Houston Nutt's opening comment: We are very excited about spring training starting. We had some good offseason work, good old gym class, I call it. Now we are looking forward to some football. We'll start Thursday and it will be open practices. We'll probably have the first practice inside because of the weather forecast.
We are excited about this group of players. Our seniors have done a good job of leading, starting with FB Jason Cook. I think he has really stepped up. LT Michael Oher, Peria Jerry have also stepped up. Both the Jerry brothers (Peria and John) are special, really special. SS Jamarca Sanford has done very well. Our receivers have stepped out in front and have done a good job. QB Jevan Snead has shown some good things too.
I'll start with the offensive line. We have moved Maurice Miller from RT to RG, but Mo will also play some RT. We have moved John Jerry to RT. That gives us two big bodies on the edges - John and Michael. They are long, athletic, big guys who can move. I'm anxious to see how physical they are. Maurice has done a good job of losing some weight and he needed to, he was overweight when we got here. He has made a comeback. Daverin Geralds, Brandon Green will be at center, but also Rishaw Johnson will work at center and at right guard. At left guard, Reid Neely has been outstanding. I love his maturity and leadership. Oher has been excellent. Bradley Sowell is also at LT and I like the way he moves and the way he works, great attitude young man. It gets thin from there. We have to develop some depth from Alex Washington, Mark Jean-Louis and some others.
At fullback, Cook has been outstanding. He's a leader and winner. You can tell by the way he goes about things in the classroom and on the field. Andy Hartmann is another guy with great character. I'm anxious to see them go hit somebody.
At tailback, Cordera Eason, Jeremy McGee, Reggie Hicks and Derrick Davis will all work there and get plenty of opportunity.
At QB, Jevan and Billy Tapp will get most of the reps.
At tight end, David Traxler has had an excellent offseason. He's gotten much stronger and vertical jumped over 30 inches. I'm anxious to see what he can do with pads on. He's a good athlete.
The wide receivers have been the brightest spot - Mike Wallace, Marshay Green, Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, Michael Hicks, Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux are guys who can run. Can they catch the ball and will they play without the ball? Will they go get the ball? That's what we will be looking for in spring, but I'm excited about them so far.
On the defensive line, start with Peria Jerry. Coach (Tracy) Rocker loves his work ethic and attitude. He is an intense young man. Ted Laurent and Marcus Tillman are all business and have done a good job. We are also real excited about Justin Sanders and Lawon Scott. They've had good workouts. On the ends, we have LaMark Armour, Greg Hardy, Emmanuel Stephens, Chris Strong, Kentrell Lockett, LaDerrick Vaughn - we have some good end, edge bodies there. Let's see what they do when we put the pads on.
At lienbacker, if there is one spot that we are concerned about, from a depth standpoint, it's there. We have Ashlee Palmer, Chris Bowers, Allen Walker, Jonathan Cornell, who have been good in our workouts. Can they tackle a marshmallow? I don't know, but so far they are doing well in offseason workouts.
In the secondary, there is concern there as well because of depth. I love Dustin Mouzon and Cassius Vaughn at the corners, but it gets thin in a hurry after them. We have to develop some kids there. At the safeties, I like Jamarca Sanford and Johnny Brown, but again we have to develop some depth there.
In spring, we want to accomplish certain things. One, change is always hard. It's a new system, new coaches, new terminology. We want to get better fundamentally, number one. We want to take all the baby steps first and then take the next step when we get those things down. We have stripped it all down and started over. It's one step at a time, full speed, effort and attitude.
There are some things I want to change. There are some things I don't like. I want to change the overall attitude. It's little things and all about winning. It's about how you go to a classroom and how you sit in the first three rows. It's about being on time. There are some things we have to change. It seems like we have some guys who started accepting losing and I don't mean just on the field. I mean every day. We will approach all of that. We will change what we are all about and how we do things across the board. There is only one head coach and right now they are stuck with me and we are going to do it our way.
Tyrone Nix will implement his system on defense with his staff and they will work hard to teach. Spring is a great teaching time. It's the most fun time of the year to be a football coach. We get to watch all the March Madness we want and coach football during the day. We started a day later than planned so Andy Kennedy and his team could have all the attention. We will start getting after it on Thursday.
Q: How anxious are you to actually coach instead of all the other stuff you had to do to get to this point?
HN: We can't wait. We have been through recruiting and the offseason workouts with the early morning running. Now we get to apply all of that with our kids in the greatest game in the world. Our staff and players are excited.
Q: What is the process of putting in your offense?
HN: We've been working together for the last couple of months. The basis of the offense is to be physical and play fast. Our running game has not changed a bit in 10-15 years. We are all getting on the same page as a staff. Our strength is WR and QB right now and that excites me. Our play-action and dropback game will be a big part of our offense. Our passing game will fit in nicely with our personnel and then you bring in Kent Austin who has been throwing the ball around for a long time and his ideas are really awesome to add to the playbook. It's a great mixture. We have good minds in there and we are all getting on the same page.
Q: Is Cordera the number one guy at TB right now?
HN: Yes, but we will mix it up. They will all get all they want this spring, trust me.
Q: What about TE Gerald Harris?
HN: He's done an excellent job since coming in here in January. If you look at all our December signees, they have all been valuable additions. Gerald has put on 20-25 pounds since he has been here and I am anxious to see him with pads on.
Q: Have you decided where you will put Chris Strong?
HN: Chris will start out at DE and sometimes he looks like a DE and sometimes he looks like he needs to be inside. We will keep an open mind about that. There are a few guys like that - guys who might start out somewhere and end up somewhere else. We won't know how that plays out until we put on pads.
Q: How have the big guys responded to the offseason workouts?
HN: We have gassed them a lot and we have a few guys who have what I call a cutoff switch. Once they hit a certain pain threshold, they shut it off. That's what I want to overcome. We can't have that. We have to play through that pain and give that one more play, one more step. We can't have a cutoff switch. A lot of people in the country would have a cutoff switch under the circumstances we have put them under, but we can't have one. We have to get mentally stronger and tougher. That's our job as coaches. We will take them to the point where we don't have a cutoff switch - into overtime.
Q: You did not mention LB Tony Fein.
HN: He has been inconsistent. He will have some great days and then two or three not-too-good days. You have to be consistent to get my attention.
Q: You said you are curious about some of the guys when you put them in pads, like Traxler and Gerald Harris. Anyone else?
HN: LB Allen Walker, LB Jonathan Cornell, Gerald Harris, Emmanuel Stephens and several more.
Q: What about Darryl Harris?
HN: He has worked very hard. We have applied for a sixth year hardship year and I hope he gets it. He could help us. It might be three or four weeks before we hear, but he can practice this spring until we do hear a decision.
Q: How long do you think it will take to get rid of that cutoff switch you talked about?
HN: I don't know. We are just taking one day at a time, but our goal is to get better every single day. We love our players and will talk fishing or whatever off the field, but on the field we will coach them hard and they have to be able to take hard coaching. We want to take them to another level, but that requires being able to take hard coaching when we are out there. I saw how hard they played against Alabama and Florida. They were right there, but you have to finish. You have to go through that cutoff switch. When that will happen, I do not know, but it has to.
Q: Have you watched much film from last year?
HN: No, we are going to have a clean slate. I do not want to hear 'he is soft or he missed too many tackles.' I don't want any pre-determinations. Everything is clean and we have to determine those things for ourselves. Everyone has a brand new start - take advantage of it.
Q: Is Jevan's knee OK?
HN: Yes. The trainers have done a great job with him and he's ready to go. We won't hit him though. We will take care of him and put him in a different color jersey. He will not be hit.
Q: Did it take long for you to recognize your leaders?
HN: After the first meeting, Cook, Oher, Tillman, Sanford, C. Vaughn, Mouzon and a couple of more gravitated to me quickly and I gravitated to them too. They are so hungry for success - they are starving for it. That excites me as a coach. They told me they will do whatever it takes. Neely, Traxler, the Jerrys, Snead, Hartmann and several others are also like that. All those wideouts. Did they do it perfectly? No, but I am not worried about them.
Q: How is your staff melding and molding?
HN: This is one of the best staffs I have ever seen in terms of chemistry. We are all on the same page, but I don't have a lot of yes men. They tell me the truth and not what they think I want to hear and I like that. They give me their real ideas. They are experienced and they are professional. I feel a sense of unity and that is exciting because that's where it starts. You can't fool your players if you don't have that. They know if something is wrong.
Q: Due to lack of depth, will you do less hitting in spring than normal?
HN: No. We will teach fundamentals more, but we will have the same amount of hitting as I have always had. We will have a lot of full-speed blocking without tackling to the ground. We will thud them up, but not take them to the ground. That saves injuries. We will do everything full speed and live but will not tackle to the ground except maybe five scrimmages during the whole spring.
Q: What is the biggest thing you have had to change since you have been at Ole Miss?
HN: Academics. We have work to do there. We have to finish in the classroom too. We are in a hole academically. For the most part they have worked hard to get it right and I have to commend our academic staff, but we have to get out from behind that eight ball.
For fans wishing to attend practices this week and weekend, the times will be 4 p.m. Thursday, 2:20 p.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Houston Nutt PC
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