Coach Ed Orgeron wasted no time welcoming back the Rebel football team after spring break. After an eight-day break from practice, Orgeron tested the resolve of the team in today's three-hour practice in full pads on the practice fields.
"I thought we started slowly today, but finished strong. We ran a couple of new drills that slowed our tempo up a little early on," said Orgeron. "We wanted to make sure the players understood the drill. After that, though, I thought the guys picked up their intensity and ended with a flurry."
The last 45 minutes of the practice was team work - ones versus ones and twos/threes versus twos/threes. That's when things got heated.
"We put in more of our blitz package on defense. We wanted to see more movement than last Saturday's scrimmage before spring break. I thought the movement looked pretty good," he continued. "We also wanted to give the offense some different looks to see how they would respond. They made some good plays as well."
Coach O said he has "about 60%" of trhe defensive package installed now.
"We've got a couple of more blitzes and a couple of more coverages to put in. We have all our base stuff in and have covered some different situations pretty well. We are moving along at a pretty good pace," he noted. "I think the retention of the players over spring break was good. It didn't appear they had forgotten anything, as a whole, from the first week's practice, despite the layoff. I was pleased with that."
Some players were also moved around after personnel evaluations over spring break.
"We had a chance to look at the films from the first week and have moved a few players to new positions. We are still in the evaluation process and may have some more movement, but we'll see," he stated.
One move was S Jamarca Sanford, who actually started spring training as a corner, to outside linebacker.
"Jamaraca is an explosive young player who we feel needs to be on the field in some capacity," Orgeron ended. "Most of the moves we are making right now are speed moves - moving an DE to DT or a S to LB or an LB to DE. We are looking for our fastest players and most explosive players. Size is not as big a factor as speed at this stage of our evaluations."
* At quarterback today, sophomore Robert Lane got most of the number one snaps, but senior Michael Spurlock also got his fair share with the ones at the end during team work. Lane looked sharp at times throwing the ball, as did Spurlock. Ethan Flatt got snaps with the ones, twos and threes, but was limited in most drills and in the team work.
* One are of concern on defense is finding adequate backups for the linebacker trio of Patrick Willis, Kelvin Robinson and Garry Pack. Right now, Marquis McBeath seems to be making the most noise in the backup role, but who else will emerge? Perhaps that is one reason Sanford and former S Keith Houston have been moved to linebacker. Sanford is on the smallish side, but adds speed and movement to an OLB slot. Houston is a 220-pounder who can easily hold 240 on his 6-4 frame. Houston and FB Anthony Hobgood had such a violent head-to-head collision today in goalline drills on a Spurtlock to Hobgood TD pass that both had to be removed from practice. Big hit by both players - the biggest of spring to this point. We'll see how the moves work out, but one thing is certain - backup help is needed at LB. Maybe it's on the way with Houston and Sanford. Other candidates are RS frosh Brandon Thomas and sophomore Dontae Reed, who have both had their moments but need to gain consistency to contribute.
* Another apparent move in positions is with redshirt freshman Mico McSwain, who has been moved to free safety from wide receiver. He didn't get a lot of reps today, but apparently the coaches want to add to the athleticism of the overall position. . . Also, senior CB Bryant Thomas has been moved to free safety as well. Junior Charles Clark is the number one guy at that position. Number two appears to be a battle between Thomas, Edwin Gelin and now McSwain. Could be interesting.
* An interesting twist with this coaching staff is the inclusion of all players in one-on-one board drills. Under Orgeron, the kickers/punters have to go one-on-one with the quarterbacks. Nobody is immune from the contact work on this team.
* It's hard to draw a bead on the wide receiver rotation, but beyond Mario Hill, Mike Espy and Taye Biddle, there are several candidates working hard - and producing - to get into the WR rotation. Carlos Suggs, Matt Pierce, newcomer Burnell Wallace and Larry Kendrick, who is also playing some at tailback, are all vying for playing time. All have made plays. Today, Kendrick caught a TD pass from Spurlock from 18 yards out and Suggs had a TD reception over CB Trumaine McBride on a long fade route from Lane. Pierce continues to make plays over the middle on intermediate routes and is proving to be a reliable receiver in those situations.
* A lot of former players were at practice today in anticipation of tomorrow's Pro Day for graduating seniors. Bill Flowers, Jonathan Nichols, Cody Ridgeway, Rick Razzano, Lorenzo Townsend, Chris Spencer and Wesley Bryan all attended practice today. Pro Day is tomorrow at 1 p.m. It has been closed to the media. . . Also in attendance today were former WR/S Tyrone Ashley, Hinds CC Coach Clifton COllins and DT Jesse Mitchell. The excitement surrounding Orgeron's program and practices is spreading. On an overcast Monday there were roughly 100 fans in attendace as well. . . COllins said his "baby brother," Chris, left yesterday for NFL Europe. He's playing in the developmental league for the Hamburg Sea Devils and was on the practice squad last year for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers asked him to play in Europe and Chris obliged.
* Speaking of fans in attendance, due to a couple of mishaps at the scrimmage last week - where fans got too close to the action and one actually sustained a broken hip in a collision with a player - the staff has moved fans to the hill overlooking the practice fields.
* We reported after the scrimmage that Ben Boyce had been moved to number one at center on the OL and that Tony Bonds, who was the number one center, had moved to right guard in place of Ryan Jones. That move has held up. The one OL today was LT Bobby Harris, LG Darryl Harris, C Ben Boyce, RG Tony Bonds and RT Tre' Stallings. Again the Rebs had success running the edges and off tackle on pitches and straight handoffs. The goin up the gut has been tough, but the running game continues to progress.
* A "promotion" that surfaced from the first scrimmage is DE Chris Bowers moving to the number one defense. Viciente DeLoach was number one the first week, but Chris had four QB sacks in the first scrimmage and is now with the top defensive unit. Chris gives the Rebs a pass rushing force on the edge with his explosiveness off the ball. To give you an idea of his speed, in team running drills Chris made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on the opposite side of the field from where he lined up. Hmmmm.
* Also on the DL, Dedrick Clark continues to cling to the number one DT slot alongside veteran Micheal Bozeman. When McKinley Boykin comes off the injury list in August, he will be number one in place of Clark, but Dedrick is getting valuable snaps in spring and should be an important contributor in the fall. You can visibly see - even through a novice's eyes - improvement from Clark in the trenches.
* With Houston moving to LB, that leaves strong safety more open for starter B. Brown, who had a good scrimmage. B. and Keith were splitting time there. Kareem Moore is pushing B. for playing time.
* TB Vashon Pearson and TB Jamal Pittman split time with the number one offense today and both had productive days. Vashon ripped off some nice runs in team running game drills, but Jamal seemed to do a litle better in goalline situations in heavy traffic. Good one-two punch there. . . TB Alan Abrams had perhaps his best day of spring so far and did a nice job in goalline situations of picking his hole and hitting it quickly for good gains.
* It appears if things hold up through the spring the way they have begun, redshirt freshman Jason Cook will get the nod as the number one fullback, but Hobgood is also doing some good things. Cook catches the ball well out of the backfield and appears to be holding his own in chipping linebackers as the lead blocker in the running game.
* In live field goal practice today, Will Moseley was perfect on four attempts. He was good from 20, 35, 38 and 45 yards out. Hunter Bray struggled today, going 1-4. Bray, who is also trying to win the punting job, was just a little off on his attempts today, but he's been kicking well to this point.
* In team scrimmage work at the end of practice, there were no drives or possessions. The ones ran five plays and then the twos took over, for roughly 45 minutes. We charted some highlight plays.
For the ones: LB Kelvin Robinson broke up a pass from Robert Lane intended for TE Jimmy Brooks . . . Lane then hit Biddle for eight yards on a crossing route. . . FS Charles Clark had an interception of a Lane aerial when it deflected off Brooks' hands over the middle. . . Lane then connected with Matt Pierce for 18 yards.
For the twos: Spurlock hit Pittman with a swing pass and the big TB rumbled 30 yards for a score. . . Then LB Brandon Thomas and DT Brandon Jenkins registered back-to-back QB sacks on blitzes.
When the ones took back over, the run defense stopped the offense cold, but Lane scrambled 12 yards on the final play of the series. Bozeman, Willis and Pack were the stalwarts in that series.
Spurlock found Kendrick for a short score on the twos next try, but when the ones came back on the field the series ended when Pack sacked Lane when he could find no open receivers.
On the next tries by the number two unit, Brandon Thomas recovered a Pittman fumble after a big hit by DE Corvelli Haynes.
The big play in the next series of the top offense/defense was when CB Travis Johnson tracked down Abrams on a pitch play for a four-yard loss. Lane and TE Lawrence Lilly hooked up for an eight-yard score and Abrams ran it in from the five on the next two plays.
TB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had runs of 13 and 6 yards the next time the twos took the field. Green-Ellis looks better and better with each practice. He has a knack for finding the seams and in the open field he knows how to avoid defenders for extra yardage. He is also a North-South runner, not much sideways action with him.
Spurlock connected with Suggs on an 18-yard score shortly after that, then found Mike Espy on a short TD.
On goalline, the offense scored three times - an a reverse to Mario Hill, an Ellis run and a Lane to Cook 8-yard TD pass - from close range before the defense buckled down. On the last possession of the day, Bozeman stopped Pittman for a one-yard gain, DT Jeremy Garrett stopped Pittman for no gain, Willis broke up a short pass intended for Lilly from Lane and a Pittman sweep was stopped at the goalline by a gang of defenders. Good way to end a practice.
The Rebs will practice again Wednesday at 3:45 p.m.
Practice Report: Rebs resume after spring break
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