. Right now, the top four LBs are DeMarquis Gates, who now wears jersey number 3 instead of 31, by the by, Terry Caldwell, Tayler Polk and Temario Strong. 

* From casual conversation, halfway through spring training the most improved defensive linemen are, in no particular order, DT Austrian Robinson, DT Ross Donnelly and defensive ends Victor Evans and Garrald McDowell. True freshman Benito Jones is also making his presence known more and more each day at defensive tackle. To have that many being considered for "most improved" is can be classified as nothing but good news.

* Former DT Woodrow Hamilton was at practice Monday and he is extremely excited about Pro Day next Monday. "I'm killing it in my workouts," he said. "My drill times are really good and I'm benching 225 28 or 29 times. I am going to show out next week."

* With Damore'ea Stringfellow still out with injury, the number one receiving group yesterday was Damarkus Lodge and Quincy Adeboyejo out wide, Van Jefferson in the slot and Evan Engram at tight end. Formidable, to say the least.

* We finally got the word on why DE Marquis Haynes opted to change from jersey No. 27 to No. 10. There were two pretty good reasons. One was to honor his mentor C.J. Johnson, who donned No. 10 the last five years. Two, 10 is the quarterback sack record at Ole Miss. Haynes has a goal of breaking that record this year, his third at Ole Miss. No. 10 makes perfect sense for the lightning quick DE.

* Former LB Coach Tom Allen was in town with his whole defensive staff from Indiana, where he is now the defensive coordinator. His son, Thomas, who played at Oxford high his freshman and sophomore years, is now up to 241 pounds and is the captain of his high school team in Tampa, FL. He already has nine offers.

* DTs Breeland Speaks and D.J. Jones are not going to miss a beat from last year's starting tandem of Robert Nkemdiche and Woodrow Hamilton. They are both formidable and are creating havoc for the offense in spring practice regularly. If the OL can figure out a way to block them consistently, it says here they can block anyone in the country.

* Redshirt freshman Tailback Eric Swinney continued his trend of "trucking" one defender every practice. Yesterday, he ran over another secondary player on a 10-yard gain and then followed that up with a 25-yard run on a run that showed he can be shifty as well as brutish. He's leaving a mark - literally - on spring training this year.

* The media will have no more viewing or interview opportunities this week.

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