Practice Report: Rebs work in IPF

The Ole Miss football team moved inside today for a three-hour practice. The practice fields are muddy from recent rain and the threat of continued rain prevented Coach Ed Orgeron from holding practice in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebs were in full pads, but had controlled contact in all drills. Practice concluded with a couple of hundred students showing up for "Meet Coach O Day."

There are several things apparent about the sixth day of spring football practice.

One, it's obvious both sides of the ball are learning new systems because of the inconsistency of play. There are big plays being made on both sides of the ball, but there are a lot of mental errors being made as well. That is to be expected when new systems are being learned and comes as no suprise to Coach Ed Orgeron and members of his staff.

Two, the Rebels have several players emerging as playmakers on both sides of the ball. The list today is long, as you will see later in the report.

Three, despite marathon-type practices and a great deal of contact work, the injury list doesn't seem to be mounting as one might expect. Coach O has asked the media not to report on specific injuries, but the only two who have missed time due to spring prctice injuries are LB Keith Houston and FB Anthony Hobgood, who sat out today. OL Andrew Wicker, who will have his foot operated on in North Carolina Friday, DT McKinley Boykin and RB Brandon Jacobs are out, but they have been out all spring. It appears the physical adjustment of the Rebel team, as a whole, to Coach Orgeron's practice routine has been successful to this point. You can easily see the Rebs adjusting positively to the added tempo and length of practices on a daily basis.

Four, the position changes that have been made to this point seem to be sticking for now. To review, they are: Reterio Brown from LB to DE, Brandon Jenkins from DE to DT, Jamarca Sanford from S to LB, Keith Houston from S to LB, Dedrick Clark from DE to DT, Larry Kendrick playing some in the TB slot, Kelvin Robinson from S to LB, Bryant Thomas from CB to S and Mico McSwain from WR to S are the most prominent. At this point, the players who appear to be picking things up the quickest are Brown, who had a QB sack and a tackle for loss in today's team work; Kendrick, who is being used as a utility type player, where he may line up anywhere in the skill positions; Robinson, who is going to be a very effective LB; and Clark, who is running with the number one defense at DT. Sanford had a sack today on a blitz, but he's learning in baby steps right now. The coaches commented they want his explosiveness at linebacker and he's obliging, but the learning curve will be a detriment to him for a few more practices.

Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone said he was fairly pleased, to this point, with the ofensive production.

"We've thrown a lot at them in six practices and they are responding very well. We've had some mental mistakes, but they are to be expected," Mazzone noted. "What I like the most is that we are making plays from a lot of different angles. Today, we had big plays from all three quarterbacks, all the backs broke free once or twice each, and the wide receivers did a nice job of making plays for the most part."

Mazzone said he was particularly pleased with the play of Kendrick and WR Taye Biddle today.

"Taye had a consistent day catching the ball today after struggling some the first few days. We need him to play all the time like he did today," Noel stated. "Larry is a guy who makes things happen with the ball in his hands. We are lining him up in different spots and trying to create one-on-one situations with him. I thought he looked very good running some routes out of the backfield. He has the knack of making people miss. He's quickly becoming our utility guy and an important part of our offense. He just needs to keep working and performing."

To this point, Mazzone has also been impressed with the production of TB Jamal Pittman.

"I hadn't seen much of him before I came here. I have been told he was a good power back, but this spring he has lost some weight and has added some quickness to his arsenal. He will still run over defenders, but he's also got a few moves he can make in the open field. So far, I like what I have seen of him and Vashon (Pearson). Also, Alan Abrams had his best day with several nice runs in traffic," Mazzone said.

He is also seeing progress with the offensive line picking up the zone blocking scheme OL Coach George DeLeone is teaching.

"Coach DeLeone is an excellent line coach and teacher. We are doing some good things up front. Again, nothing on offense is as consistent as we'd like, but for this stage of spring, we are doing OK," he allowed.

Mazzone flip-flopped the quarterbacks today. Monday, Robert Lane was running the number one offense most of the day. Today, Micheal Spurlock directed the top offensive unit. Ethan Flatt also caught his eye running the number two and three units some.

"All three of our quarterbacks are recognizing more and getting more comfortable with the scheme," said Mazzone. "All three threw the ball pretty well today and all three moved the offense effectively at times."

While Mazzone is pleased with the progress, he's also cautious because the defenses being thrown at his offense have been fairly vanilla to this point.

"Coach Orgeron and the defensive staff are starting to sprinkle in more movement and more stunts and blitzes. We're handling some of them OK, but they are getting to us some too. It's hard to judge at this time because we are in the early stages, but the work we are doing now is helping both sides of the ball," Mazzone closed. "Right now, it's all about learning and I think our players are learning at a good pace."


* We spotted three former South Panola players at practice today - two who are Rebel signees. OL/DL John Jerry, DL Peria Jerry and RB Marcus Griffin were at practice today. Peria will graduate from Hargrave Prep School in May and will report to Ole Miss this summer. John will attend Hargrave next year. Marcus is at Northwest CC for another year.

* At this point, the number one defense stacks up like this: DEs Jayme Mitchell and Chris Bowers; DTs Michael Bozeman and Dedrick Clark; LBs Kelvin Robinson, Patrick Willis and Garry Pack; FS Charles Clark; SS B. Brown and CBs Travis Johnson and Trumaine McBride. Pretty speedy outfit at all positions, which is what Orgeron and staff are aiming for.

* There hasn't been any live kick or punt return work yet, but the players fielding punts and kickoffs during practice are Mico McSwain, Mike Espy, Trumaine McBride, Taye Biddle, Larry Kendrick, Burnell Wallace, and Vashon Pearson, in no particular order. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out when live snaps are taken later this spring.

* DT Brandon Jenkins is an interesting study in his transition from DE. You can easily see flashes of excellence and of better things to come, but the transition has not been automatic by any means. Sometimes he breaks through the line and makes a big play, but at other times he seems to get trapped in the extra bodies in the trenches and gets lost. He's still learning DT technique, but the light hasn't completely come on yet.

* You read all about the "attacking" defense prior to spring, but when you see it in action and see what the defensive coaches are trying to accomplish, it's more exciting than mere words. The defensive line is firing out on ball movement into their assigned gap and actually trying to penetrate the line of scrimmage. They are aggressively, on every play, moving toward the action. There is no hesitation and no reading the development of the play involved. The battles between the offensive and defensive linemen seem to be more violent because both sides of the ball are moving forward rather than the defensive side waiting to be attacked, fending off the contact and then reacting to it. Good stuff.

* Sophomore LB Garry Pack has appeared hesitant at times this spring, but today he seemed to be more comfortable with his assignments and started to "turn loose." He made two or three big hits at or behind the line of scrimmage and recovered a fumble in the team running game drills. . . And speaking of more production from a linebakcer, backup Marquis McBeath had an active day running with the number two defense. Like Pack, he made two or three eye-opening hits and pursuit plays today. Good to see both of them relaxing and just playing football the way they are capable of playing.

* In pass scale (no linemen) drills, Spurlock was 7-11 (with two drops) for 64 yards and 1 TD. Lane was 5-7 (1 drop) for 52 yards and a TD. Flatt was 4-4 for 38 yards and a TD. There were no interceptions in the 15-minute drill. Spurlock directed the one offense while Lane and Flatt directed the two "O."

* In live field goal drills today, Will Moseley was 2-3, hitting from 46 and 43 yards while missing from 23 yards out. Hunter Bray was also 2-3, conencting from 39 and 45 yards and missing from 33.

* At the end of practice, the Rebs scrimmaged for roughly 50 plays. The following are some of the highlights as the ones and twos alternated every four plays:

* On the first possession of the one offense versus the one defense, Spurlock hit Kendrick out of the backfield for gains of 20 and 10 yards. . . LB Jamarca Sanford, subbing for Kelvin Robinson, registered a QB sack on an outside stunt. . . DT Dedrick Clark stopped TB Alan Abrams for a two-yard loss.

* On the first effort by the twos (with skill players being intermingled in the top two units liberally), TB Jamal Pittman ran for 6 yards, Lane hit WR Carlos Suggs for an 8-yard gain, LB Brandon Thomas registered a sack on an inside blitz and Pittman was stipped for a two-yard gain by LB Dontae Reed.

* Ones: Spurlock was tackled for a one-yard loss by DT Michael Bozeman; Spurlock hit Kendrick for a 6-yard gain; Suggs caught a 3-yard pass (Kelvin Robinson on the tackle) and TE Jimmy Brooks caught a 20-yard pass.

* Twos: Lane was flushed by DE Corvelli Haynes and dragged down for a one-yard loss; TB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a 20-yard romp; WR Mike Espy snared an 8-yard pass and Pittman was stopped for no gain by Sanford.

* The coaches then moved the offense into the Red Zone (the 20-yard line in). . . Ones: Pittman was stopped for a 2-yard gain by LB Patrick Willis; Spurlock missed WR Mario Hill at the end zone flag; Abrams picked up five hard yards up the middle and Abrams was stopped for no gain by DE Chris Bowers.

* Twos: TE Robert Hough caught a 10-yard strike from Lane; DE Reterio Brown nailed Abrams for a 3-yard loss; Reed nailed Green-Ellis at the line; and TB Larry Kendrick was tackled in the backfield by DT Brandon Jenkins for a 3-yard loss.

* Ones: A reverse to Hill netted 15 yards; CB Travis Johnson limited Kendrick to a 2-yard gain on a short reception and Pittman ran for a 10-yard score.

* Twos: Flatt found Hough for 10 yards, Abrams ran for 7 more and Flatt connected with Kendrick for a 12-yard TD.

* Ones with Lane at the helm: Bowers sacked Lane on a coverage sack; Pittman was hit at the line by Willis and Lane missed on a pass attempt.

* Twos with Spurlock directing the show: Taye Biddle caught a 25-yard pass and then followed that with a 45-yard reception for a score. Spurlock then found Burnell Wallace for 15 yards before being sacked on back-to-back plays by DE Reterio Brown and DT Michael Bozeman.

* Ones with Lane at QB: Travis Johnson got a QB sack on a corner blitz and Lane found Hill for 12 yards. . . Flatt then hit Kendrick for a 20-yard gain and was tackled for no gain by Brown on the next snap.

* On the final possession of the day of the ones, Spurlock hit Biddle back-to-back for 18 yards and 45 yards for a score.

The Rebels will conclude this week's practices with a workout Friday afternoon at 3:45.

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