Practice Report: Rebs continue fine-tuning

Even Coach David Cutcliffe intimated he's tired of practicing and tired of rehearsing and tired of going over the same "stuff" again and again. It's time to play football. The Rebs continued their "rehearsal" for the season opener with a lot of polishing work today.

"As a coach, you always feel there's something else you could do, something you haven't covered before the first game," said Cut. "I feel the same as I do every year at this time, but I think we're all ready for a game to see where we stand. The team has worked hard and prepared hard. We have some issues left to resolve, but we have resolved a lot of issues too. We tried to fine-tune everything today, from A-Z, starting with the kicking game, and we will do the same thing tomorrow."

* The Rebs worked on the practice fields today in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts with controlled contact up front and no contact at the skill positions. The weather was warm, but perfect for the first day of September.

* Injury update: WR Kerry Johnson worked out yesterday for the first time in a long time after pulling a hamstring over wo weeks ago. He looked fine, but he didn't practice today. The early report is that he hurt his hand. The extent of that injury will not be known until tomorrow at the earliest. . . DT Daniel Booth did not practice. It's 90% certain he will not play against the Tigers. . . Everyone else, including Taye Biddle, who had an infected wart removed from his thumb earlier this week, practiced full speed and looked fine.

* Defensive Coordinator Chuck Driesbach said he feels "nervous" about Saturday evening, but he also smiled and said something would be wrong if he weren't. "I think nervousness is a human being's way of gearing themselves up to rise to a challenge. If I weren't a little nervous, I'd be worried," he noted. "As a defense, I feel pretty good about our frontline guys in terms of assignments and knowing what to do. I'm a little concerned about some of our backups. Some of our depth is not as far along as I had hoped, but we'll get there."

* Cutcliffe held a two-hour practice today, but the secondary came out about 15 minutes early to do some pre-practice polish work. Memphis has a veteran quarterback and quality receivers, but what defeated the Rebels last year was not talent but "busts" by the secondary. DB Coach Jay Hopson is putting in overtime to make sure there is no repeat of that. Another key everyone must recognize is that Hopson has faced Memphis the last few years as the secondary coach of Southern Miss. He knows them inside and out.

* The Rebs began the day with extensive special teams work. Every phase of the kicking game was covered today. Normally, the coaches will work one or two phases of special teams a day. Not so today. Everything was given the once over with a fine-tooth comb.

* We heard, but have not been able to verify yet, that wide receiver Cameron Myers may be hanging up his cleats. He tried to come back from knee surgery over the winter, but has developed some tendonitis. We'll try to verify tomorrow.

* QB Micheal Spurlock has a big challenge Saturday in his first start as a collegiate football player, but he seems very calm and relaxed. In the last week to 10 days, his passing has looked fluid and relaxed, whereas eaerlier in August he appeared to be having trouble controlling his anxiousness. He's confident he can handle what faces him. "I have just kept building my focus, narrowing things down little by little. Eli Manning taught me how to tune in what's important and tune out what isn't. I'm in that process now. The last week or so of practice has been good. I'm more relaxed and comfortable than I've ever been," he noted. "I'm sure I'll be nervous at the start of the game, but I'm preparing myself for that too. I feel good that I have been properly prepared for what faces me."

* In the two-minute drill today, the one and two offenses were effective in moving the chains, but the defense stopped them from any big plays. Cutcliffe stopped the drills short of either side of the ball getting any bad feelings about their performances.

* Everyone will have their eyes on Spurlock. He's a first-time starter at the glamor position, but when the Rebs don't have the ball, consider this. With Booth out, the Rebs' front six in the 4-2-5 alignment will all be first-time starters other than a handful of starts spread out between them when the players in front of them were injured. It will not only be interesting to see how they react to a potent Tiger offense individually, but as a unit too. LB Brian Lester thinks the Rebs are ready to rumble. "From an assignment standpoint and a physical standpoint, I feel good about our front," he noted. "Now, it's up to us to execute, individually and as a group. To be honest, we are all anxious to get it underway and see what happens. There are question marks, but there's also a lot of determination and confidence on the defense. We know people will be looking at us to see if we can do the kind of job the 2003 defense did at the end of last year. That's our goal - to start strong and keep building."

* With Kerry Johnson not at practice today, the top six receivers in passing drills were: Mike Espy, Bill Flowers, Mario Hill, Taye Biddle, Matt Pierce and Frank Clayton. Mico McSwain and Carlos Suggs may also figure into the rotation. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

* With Booth out, DT Chris Herring appears to be penciled in to get substantial playing time in the DT mix with Michael Bozeman, McKinley Boykin and Andrew Wicker. Jeremy Garrett may get a few snaps as well. Herring, as many fans have been saying all along, however, may be the wild card in the mix. In his past, he has always been a game-day player. Even though he has practiced well, many in the inner circle believe he's got an extra gear on Saturdays. We'll see.

* The ofensive line of Bobby Harris, Doug Buckles, Chris Spencer, Marcus Johnson and Tre' Stallings appears to be ready to live up to their lofty billing in 2004. In the most recent practices, there has been very little "criticism" tossed their way by the coaches. They looked well-oiled and hitting on all cylinders.

* TE Coach Matt Luke gave his normal Wednesday winning edge "talk" today. As usual, it was quite emotional and quite pointed. He left the team fired up and ready to go, to say the least. The Rebs had an extremely spirited practice today with a lot of fire and enthusiasm. They should be at a good peak by Saturday evening.

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