Pushing the right buttons.
It's part of the psychology of good coaching.
Whatever buttons Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt and his staff pushed today worked. The Rebel football team, practicing in full pads in the IPF for the fourth time in five practices, reached another level of intensity and enthusiasm. Thus, their game picked up.
"This was our best day from an effort and intensity standpoint," Nutt said. "This is more like what you have to have to win in this league. I think the kids are starting to understand that now."
Nutt put the Rebels through a 2-hour-15-minute workout that was not perfect – it did have a lull or two, but it was closer to what the veteran mentor is looking for.
"I appreciate what they did today," he continued. "The guys are giving it to us – I know they are hungry. We just have to keep going and keep getting better. I know that sounds cliché but it's true. We have a way to go and we have to continue working hard to get better. Sometimes they hit a period where they want to go though the motions. That's not how you play this game. You have to play with both chinstraps buttoned and a high level of passion and intensity. It's the only way to win in the SEC. We practice for 2 hours and 15 minutes and it's got to be 2 hours and 15 minutes as hard as you can go. No exceptions. I thought they raised it up today from the inside drill through the end of practice."
In terms of installing both systems – offense and defense – Nutt is pleased with the response he's gotten.
"They are trying to raise things to another notch in terms of passion, intensity and tempo and I see spurts and that translates into understanding what we are doing better. They are starting to understand what we are trying to install. I can see progress and I have gotten a great response from them in that process," he noted.
The light appears to have come on brighter daily lately for QB Jevan Snead and for the running game.
"Our running game is producing a couple of more holes than the day before each day and Jevan is making decisions so much quicker and better. He's always been good in the gun, but underneath center he had work to do because he hasn't done much of the three-step game and play-action game. He has improved in that now," Houston noted. "He's also not forcing things. Lots of time with a strong-armed guy they think they can throw it through a keyhole. Kent (Austin) has done a good job with him teaching him not to force throws and that's hard for a guy with an arm as strong as his. He thinks he can throw it anywhere."
Even though the run game is getting better, TB Cordera Eason has had a little trouble – not a lot, but a little – holding on to the ball. Nutt and RB Coach Derrick Nix have figured out why and are correcting it.
"Cordera is switching arms in the middle of traffic. You can't do that. You have to lock it in there until you get out of traffic, then you can switch it if you need to," he stated. "We'll get that corrected."
For the first time this spring, DE Greg Hardy was running exclusively with the number one defense opposite Marcus Tillman. He had been playing with the twos behind Tillman and opposite of Kentrell Lockett. Today, he was ahead of Lockett.
"We are cautiously optimistic that he's coming on. We just want to make sure he stays steady. Greg's been up and down. We need him to be more consistent. He's headed in the right direction. We hope he stays going that way," said Nutt.
On offense, the Rebs put a heavy emphasis on the draw, delay and screen game today.
"We've had those things in the package, but today we put a focus on that part of our package," he said. "It looked OK. It's a timing thing – taking the right angles, backs picking their way through traffic. It looked better today."
Houston will put the Rebs through the biggest scrimmage of the spring tomorrow at 11:30 a.m.
"We will go about 100 plays and do very little individual work. We are going to put the ball down early in practice and get after it," he said. "I'm really going to be looking at everything, but in particular the cornerbacks – Marshay Green and Jeremy McGee and the rest – and I'm going to focus on guys like Fon Ingram, Justin Sanders and Lamar Brumfield. We believe they are making good progress but we want to see how they respond in a scrimmage situation."
Snead said he feels more and more comfortable as the days click by in spring training.
"The light ball has come on brighter. Coach Austin said it would do that and it has. We are starting to hit some big plays," Jevan said. "I am 100 times more comfortable now than the first of spring. The first of spring was kind of overwhelming as we were installing things. Now things are starting to sink in and the defense is starting to slow down because you know your reads better. It's making sense to me now. I'm thinking less. The thought process is almost over before the ball is snapped now.
"It's very encouraging for it to start coming together. We have a lot more stuff to install, but we feel good about building off what we have in now."
As Nutt said, Jevan has not dropped back much in his career. He's always been a shotgun QB. What is his comfort level in the dropback game now?
"I'm not as comfortable as I am in the gun, but I am getting more and more comfortable the more work I get in the three-step game," he continued. "It's a process. I'm working on it and I feel better about it, but I've got work to do."
Snead has also looked good throwing on the run rolling out.
"I never rolled out from under center before except at Texas some, but I have always felt comfortable throwing on the run," Snead explained. "I feel it gets you out of the pocket and everything opens up. It seems easier to make a decision when you are rolling out. I like doing that."
Jevan likes his supporting cast as well.
"I think the sky is the limit in the passing game. I think we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to, especially with the O-Line we have. They are going to give me a lot of time to throw," said Jevan. "They are big time. The receivers are doing great. There's no telling what we can do, but I think it's going to be big."
Jevan has also felt comfortable being in a leadership role, which is the norm for most QBs.
"I'm not real surprised that I'm one of the leaders because over the past year I have tried to gain everyone's respect by working hard and doing the right things," he added. "I think that has paid off and I have the respect of the team."
RT John Jerry is still missing in action. It is starting to look iffy as to whether or not he will return this spring just based on what he has done so far and that there is only one week of spring training remaining.
In field goal work today, PK Josh Shene was 2-2, hitting from 35 yards out both times, once from the right hash, once from the lest hash.
The Rebels went through extensive coverage and return drills on special teams, but it was more individual work rather than team work. The coaches will put the individual components together for some team work next week after they are comfortable that everyone has their one-on-one assignments downs pat. Mainly, coaches are evaluating who can do what in terms of special teams' skill sets.
Sophomore Chris Strong got some looks today at defensive tackle. He did not play any there during team drills, but he did in individual drills. He has been at defensive end most of spring. We'll keep our eyes open to see how that develops.
Former Auburn OC Al Borges attended practice today. He is sitting out this year but hopes to get back in coaching in 2009. He said he was just "getting a dose" of football.
During inside drills, which are all run game, there was a lot of leather popping in that 5-minute period. The defense looked a little ahead of the game today, but the backs were sprung a couple of times for nice gains. Probably more solid contact today than at any time this spring in that drill.
On the other end of the field, in pass scale, even though the defense has a 7 on 4 coverage advantage, Snead was threading the needle and the wideouts – particularly Shay Hodge and Lionel Breaux – were making plays in traffic over and over again.
Even though Marshay Green has only been at cornerback three practices, he is already ahead of returning starter Dustin Mouzon – for now.
Every day, Dexter McCluster breaks a long run out of the Wild Rebel set. He ripped off a 50-yarder today after faking the belly on the option and keeping up the middle through a small crease in the defense. He's lightning unleashed.
Fon Ingram has been at cornerback all of spring, but was used some today at safety. We'll keep track of that possible change in positions as well.
Jeremy McGee had his first interception as a cornerback in team drills. He had deep thirds in zone coverage and Snead overthrew Mike Wallace, who broke off a fly pattern.
Practice Report: Friday
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