After yesterday's opening spring training practice, Ole Miss Football Coach Houston Nutt was wondering how the team would respond and play through the soreness that today would naturally bring.
He was not disappointed in what he saw.
"We started out strong today, but I think the soreness caught up with them at the end. Overall, though, I was pleased because they have a great attitude and are giving us great effort. That is very pleasing to me," said Nutt. "Tomorrow we'll find out a little more about the team and some individuals. So far, it has been a gym class without any hitting. Now, we put on the pads and we will see who is going to buckle up and put their face in there. Who is going to tackle somebody and block somebody. It's time to apply what we have been teaching fundamentally into live work. We are looking forward to that part of it."
Houston talked about some of the positives of the day, beginning with sophomore QB Jevan Snead.
"My goodness, he is throwing the ball with accuracy and he has a quick release. Coach (Kent) Austin has done a great job of getting everything communicated to him. He's thrown the whole book at Jevan in three days and he's been excellent. He made some big league throws today. I am real excited about him. I also saw a lot of improvement out of backup QB Billy Tapp throwing the ball today. If he keeps improving like he did from yesterday to today, he will be an great asset to our team. He looks like he's more comfortable with the plays and his execution," Nutt continued. "I also thought our protection got better with guys like Michael Oher, Rishaw Johnson, Maurice Miller, Darryl Harris, Gerald Harris, David Traxler, all the guys up front. I'm really proud of them.
"I want to see Oher and the rest of them in pads, but so far they have been very good. Michael can do it all. We just want to see how physical he is with the pads on. I want to see him dominate. I know he's capable of that and that's what we want out of him. He's got outstanding technique and footwork."
Both Nutt and OL Coach Mark Markuson are looking for more consistency from the center slot, which has three "brand new" players - Daverin Geralds, Brandon Green and Rishaw Johnson.
"I'm proud of their effort, but I need to see more consistency out of them. They are coming, but they need to work on their shotgun snaps. They have not been automatic. They have to be automatic, like breathing. We'll get that corrected," Nutt stated.
Nutt is sticking to his guns with his praise of the wideouts.
"Since the day we got back from recruiting, they have been the highlight of the offseason and they have shown the same kind of production in the first two days of spring training," he added. "They can run and they are making plays. We knew what Dexter McCluster and Mike Wallace could do, but now we have Shay Hodge, Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers stepping up. Mike Hicks is also doing well. Those guys have been a real plus."
On the defensive side of the ball, Houston has been impressed, so far, with the secondary.
"We don't have a lot of depth back there, but Cassius Vaughn, Dustin Mouzon, Johnny Brown, Jamarca Sanford and Kendrick Lewis have been very steady so far back there for us," he noted. "At linebacker, I have felt real good about the way Allen Walker, Ashlee Palmer and Chris Bowers have been running around out there, but tomorrow will tell some of the tale on them when they are having to tackle people at full speed."
Tomorrow's full-pad, full-contact workout will be similar to the first two days except it will be live contact.
"We want to be able to close our eyes and hear it, hear the hitting," he smiled. "We'll have about a 15-play scrimmage at the end of team tomorrow where it will be totally live. That will be fun."
Offensive Line Coach Mike Markuson said the OL is a work in progress, but he likes the "raw" and experienced material he is working with.
"We have some very athletic guys who I can tell were well-coached last year," said Markuson. "We are getting in better shape overall, which is a key for some of them. I can tell the ones who have played in the SEC.
"I have been very proud of Maurice Miller losing the weight he needed to lose to be effective. Michael Oher and Reid Neely have also looked very good to this point. We have some good-looking athletes who can run. Rishaw Johnson has also done some good things. We are a work in progress with some of the younger guys, but we are making strides."
Markuson is working with three centers, all new to the position - Geralds, Green and Johnson.
"Daverin is learning. We haven't had too many balls on the ground in two days, which is very important. He's learning and feeling his way through, but he's a smart kid. He's good in the classroom and he's absorbing what we are throwing at him. Rishaw and Bandon are also being mixed in and are responding OK," Mike noted.
Oher came back for his senior year after contemplating going pro. What does Markuson feel he has to do his senior season?
"Michael is exactly like Tony Ugoh was at Arkansas. Same body, same type of athlete. What we told Tony his senior year was to get more physical. He did it and now he is starting for the Indianapolis Colts. Michael needs to do the same thing - get more physical," Mike added. "He is very athletic and can run and get to the spots. We just want him to be more physical, starting tomorrow.
"Every guy who becomes a great player is an athlete who gets a little nasty. Mike's athletic. Is he nasty? We'll find out. He needs to be. He can run all day. Now, can he hit all day? That's a key for him and for all of these guys. That's what we will be looking for out of all of them."
Markuson expects John Jerry, who has missed the first two days of spring, to return next week.
OC and QB Coach Kent Austin echoed Nutt's assessment of Snead and Tapp.
"Today was a lot better than the first day. Jevan and Billy were more comfortable throwing the ball. Both were making much better throws because they were more fundamentally sound and more consistent," Austin noted. "Their decision-making was much better. We have to get their eyes in the right place. They are learning new terminology and WR adjustments and it is very critical they understand where to put their eyes pre-snap and post-snap. They've done a good job so far and were better today than yesterday."
Overall, Austin was pleased with day one-to-day two progress of the whole offense.
"We were a lot better in the passing game. They will keep getting better as long as they keep repping and understanding what we are teaching," Kent said. "Our line is doing a nice job protecting and I like what our backs are doing. They are being coached very well and are not making many mistakes. I like their energy in the passing game, in blocking and in running routes.
"I'm also pleased with the development of the wideouts. They are being aggressive going after the ball and are making good catches."
The Rebels worked in the stadium again and put in roughly two and a half hours on a sunny, windy day.
Here are some notes we took at practice:
* The Rebel centers have been having some inconsistencies in snapping when the QBs are in the shotgun. They took an extensive period prior to practice starting and after practice trying to shore that up. Green, who has played center before, was the most comfortable with that aspect of the game, but Geralds and Johnson, who have not played C before, need work.
* In early special teams work, add the name of RB Jeremy McGee to those fielding punts along with Lionel Breaux and Dexter McCluster. Marshay Green, who is still out with a staph infection, will also return punts when he returns to practice.
* John Jerry was at practice again, but he did not work out in any full-speed drills. . . With Jerry out, Rishaw Johnson split time with Darryl Harris at the number one RG and Mo Miller handled right tackle with the top unit.
* In field goal kicking drills, Joshua Shene was 2-3 on a very windy day, hitting from 36 and 38 yards and missing from 39 yards out. He was battling a crosswind that was difficult to judge.
* With this coaching staff, James Shibest is the special teams coordinator but it appears every coach has specific ST duties. It is definitely an all-hands-on-board approach to special teams coaching.
* In the punting game, today, senior Rob Park appeared to be the most consistent, getting off nearly every punt with a good spiral and hitting them 40-plus yards. Last year's starter, Justin Sparks, hit the longest punt of the day, about 50 yards, but he was inconsistent.
* If you are wondering about Snead's arm strength, wonder no more. He was flicking the ball 45-50 yards on deep routes with ease and he threw several bullet passes that were 30-35 yards on a line.
* The defensive backs held their own in one-on-one pass scale, making some very nice plays in a drill that usually favors the offense. CB Cassius Vaughn had a nice pick sticking like glue to WR Mike Wallace on an intermediate route and looking back for the ball. Whether or not Vaughn was doing all the right things all the time, we are not qualified to say, but he definitely made the most big plays in the secondary today. S Kendrick Lewis also made a couple of nice plays on the ball.
* Sophomore LB Jonathan Cornell got some action with the first team today at MLB, along with OLBs Allen Walker and Ashlee Palmer. Chris Bowers also worked a lot with the ones.
* When team drills began, the one defense was: DEs Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett, DTs Peria Jerry and Ted Laurent, OLBs Palmer and Walker, MLB Bowers/Cornell, Safeties Johnny Brown and Jamarca Sanford and corners Dustin Mouzon and Cassius Vaughn. . . The one offense was: LT Oher, LG Neely, C Geralds, RG Johnson, RT Miller, TE Traxler/Harris, QB Snead, FB Cook, TB Eason and a WR mix of Wallace, McCluster, Breaux, Hodge, Summers and Hicks.
* In team drills, TB Cordera Eason ripped off two long runs, one of 70 yards untouched and one of 85 untouched. He showed he has the speed to take it to the house when he outran an angle from C. Vaughn coming from the other side of the field in pursuit. Eason also had a long gainer on a reception out of the backfield. Cordera is clearly the number one TB on the team, but McGee also had two or three nifty runs, as did Derrick Davis.
* Why did Shay Hodge draw praise from Nutt? In a two-minute drill, Tapp threw a rocket over the middle that appeared to be way over anyone's head. Hodge jumped what look like three feet in the air, snagged the bullet, landed on his feet and gained another 15 yards. Phenomenal catch on a ball that looked way overthrown.
* Of all the wideouts today, Breaux, who has upped his game quite a bit since last season and is now showing maturity in his play, hd the most catches. He is definitely pushing all the wideouts for playing time.
* JUCO DE Emmanuel Stephens and Peria Jerry had the only two QB sacks of the day.
* In overtime, Snead hit Wallace with a 20-yard strike for a score, and then found Summers for an 18-yard TD. . . but he was also picked off by CB Fon Ingram, who returned the pick for a 97-yard score.
* Hargrave transfer Julian Whitehead also had an impressive interception covering Wallace on a deep route, turning to find the ball and picking it off.
* The Rebels will practice at 8:30 in the morning in full pads, most likely in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, but there is an outside change they could move it to the practice fields.
Practice Report: Friday
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