"We are making strides, but we are practicing in spurts," said Nutt. "We started out strong today, but then dropped off a little in our middle (run) drill. Then we picked it up again at the end with the defense looking real good in team (11-on-11) drills.
"The defense is starting to learn Coach (Tyrone) Nix's scheme and they aren't having to think as much. They are playing quicker and more instinctively. Greg Hardy chased the ball really well today and Emmanuel Stephens has been going 100 miles an hour since he first got here. Peria Jerry is the heart of our defense right now. He never takes a play off and I love that. Also, our linebackers have done better.
"It's good to see Greg make a move. I'm proud of his improvement and attitude."
QB Jevan Snead didn't really have his 'A' game today, but Nutt said there's a reason.
"Jevan hasn't played in a while and he's learning a new playbook, but I have been very impressed with him. He was a little off today, but I'm not worried about that. He's got some fundamental things to correct, but Coach (Kent) Austin will get those squared away with him.
"He's got a good arm and is what we need. He can move in the pocket and has some escapability. Jevan also has the presence in the pocket to know when to step up, when to get rid of it and when to bail out and run. He has some good natural instincts, which a lot of quarterbacks don't have."
On the offensive front, Nutt said he's impressed with the OL athleticism, but he wants to see more "toughness."
"Bradley Sowell and Maurice Miller and Reid Neely all need to get tougher - All the OL do really. We have to have a tougher mindset. I think we will see that the second half of spring training because they are kind of feeling their way right now, but that's what we are looking for from all of them - more toughness," he continued. "It is good to have John Jerry out there - he's very athletic. We are happy with switching John to tackle and Maurice to guard right now as well."
The Rebels are working special teams drills every day, but it's more individual work rather than "unit" work.
"They've done well as individuals, but we've been working everything against air so far trying to teach them the fundamentals of what we want to do. We haven't done a lot of schemes yet, but we will put them together some Saturday and see how they perform with the heat on," Houston added. "How will the punters punt and kickers kick with a rush coming? I think we have enough raw personnel for special teams but we are a little different in our approach than some staffs. We will use our best players. Anyone who can help us win, we will use.
"So far, Jamarca Sanford, Emmanuel, Dustin Mouzon, Cassius Vaughn and a few more have the right kind of motor we are looking for on special teams."
Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest said what the Rebs are doing now is all preliminary work.
"We are just evaluating personnel right now. We aren't going to teach a lot of scheme yet. We are just trying to identify who is athletic enough and who is smart enough to handle it," Shibest noted. "Then, we won't have to waste time in the fall. We are looking at everyone - there are no starters right now. Who wants to do it is also a factor.
"So far, it's going real well. They are listening and learning and doing what we ask. I'm really pleased with the response these kids have to special teams play. They seem to understand the importance. They seem disciplined. They have the right personalities."
In the kicking game, Shibest is pleased with PK Josh Shene, but he said the punters need work on their consistency.
"Josh started out slow, but he's picked it up the last couple of days. He ws 3-3 from outside 40 yards today," said Shibest. "Our punters will have to pick it up. They all have potential, but they have not been consistent. I think that will be a battle into two-a-days between those three (Justin Sparks, Rob Park, Bryan Powers). Our deep snapper (Preston Powers) has been very good and Rob has done a great job holding on placements."
CB Dustin Mouzon, a stalwart on special teams in the past, is happy with the way things are going thus far on special teams.
"These coaches are doing a lot more teaching and have slowed things down so we can get everything down right before we go forward," Mouzon explained. "They work with us individually and are taking time for us to learn it all, not just one position. It's easier to learn that way."
Our notes from practice:
* Junior CB Cassius Vaughn, as we have already reported in a previous practice writeup, has a new-found sense of confidence and it's showing not only in his play but in his leadership. "The new coaches have given all of us a new start and they are teaching us a lot more. We have a lot of periods in practice where it's just teaching us what to do in every situation," Vaughn said. "I'm more comfortable and more confident which has allowed me to take a little bit of a leadership role in helping guys like Jamariey Atterberry, Fon Ingram and Julian Whitehead, who are younger. These new coaches expect everyone to lead and I like doing that. It feels really good to be out here with some confidence and to have some fun. We can't ask for anything more as players."
* Signees Hunter Miller and Horatio Williams attended practice today, as did Houston Nutt's junior high coach and close friend Charles Ripley, one of Nutt's strongest influences in athletics and life.
* Every pad practice has started with a bull-in-the-ring session to get the juices flowing and get the players in the mood to hit. The spirit has been high and the adrenaline gets a jump start as practice starts to get serious after stretch.
* Yesterday, DL Coach Tracy Rocker was not real happy with a one-man sled drill and how his troops were moving it. They knew they had disappointed their new mentor. Today, different story. The DL was firing off the ball moving the sled freely and Rocker let them know he was happy about the improvement. It's more fun when things are being done correctly.
* The defensive coaches spent extra time on form tackling drills today. There were four tackling stations set up that involved different movements to get to a tackle and every defensive player went through all four stations. The emphasis was on hitting low, driving through the tackle and locking up. Obviously the new coaches have watched film from last year and realize work needs to be done.
* We haven't mentioned any third-team OL thus far, but a player who has worked hard to change his body and may have more of a chance than originally thought is Don Mosley. He's still a 300-pounder, but it's a different looking, harder 300 pounds. You can tell he's put in some effort to firm up his body. That's bound to translate into better play sooner or later.
* When CB Jamariey Atterberry reported to Ole Miss last summer, he weighed roughly 165-170 pounds. He is now up to 182 and it's showing in a more physical style of play. Like Don, another player who has helped himself physically.
* It was pretty windy on the top practice field today during 7-on-7 pass scale (no rush) but that probably didn't explain three interceptions for TDs by the defense. Whitehead, Allen Walker and Ingram (his third pick of the spring in live work) all picked off passes and had clear sailing for TDs. . . But it wasn't all defense in the drill. Snead threw two long TD passes as well, one to Mike Wallace and one to Markeith Summers, who continues to make plays and impress.
* For the first time all spring, Greg Hardy got snaps with the number one defense, splitting time with Kentrell Lockett. It was good to see some of the "old Greg Hardy" surface.
* LG Reid Neely had to leave practice early to go to a night class. Darryl Harris slid comfortably into his position. Harris can be a valuable resource for OL Coach Mike Markuson. "Darryl has played every position and is tough," said Nutt. "I hope we can get that sixth year and he's eligible to play in the fall. He can be very valuable to us because of his versatility and experience."
* Peria Jerry and Ted Laurent had a pair of "jailbreak" sacks in team drills, but on the offensive side, TB Cordera Eason once again ripped off a couple of long gainers. Again, team drills at the end of practice have been very competitive.
* The Rebs will not practice tomorrow. They resume Friday at 3 p.m.
|Photos by Chuck Rounsaville|