Thursday and Friday, the Rebel footabll team played touch. Saturday, for 2 1/2 hours in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Ole Miss rebels played for keeps, in full pads. It was the first "real" football of the spring session and Coach Houston Nutt was mostly pleaased with what he saw.
"We kind of overextended them a little bit today. We have had three really good days of teaching and learning," Houston stated. "This is what we needed. I've seen some good things and some bad things, but I like our attitude. I like the team's enthusiasm. We can build from there."
The basics - tackling and blocking - have to get better, Nutt stated, but he's seen some signs of what he wants.
"I've seen glimpses of good tackles and good blocks. The receivers keep making good catches and Jevan (Snead) keeps coming on. It's just the consistency we are striving for - the little things," he explained. "We have to clean up a lot of things, but I am proud of where we are after three practices."
When the Rebs were in shorts, the offense dominated what Nutt calls "gym class." With the pads on, it was a different story - the defense did much, much better.
"We expect the defense to be ahead this time of the year," he continued. "They should be ahead. They are excited about hitting someone. That's how we want them to feel. They just have to keep getting better.
"For the first time out, we were pretty physical but that dropped toward the end and that's what we are trying to solve. Anyone can play in the first quarter - the cheerleaders jump higher and the band plays louder in the first quarter. It's the fourth quarter we want to be good in. That is the cutoff switch I was talking about earlier in the week and we just have to keep working on that, but we are getting better."
Nutt was asked about the linebackers yesterday after a non-contact day. He said to ask him after a day of pads. So we did.
"Allen Walker showed up and was very physical. Ashlee Palmer was good and I think Jonathan Cornell is coming. I'm excited about him," Nutt stated. "Jamie Phillips had a couple of good hits, as did Tony Fein. Again, it's the consistency we are looking for."
In the first two practices, Tailback Cordera Eason broke several big runs. How would he do in pads? He stayed on that path, breaking one long run and being physical.
"I'm proud of him. He's hitting the hole and learning the plays well. He's our best back right now, but it's still early. I like his direction though," Houston said.
Greg Hardy gained All-SEC recognition last year. This year, he's having to fight to get on the field.
"We have good numbers at defensive end. Emmanuel Stephens, Marcus Tillman, LaMark Armour, Kentrell Lockett, Chris Strong are all doing well. We are trying to get guys who play every snap. Coach (Tracy) Rocker is giving everyone a good look to see who surfaces," Houston assessed.
Nutt continues to be impressed with the wide receivers, especially Markeith Summers and Shay Hodge.
"Like I said yesterday, we know what Dexter McCluster and Mike Wallace can do. What we didn't know were Markeith and Shay and Lionel Breaux. Those guys are really playing well," he continued. "They have stepped up. They are bigger bodies and have done a real good job.
"For three days, the throwing and catching has been very good, for early as it is. We have to get better in our spacing and coming off the line, little things again, but as early as it is I am proud of them."
The following are random notes taken during Saturday's workout.
* After the stretch period, Nutt called the whole team up and "put the ball down." Bull in the ring, to get things started. The biggest collision of the day did not take place with the "big guys." It was LB Allen Walker and TB Cordera Eason assualting each other. Huge impact neither giving an inch. Needless to say, that period got the juices flowing.
* LB Don Hargroder, OL John Jerry and WR Marshay Green did not dress out due to injury/illness. Jerry is expected back next week. Marshay may take a little longer.
* In watching position drills, one thing is very apparent - this staff teaches. They are not just drill coaches. OL Coach Mike Markuson and DL Coach Tracy Rocker get into the intricacies of playing the positions they coach and they take time to show subtle nuances to each player, not just see how many reps they can get in. With Markuson, it is all about the finer points of technique. With Rocker, it is all about the not-so-subtle art of aggression and movement. Rocker teaches attacking, pursuit, quickness and 2nd effort. He assumes there will be brutality and if not, that player's manhood is challenged. It is basic, but intricate, football. The basis is in physicality and movement, the intricacies are in doing it right.
* Several players that did not contribute a lot last year have a new-found lease on life and are developing a lot of confidence. perhaps none more than CB Cassius Vaughn. He is a different person under the new coaches. It is very clear he has developed, in a short time, supreme confidence and is lapping up the coaching from CB Coach Chris Vaughn and it is just as obvious that Vaughn is responding to Vaughn's extra efforts. He is already a different, more sure of himself, player than a year ago.
* Another player who is exuding confidence and is producing on a regular basis is Summers. Markeith is fast becoming one of the better receivers on the team and is already in the WR rotation, a circle he never broke into last year. "I have a clean slate this year," said the 6-3 wideout. "I am determined to be a starter and to make plays. I'm determined to make an impression on the new coaches." Uh, mission being accomplished. Today, Markeith had two excellent catches against tight coverage, one a 45-yarder and another an 18-yard TD, by using his size and jumping ability. "I'm bigger than most DBs, so there is no reason why I shouldn't be able to take the ball or outjump them for the ball," he said matter of factly. So far, so good for the talented sophomore.
* With this staff, there is a lot of praise for a job well done, but there are also consequences for messing up. Be it laps or pushups, if you make a bad play, you have to pay. Rocker's "punishment" is the most comical. There are trees in the Northeast corner of the stadium outside the playing field. When one of his players has a poor play, he simply says "go touch a tree", that player has to jog outside the stadium and literally touch the tree.
* Besides Cassius Vaughn, it appears all the DBs are making more plays on the ball this spring than in the past. One, they are being coached to look for the ball, when they are in the right position, and are taught to be aggressive in tring to make plays in the right situation. Today, Fon Ingram make another interception - his second in two days - in zone coverage on an underthrown deep ball.
* In inside blocking/pass rush drills, there were some mini-wars going on between the offensive and defensive lines. No quarter was being given or asked and there was really no dominant side. One play, the offense would win, the next defense would take control. Rocker and Markuson have fun with that competition and daily period and it's an enthusiastic, excitable 10 minutes. Bull on bull - best man wins.
* While the DE slots seem to be up in the air, it looks pretty clear already that somebody is really going to have to step up to chllange either Peria Jerry or Ted Laurent at DT. Both have started off spring as the guys to beat out. That was expected, almost guaranteed, out of Peria, but not so much from Ted. He hss been a pleasant surprise to this point.
* MLB Jonathan Cornell appears to be making his move and getting his feet under him after missing most of las year due to a shoulder injury. Today, he looked more like himself than the previous two days and said the contact he was engaged in did not affect his shoulder, which he's been rehabbing for nearly six months, at all. Good to see him back in the groove. He took a lot of reps with the top defense today.
* On the offensive line, senior Darryl Harris worked most of the day at the number one right guard. Until today, it has been Rishaw Johnson, but today the wily veteran stepped ahead. That should be a good battle all spring and will intensify when John Jerry returns and Maurice Miller starts getting more reps at RG instead of RT.
* Wish we had a film of one of Mike Wallace's catches today. On a deep route, the DB had close coverage but had his back to the ball. Wallace, facing the QB and going in full stride, reached back over the shoulder pads of the DB and plucked the ball with the DB between the ball and Mike's body. Super catch for a TD.
* When this staff was at Arkansas, they ran a set called "Wild Hog" with Darren McFadden lined up like a QB in the shotgun. It will be called Wild Rebel at Ole Miss, and right now McCluster is the QB. Dex took one play for 80 today.
* The Rebs went through 20-play full-contact, full-tackling scrimmage toward the end of practice. The defense didn't give up much. Peria Jerry, Cornell, Laurent, Palmer, Jamarca Sanford all had plays after short gains. QB Jevan Snead was under duress and wasn't able to connect on much except a couple of short passes to TE David Traxler and McCluster.
* Speaking of Traxler, both he and JUCO TE Gerald Harris are showing good hands in their opportunities to catch the ball. Traxler has not had a drop yet and has had several passes thrown his way in shorter routes. A definite improvement from his transition from OL to TE last year.
* Jevan Snead is clearly the number one QB, but don't get the impression backup Billy Tapp can't get the job done. He's proving that every day in live work. He won't wow you with his arm or his footwork, but he makes plays and is cool under fire. Today, in two-minute drill work, he three a TD to Summers and a short TD to Wallace and did it under pressure and into tight coverage. Snead's the guy, OK? But don't be afraid of Tapp getting in a game. His cool will fool.
* Problems areas? It can't all be sunshine. Depth at DT, depth on the OL, depth at RB and depth at corner. It's got to be developed. Here are some names on the to-watch list: CB Fon Ingram (seems to make plays), OT Bradley Sowell (getting better daily), RB Jeremy McGee (speed to burn), DT Lawon Scott (made a couple of nice plays today). Those guys, adn some more, have to keep coming, but you can clearly see they have a chance.
* The Rebs' next practice will be Tuesday. We will give you a definite time and location when we get official word. No practice Monday due to Nutt wanting to support the Rebel basketball team in their NIT run.
Practice Report: Saturday
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