(The following is a general recap of today's practice, which included a 75-play scrimmage. It was our first look at the Rebels this spring since practices have been closed. We will give you a transcript of Coach O's press conference later today, and an interview with Coach Dan Werner and a photo gallery from the practice tomorrow. The following is a compilation of notes taken by the Spirit staff - Jeff Roberson, Yancy Porter and Chuck Rounsaville.)
Ole Miss Football Coach Ed Orgeron led the Rebels through their first scrimmage of the spring session today - a 75-play workout that was highlighted by solid defensive play and spotty offensive production.
"That's how spring training goes," said Orgeron. "Yesterday, the offense was better. Today the defense dominated most of the time, but the offense was able to move the ball sometimes in spots. I'm pleased with where we are after our first full week of spring training, we've made substantial progress, but there is no doubt we have a long way to go to get where we want to be."
* The weather was beautiful in Oxford, but it was extremely windy with gusts up to 30 mph. The wind affected the passing game significantly, especially the deep passes.
* The defense set the pace today after the offense shined yesterday in the Red Zone. The dominant player on the defensive side was sophomore DE Peria Jerry, who was a DT last year. Coach O has been raving about Jerry all week. Today, we saw why. He's taking to defensive end like he's played there his whole career. He has the combination of strength/size to hold up against the run and quickness to rush the quarterback that Coach O and the defensive staff was looking for. He had three tackles behind the line today and was a presence on a majority of the snaps. The Rebel OL is having a hard time handling Jerry, who seems to be as motivated as any player on the team at this time.
* DL Coach Ryan Neilsen is trying to replace all four starters up front and is currently in the process of mixing and matching. The constant appears to be Jerry, but NT Jeremy Garrett, DT Brandon Jenkins and DT Hayward Howard are all vying for playing time. Garrett seems to have the most consistentcy at this time - his motor constantly runs, but Jenkins showed - today - marked improvement since last season in the effort department. Howard is as good physically as advertised, but he's got the JUCO transition thing going right now. He needs conditioning and he needs to learn the defense so he can play faster. Physically, he's got the goods, but he's got work to do in this defense to make an impact. At end, Chris Bowers has put on 15 solid pounds and it's helping him in being more of a presence in the running game. He appears to have maintained his speed since last year even with the extra weight. LeRon King, who is backing up Bowers right now due to a recent injury to Reterio Brown, had a pair of sacks today with his speed off the edge, but can he hold up against the run? Coach O said he may be a nickel type of pass rusher in games due to his explosiveness off the edge. We can certainly see that. It is also apparent Viciente DeLoach is carrying more body weight and it's helped his physicality some as well.
* At linebacker, Garry Pack has been solid and seems more comfortable in the defense than he was last year. He appears to be in the right place at the right times more often this year and is handling OL blocks better. Pack's backup, Brandon Thomas, had four solo stops today and was more active than in the past. . . With Patrick Willis out for spring, the task of handling MLB is falling on Robert Russell's shoulders. He's better than he was last season, when he had a baptism by fire, but he's still showing inconsistencies he will have to work out between now and September. His backup, Rogers Loche, led the team in tackles today with six against the second team offense. . . Quentin Taylor is starting at WLB and seems to be more comfortable than a year ago when he was a true frosh. He appears to be more physical than last season and doesn't seem to be thinking as much. His reaction time to offensive plays appears more natural and quicker this spring. Taylor's backup, Antonio Turner, has a linebacker's body and mentality, but it's obvious he isn't in tune yet to LB responsibilities or techniques. Patience will be the key with him because he's seeing this for the first time, but he's got a promising future there. He now weighs 230 and can move well, he just doesn't instinctively know where to move to yet.
* We mistook RCB Trumaine McBride for B. Brown today because of the extra bulk T-Mac has put on since last fall. He seems more physical at the line of scrimmage and much stronger, yet he still has the quick feet and reaction time to lock on to receivers effectively. His backup, Terrell Jackson, seems to have come a long way since last year as well, but in a different way. He no longer looks as "confused" with his responsibilities and that's allowing him to be more involved in making plays. He made a play or two against the run today behind the line of scrimmage. . . Veteran Nate Banks has taken over for graduated Travis Johnson and there should not be a beat missed there. Nate looked settled in and confident today and was locked on to the receivers for the most part. His backup, Dustin Mouzon will most likely be the third corner in the rotation. He's stronger looking than last fall and also has an air of confidence about what he is doing, aka, Terrell Jackson. . . Veteran Charles Clark is as steady as he's always been and continues to make plays consistently and just do his job. He's not flashy, but he's reliable and makes very few mistakes. His backup, Gary Albury, has added a few pounds and a little bit of knowledge to his arsenal, but his best football is ahead of him as he learns more and more about his duties. . . . With Jamarca Sanford out for spring, B. Brown has taken over at strong safety and has gained kudos from Coach O in just about every practice. His offseason work and familiarity with the defense are showing in his productivity. Clearly a valuable part of the defense. With Gary Riggs out for personal reasons today, Kirt Finnell backed up B.
Offensively, the day left a lot to be desired, but a lot of that had to do with the wind affecting the passing game drastically and the uncertainty at quarterback. The coaches tried all four QBs today - Seth Adams, Bruce Hall, Billy Tapp and Conner Wise, and all four were spotty and had trouble getting much going. Some of that was due to some steady pressure by the defense, and some was becasue of the unfamiliarity with the offense, but some of it was simply not throwing the ball very well. Adams was 10-21 for 80 yards, Hall was 4-5 for 70 yards with a TD, Wise was 2-7 for 51 yards and a score and Tapp was 5-12 for 32 yards. Who will be the backup to Brent Schaeffer next year? At this point, it could be any of the four and may not be determined in spring.
Running back looks to be a no-brainer. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Mico McSwain give the Rebs an effective 1-2 punch at TB. BenJarvus didn't have a lot of room to operate today, with the defense shining, but it is apparent he's got the tools of a very good tailback. Mico lacks the consistency and inside running ability of Green-Ellis, but he has that big stike capability, exhibited at least twice today, that makes him a major threat and an excellent counter to BJGE. . . Hiram White is on the smallish side, but his balance and speed are good and he's a tough inside runner.
At fullback, Jason Cook is clearly healthy after shattering his forearm last year. He looks bigger, stronger and better this spring. Seth Michaelson, who will probably be the deep snapper on field goals and punts, is also a game competitor, but he lacks the skills of Cook.
Wide receiver appears to be a deficiency right now. The Rebs have gone a little bigger by putting Michael Hicks, Tyson Andrus and Keith Houston out wide to go with lanky Carlos Suggs. Suggs is the only one with any experience and it shows right now. The speed guys in the lineup are Marshay Green and Mike Wallace. Green is extremely dangerous in the open field, but he's got to be more consistent catching the ball than he was today. Wallace has gained some weight since last year and isn't being mauled at the LOS in press coverage. That will pay off next season. J.D. Lawhorn may have the best hands on the team. Part of the problem with the WRs is plain old lack of experience and uncertainty, but today the inability of the QBs to get them the ball was also a detriment.
At tight end, Robert Lane is clearly the playmaker of the bunch, but Lawrence Lilly seems more dedicated and determined in his approach this season and that will pay dividends. Robert Hough is bigger and that will help him in the trenches. Jason Hawkins is very green, but looks to be able to stretch the field a little, a lot like Lane and Hough.
Up front, it's apparent Michael Oher is going to be a standout. It's all a matter of time for him, especially now that he's out on an island at left tackle rather than in the cozy confines of OG like last year. He's coping with not being flanked by any help and is going against Jerry every snap. That alone will make both of them better and battle ready in the fall. Marcus Cohen is backing Oher and has improved due to the addition of Art Kehoe as the OL coach. It appears Kehoe keeps things very simple and is having a lot of patience with the OL development in his blocking system. He's intense, but he also takes time to teach and is on top of every little kink as it arises. Kehoe, alone, will make the OL better and will help in the development of players like Cohen. . . Darryl Harris is back at his natural position of left guard and it shows. He's currently being backed up by the reliable Andrew Wicker, who may end up at right guard in the fall. Both are solid players and didn't seem to have any breakdowns today that we detected. . . . Center is up in the air. Right now, Thomas Eckers, who was moved there yesterday, is number one, but Corey Actis is pushing him hard. Both are in an adjustment period, but both show promise. . . Perhaps the surprise of spring to this point is the fact that Maurice Miller has been elevated to number one right guard. Big Mo is a load on the inside and seems to have found a home. This could be his year - if not, Wicker is prepared to take over there, most likely. James McCoy is backing Miller. . . At right tackle, David Traxler looks a year bigger, stronger and wiser after an injury-plagued season in 2005. Reid Neely, fresh off Achilles tendon rehab, is learning the ropes. . . The style Kehoe is teaching - aggressive, attacking and playing lower - has already helped the OL cause. The task for the spring is to find the best five and then put them in positions in the fall. As Coach Kehoe stated, there is a lot of work to do, but progress is being made, despite the defensive onslaught today.
* It was hard to gauge the placekicking today due to the winds. The snaps by Michaelson were mostly good,for a first-timer, the holds by Rob Park were excellent as usual, but kicking was highly sporadic due to the crosswind. Matt Hinkle, Robert Bass got most of the attempts today while Justin Sparks also got a couple. Will Moseley's foot is bruised and he could not kick today. . . . It appears Mico McSwain and Marshay Green will be the top candidates to return punts and kickoffs. Lots of speed and quickness there, which bodes well for improvement in those areas.
The following was today's two deep:
SE - Carlos Suggs, Keith Houston
LT - Michael Oher, Marcus Cohen
LG - Darryl Harris, Andrew Wicker
C - Thomas Eckers, Corey Actis
RG - Maurice Miller, James McCoy
RT - David Traxler, Reid Neely
TE - Robert Lane, Lawrence Lilly, Robert Hough
FL - Mike Wallace, Marshay Green
QB - Seth Adams, Bruce Hall, Billy Tapp
FB - Jason Cook, Seth Micahelson
RB - BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mico McSwain
DE - Peria Jerry, Viciente DeLoach
DT - Brandon Jenkins, Hayward Howard
NT - Jeremy Garrett, Trey Poole
DE - Chris Bowers, LeRon King
SLB - Garry Pack, Brandon Thomas
MLB - Robert Russell, Rogers Loche
WLB - Quentin Taylor, Antonio Turner
RCB - Trumaine McBride, Terrell Jackson
SS - B. Brown, Kirt Finnell
FS - Charles Clark, Gary Albury
LCB - Nate Banks, Dustin Mouzon
* Stat Highlights: Rushing: McSwain 6-28; Green-Ellis 9-25; White 10-20. . . Passing: Adams 10-21-80; Hall 4-5-70-1 TD; Wise 2-7-51, 1 TD; Tapp 5-12-32. . . Receiving: Green 5-44, Hough 4-28, Lane 3-36, Green-Ellis 3-18, Lilly 2-22, McSwain 1-37 (TD), Suggs 1-25 (TD), White 1-5, Cook 1-0. . . Tackles: Loche 6, Banks 5, Jerry 4 (3 TFL), B, Thomas 4, Q. Taylor 4 (1.2 sack), Clark 4, Howard 4 (1/2 sack), Jenkins 4 (1 sack), King 4 (2 sacks), Garrett 3 (1 sack), T. Jackson 3 (1 TFL).
* 2006 Signees Cecil Frison, Cassius Vaughn, Markeith Summers and Alen Walker were at practice today as well as 2007 commits Chris Strong and Bradley Sowell.
* Next Up: Coach O's thoughts on today's practice and the first week of spring training.
Rebs hold 1st spring scrimmage
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