Every spring is a new beginning in college football.
Unlike the pros, where you may have the same nucleus of a unit around for a lot of years, there's always attrition in college ball.
This year, on the defensive side of the ball, DC Dave Wommack is having to replace both starting tackles, both starting linebackers and both starting safeties.
Despite that, he likes where his troops are as the last two weeks of spring ball began with Tuesday's rugged practice in the Manning Center complex.
"We started out slow in spring with all the new faces we are trying to blend in at key positions. We've gone slower than we have in the past in the spring," stated Dave, "but now I am seeing they are starting to pick things up and they are getting better. We are going to have quite a few young players in the two deep so we have to make sure they are ready for when their number is called."
Wommack is also going through spring without DE Fadol Brown, DT Issac Gross and Husky Tony Conner, three stalwarts.
"That's good and bad. We'd like to have them in there building some chemistry and continuity, but not having them is giving the young guys a chance to improve," noted Wommack. "We are going to need those guys in the fall, for sure, but hopefully we are developing some guys who can help them and not have a letdown when those main guys need a rest."
Wommack is doing a little musical chairs at the safety/Husky slots.
"We moved Myles Hartsfield from Husky to Rover, we moved Greg Eisworth from Husky to Rover and we moved Zedrick Woods from Rover to free safety. We also moved A.J. Moore back to Husky to compete with Montrell Custis, who I think is doing a real good job there so far," Dave explained. "That was slow going at first, but now I am starting to see those young guys pick things up more and more each day."
The top DTs right now, sans Gross, are Breeland Speaks, D.J. Jones, Austrian Robinson, Ross Donnelly and freshman Benito Jones.
"Benito is doing really good for a freshman, He's strong and has a good motor. He's physical and difficult to block. He will help us next year without question," Dave allowed. "Austrian will give us reps too and the guy who I have noticed a lot is Ross. His quickness has improved and he's physical. Of course, Breeland and D.J. are having great springs.They are both disruptive."
Tony Bridges and Ken Webster are the top corners, but Wommack said he's developing more confidence in the backups.
"Tony has improved his footwork a lot and Ken has been more consistent. Kailo Moore is really doing some good things here lately," Dave stated. "Then you have Jalen Julius. He does some great things at times and then lose his consistency at times, but that's all part of maturing. he's got a good future at corner here - real good."
At linebacker, Wommack is pleased with his top two or three, but he's anxious to get the two recent signees in the fold to help things out.
"DeMarquis Gates has really been the best one at this point. He's working Mike and Stinger and has been very steady. Terry Caldwell is doing some good things. We need some other guys to step up there, but hopefully we also have help on the way," Wommack closed.
The Rebels went full pads, and, during select periods, full contact Tuesday and it was a give-and-take session with both sides of the ball having flashes of productivity.
* WR Damore'ea Stringfellow returned to practice Tuesday after sitting out the first half of spring training while rehabbing a foot injury. He is limited in the contact work he is allowed to do, but he did participate in some full speed scrimmage situations and looked good catching the ball and running his routes.
* Redshirt freshman Shawn Curtis has been moved from middle linebacker to defensive end for the time being. Is that permanent? Time will tell, but he's at DE now, all 248 pounds of him.
* If you are looking for a defensive leader, look no further than senior DE John Youngblood. He has taken on a leadership role on that side of the ball, particularly within the DL group. Another leader is not even practicing right now, but he's as vocal as anyone on the team and very much involved. Issac Gross. He's the elder statesman C.J. Johnson was last year and he's using that platform to be vocal and in the middle of everything, despite not being able to practice while his neck injury heals.
* The trainers are now allowing Middle Linebacker Willie Hibbler to partake in some contact at his new position after his broken hand being in a bulkier cast the first part of spring training. Consequently, he is starting to make his presence known. Willie is very athletic, he's fast and he is physical. Tuesday, he made a big hit on TB Eric Swinney as Swinney was going out of bounds, meaning Hibbler showed sideline-to-sideline ability. With respect to some previous MLBs, Gates and Hibbler can run much better that former MLBs could.
* The personal protectors on the punt team appear to be Youngblood, Speaks and DE Garrald McDowell.
* The main gunners on the punt team? Probably WR Derrick Jones and CB Carlos Davis would be good bets.
* CB Tony Bridges is now trying his hand at catching punts along with Davis, Julius and Markell Pack.
* The starting offensive line Tuesday was LT Alex Givens, LG Javon Patterson, C Sean Rawlings, RG Jordan Sims and RT Jeremy Liggins. In scrimmage sessions Tuesday, they held their own against the number one defense.
* TB Jordan Wilkins ripped off a 70-yard TD run in one scrimmage session, his third long run of the spring.
* Trae Elston and Mike Hilton used Monday's Pro Day to line up private workouts for NFL teams. Elston is working out for the Minnesota Vikings tomorrow and Hilton is working out for the Atlanta Falcons April 6th.
* CB Cameron Ordway had to leave practice Tuesday with an injured hand/wrist. The extent of the injury is not known at this time.
* Former Rebel, current Colt, Donte Moncrief comes to every practice and cheers on and helps the wideouts constantly. Donte just had an operation on a turf toe condition he sustained and he's currently in a walking boot he will be in until June. Great Rebel!
* TE Evan Engram has also turned into a vocal leader of the team, as seniors often do. He's also becoming more of a target for QB Chad Kelly, also a vocal leader of the offense/team. Engram could be 2016's Laquon Treadwell in terms of who Kelly looks for in clutch situations.
* There's definitely a noticeable difference in the confidence level of Corners Bridges and Webster. There is no hesitation in their play this spring and, consequently, they are making more and more plays on the ball. Good to see that level of confidence and belief.
* No more practices this week will be open to the media.