Practice Report: Cool weather propels Rebs

The Rebels were greeted on their first morning practice of the 2004 season with weather certainly uncharacteristic for an August day in Mississippi. Temperatures were in the 70s and low 80s despite the Rebs practicing during the noon hours.

"What is this - October?" Coach David Cutcliffe quipped when meeting the press after a 2-hour and 45-minute workout on the practice fields. "It feels like we have played six games and we are getting into the fall."

"We eventually need and want some heat, we know this isn't going to last and there will be some hot games, but right now the cooler temperatures have helped with our intensity, which has been good, and has prevented us from getting mentally drained.

"Today, the defense set the tempo. They were flying around pretty good. I thought our long-yardage situations on offense were good, but the defense kind of controlled things in regular sets. We are still dropping too many catchable balls. I'm hoping it's because the defense is contesting us more tightly, but regardless, we have to do better in that area. I was very impressed today in pass scale by the coverage of the DBs. Our secondary is coming along right now. We are anxious to get in full pads tomorrow morning."


* With the impending team move to the Indoor Practice Facility planned for sometime around the end of this month, Video Coordinator Chris Johnson has a major undertaking facing him. "We do all our film work on computers now, but when we make the move there will be a day or two when we will be down," explained Johnson. "The coaches can't be down during that time. They need their film. We will have to set up projectors for them and I have already pre-taped about 200 tapes of cutups for the scouting reports for the first three games. Fortunately, our software company - Pinnacle - is sending some specialists in during that critical time to make sure the transition is smooth and seemless until we can get our computers relocated and functional."

* The Rebs spent a fairly large chunk of practice today working on the intricacies of the punt return and punt coverage aspects of special teams. Outside gunner releases, blocking opposing gunners, setting up running lanes, coverage techniques, rushing and release techniques, various kick-blocking calls, etc. The coaches are trying to get a finger on who the top candidates for these important jobs are. "We have a lot of combo type athletes - athletes who are big enough to take and dish out contact, but can also get where they need to be in a hurry," said Cutcliffe. "As coaches, we have to do a good job of identifying the guys who want to play those positions and are capable of playing those important positions. Then we have to make sure we coach them up." Players like Iroko Ayodele, Edwin Gelin, Kareem Moore, Larry Kendrick, Keith Houston, Marquis McBeath, Patrick Willis, Mico McSwain, Mario Hill, B. Brown and several more fall in that category.

* The Winning Edge on the offensive side of the ball today focused on ball security. "There is nothing more important than taking care of the ball," said TE Coach Matt Luke emphatically. "When you have the ball in your hands, you have the hopes and dreams of the entire team in your possession. Guard it like you would guard your child. Protect it, cherish it."

* In watching the DBs today, in particular the "newbies," it is apparent that freshman CB Terrell Jackson and freshman S Jamarca Sanford are already physically mature enough to handle college football. They are sculpted and cut athletes. On the other hand, frosh CB Dustin Mouzon is what you expect freshmen DBs to look like. He needs a year in the weight room to fill out, but he can motor. Does that mean Jackson and Sanford will play and Mouzon won't? Absolutely not. Whoever catches on mentally will play, if there is an opening. But physically, it appears Jackson and Sanford are closer, even though Mouzon has shown excellent signs of having the spunk you are looking for.

* As Cutcliffe said, the DBs were as good as we've ever witnessed in pass scale drills. It's really a drill set up with all the advantages to the offense. A quarterback with no rush and no linemen to impair his view has all the time he wants to throw to a receiver going one-on-one in the open field with a DB. Mismatch, right? Not today. CBs Trumaine McBride and Travis Johnson sest the tone by blanketing the wide receivers and the rest of the DBs followed their example. . . A player to keep your eye on - CB Bryant Thomas. He is, thus far, having an excellent pre-fall camp in coverage situations.

* As a followup to the previous note, the number 2 secondary seems to be shaping up this way: FS B. Brown, WS Larry Kendrick, SS Iroko Ayodele/Edwin Gelin, RCB Bryant Thomas, LCB Nate Banks. Pretty salty group that's getting better by the snap.

* LB Dontae Reed sat out today's prctice with a tight hamstring. He said he didn't pull it, but he was close. For precautionary reasons, the trainers made him sit out. . . S Tavarus Horne, who is making a comeback from knee surgery, tweaked his knee today and sat out the rest of the practice for precautionary measures. . . DT McKinley Boykin, who is coming back from scope surgery a couple of weeks ago, looked the best he's looked so far and appears to be well on his way to full recovery. He was dominant at times in one-on-one pass rush drills. His explosiveness is returning by the snap. . . DT Joe Williams injured his knee today, but the extent of the injury is not known at this time.

* In long yardage situations today, QB Micheal Spurlock hit WR Kerry Johnson in stride for a 65-yard TD on a beautiful long ball. Micheal threw it about 55 yards with a flick of the wrist and it was perfectly on the money.

* Also in that drill, LB Patrick Willis blitzed like he was shot out of a cannon and easily sacked QB Ethan Flatt. He was there before Ethan could set up to look downfield and exhibited the speed and quickness everyone is anticipating.

* In a run/run defense drill, where above the waist contact is allowed, FS Eric Oliver almost took TB Vashon Pearson's head off with the most violent collision thus far. Clean shot, both players going full speed. Vashon popped right up from the hit, but it drew ohhhs and ahhhs from everyone watching.

* Right now, from a layman's point of view, the number two defensive line is ahead of the number two offensive line. The group of Brandon Jenkins, Chris Herring, Michael Bozeman and Viciente DeLoach (Corvelli Haynes is sitting out some drills with a groin pull) is simply better right now. Is that good, bad or expected? A little of all three. It's certainly good for the DL and certainly bad for the OL, but it was also expected. Everyone knew heading into August that major improvement from the backup OL was imperative. And everyone knew the backups on the DL had two or three players on it who could be starting in "normal" years. Ideally, August will go down like this: the backup DL will continue trucking and the backup OL will benefit from going against them every day. We'll see. . .

* Now that Brian Lester has been elevated to first-team status, how does he feel? "I don't like the way I got the job - I wanted to earn it, not get it by default, but on the other hand I think it's a great opportunity," said the 252-pounder. "I know Ihave the ability and I'm confident after a disappointing junior year. I hurt my wrist last year and kind of lost my confidence. I never did come back fully from that. Then in spring I started slowly, but started regaining my confidence. I finished spring strong. With my confidence back, I feel like a new man. I can go all day. Now all I think I have to work on is my recognition of plays and that involved studying more film. Half of being an effective LB in this league is knowing what an opposing offense is going to do before they do it. That's my goal - to work hard on and off the field and be prepared."

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