The Rebel football team resumed spring training with a 2 1/2 hour workout in full pads today (Tuesday) on the practice fields. The conditions were sunny and windy.
"Nothing like coming out here practicing after a good basketball victory by Andy Kennedy's squad," said Coach Houston Nutt. "I think we got some things corrected from last week and our goal is to do it better and faster tomorrow."
Nutt was asked about the progress of the Rebel linebackers, which any astute Rebel fan knows was a sticking point a year ago.
"When I think of the word linebacker, I think of a fast-twitch athlete and excellent tackler. We have to be better tacklers than we are," Houston stated. "I think we have improved fundamentally there because (LB Coach) Tyrone (Nix) has done a heckuva job with them, but we aren't seeing the consistency we need to see yet in the tackling and in guys getting off blocks.
"I feel like if our defensive line can stay healthy and get in better shape, and if they can hold their gaps, our LBs will be alright because Tyrone will have them right, but when we first got here and watched what went on last year, there was very little LB consistency and they were poor tacklers, and they have to be better and more consistent."
Two or three of the lienbackers are catching his eye, however.
"I am anxious to see Chris Bowers in our next scrimmage and see what he does, but he's done a pretty good job so far. He cares and has shown some leadership," Houston continued. "Jonathan Cornell has looked good - I'm excited about him. Allen Walker has shown up well - he's athletic. We just have to keep putting them in the right spots and becoming better tacklers overall."
Speaking of linebackers, signee Patrick Trahan was at practice and Nutt said he's in the back of his mind for fall.
"I was glad to see him here. I know he's got some academic work to do, but from what I hear, he's doing a nice job. I know he's a talented player who will compete for a starting job. He's a great athlete," Nutt said. "It's hard not to think about him when we project to fall."
Both sides of the ball are learning new terminology. Are they picking things up at a decent rate thus far?
"I think they have done a good job of learning the new terminology, taking it home with them and being excited bout it," he noted. "It's all new. Jevan Snead and Billy Tapp have done an excellent job with it and are getting our hand signals from the sidelines well. The receivers are understanding their signals and the traffic flow.
"Of course, we've got all this spring and 30 practices next fall to get it down, but I'm comfortable where we are early in the process."
Reverting back to the linebackers, we had an opportunity to quiz DC/LB Coach Nix as well after practice.
"We're thin but we are improving. We just have to get more consistent. The things we do well, we have to do well every time and not just on certain plays. We are a whole lot better than we were, but we expect to keep getting better every day," Nix said.
Right now, Nix is going with Walker, Cornell and Ashlee Palmer with his top unit. Speed is their key.
"Those guys move well. Walker can really run well and he's instinctive and is playing a little faster than the other guys right now," he continued. "Ashlee played a lot of ball last year but the new system is slowing him down a little right now, but we'll get him up to speed. Cornell is past his injury now and I think he'll be ready to lead us in the fall.
"I also think Chris Bowers has a chance to help us win next year. He's got the size and frame you are looking for and I think he can provide some leadership and is smart. We just have to rep him a lot because he's never played the position, but I feel good about his chances."
The Rebels did not go through any live tackling today, but did an awful lot of "thud" work and went live on the line of scrimmage from start to finish.
The emphasis today was on playing faster, being more fundamentally sound and one-on-one work.
The following are our notes from the day:
* Right Tackle John Jerry padded up for the first time this spring after missing all last week with an illness. Baby J looked a little rusty but he moved into the starting rotation immediately. With him at number one RT, Maurice Miller was moved inside to number one right guard. Daverin Geralds remained the number one center and the left side of Tackle Michael Oher and Guard Reid Neely stayed solid.
* NWCC signees Demareo Marr and Patrick Trahan attended practice today. Marr is a cornerback prospect and will be, without a doubt, the biggest corner on the squad when he gets to Ole Miss in August.
* LaMark Armour was tested on the inside at DT today after spending the first week of spring at defensive end. We'll let you know if the move sticks or not in later reports.
* What does the number two front seven of the defense look like? Right now, it's Greg Hardy and Emmanuel Stephens at the ends, Lawon Scott and Justin Sanders at the tackles, Jamie Phillips and Lamar Brumfield at outside linebacker and Chris Bowers at middle LB. . . . The threes? Chris Strong and LaDerrick Vaughn at DEs, Armour and David Densmore at DTs, Scottie Williams and Trey Trip at OLB and Brandon Thomas/Tony Fein at MLB.
* It sounds like a broken record, but every day it seems like TB Cordera Eason rips off a nice run for a TD. FB Jason Cook is not surprised. "I am seeing the same thing this spring I have seen for two years - a guy who can flat out run the football," said Cook, who leads the way for Eason with his blocking. "He runs very hard and loves to play the game. He's a talented back and will do some really good things this year. I think Cordera has an extra step BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) didn't have and he's got a different style. Ben was more patient and picked his way. Cordera gets the ball and hits it hard. He goes and hits the hole hard. Cordera is downhill from the start."
* While Cordera is stealing a lot of the TB thunder, scatback Jeremy McGee is also popping up with nice runs in practice. He's a little on the smallish side, but he's a better inside runner than his size would indicate. He's not afraid to mix it up on the inside. . . P.S. - WR Dexter McCluster might be able to put yet another slash by his position - WR/PR/ now TB. He ran some straight TB out of the I and a single back set today and said he loves it. "I was a tailback my whole career in high school," he said. "When they told me I was going to get some tailback snaps, my eyes lit up like a deer in headlights. That's what I do." Dexter is also running the Wild Rebel set where he takes a shotgun snap directly from center. "I did that in high school too and really like it. I am used to handing off, running the option, reading the defensive line and I can even throw a little," he smiled. Clearly, McCluster is the most versatile player on the squad, hands down.
* The coaches keep talking about the emergence of Allen Walker at LB, so we watched more closely today. He is definitely more confident, more comfortable, more physical and more effective than he has ever been at Ole Miss, by far. The real Allen Walker is now showing up. Today, in an inside drill, he rushed from the outside and was met by big TB/FB Reggie Hicks in the backfield. He ran right through Hicks, who is a load himself. Allen has learned to play behind his pads and to put his hips into his hits and thus far has produced some of the loudest collisions of spring.
* The wide receivers continue to flourish and produce in all passing drills. Kind of lost in the shuffle with the "newness" of Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux emerging and the flare of Dexter and Mike Wallace is Shay Hodge, but he's not lost on the coaches. He is quietly making as many plays as any WR on the team and WR Coach Ron Dickerson is showing a lot of enthusism toward Shay's production. Shay's not real flamboyant, but he is certainly reliable and efficient.
* QB Jevan Snead also continues to impress. He showed a new wrinkle or two today. We had not seen him throw on the run rolling out much until today. Two times, by design, he rolled and threw strikes on the run of the 20-yard on-a-line variety. . . Also, Snead seems to have very good peripheral vision. Three times today he was looking and set to throw left, but everyone was covered in that direction. He threw right, without adjusting his head/eyes or his body to crossing, open receivers running to the right and hit them in stride. Another unknown, until today, weapon in his ever-growing arsenal. . . The throw of the day, however, was a 25-yard toss over the middle to Breaux in which he had to arc it over a LB and between a closing safety in a 20-MPH wind. He threw a perfect strike with the perfect amount of arc and zip for the completion.
* Little has been said thus far about senior DT Peria Jerry. Big mistake. He is very disruptive in the middle and has not been consistently blocked yet in inside drills. He's consistently collapsing or squeezing the pocket quickly. He is much man.
* The number 2 offensive line right now? Try LT Bradley Sowell, LG Mark Jean-Louis, C Brandon Green, RG Rishaw Johnson, RT Alex Washington. Not bad, not bad at all. Two or three of those guys will be ready to go in the fall, it says here.
* In team - 11 on 11 - work, there seems to be a lot of balance in the competition between the offense and defense. There is good bit of give and take. Both units make plays, which can signify a degree of roster "health." Neither side appears dominant. We're not sure if both are pretty good or both need work, but there's good competition between the two, which is usually a good sign.
* The Rebs will practice again tomorrow (Wednesday) at 4 p.m. The workout is open to the public.
Practice Report: Tuesday
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