The last day of spring training in full pads on the practice fields brought Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt a great deal of satisfaction from a where-we-were-to-where-we-are perspective.
"That was our last full pad practice until the Grove Bowl and I tell you, I'm just really proud of the way the guys have worked," Nutt said. "We've had a lot of changes and that's not easy, but we've got some awfully good young men here. We just have to keep getting better.
"There are times in practice when things don't go right when we get a defeated look on our faces and we are going to get rid of that. We harp on it all the time. It goes back to little things. But other than that, it's been a good spring and I've been proud of them."
Nutt said they are a lot better now than they were 13 practices ago.
"They are better and they are approaching things differently, more positively," he said. "Are we there? No. Are we ready to conquer the world? No, but I love the start we've had with this spring. Now we have to finish strong, have a great summer and do the little things right from here on in. We have to turn the corner and turn up the volume, but we've got a good foundation laid."
Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix threw the kitchen sink at the offense in the scrimmage portion of practice with blitzes from everywhere. How did Nutt think that went?
"He came after the offense hard, threw it all at us. They would have gotten a few sacks," said Nutt. "I like sometimes playing good-on-good, let the defense bring the house and see how our guys respond and react. It's easy to come out here and choreograph success, but that does little good. Turn them loose, let's see the real speed of the game and see how everyone reacts. It helps you because you can learn from it and go back in the film room and correct. It was good today."
Houston was asked it there are any players in particular in a backup role he particularly wanted to see in the Grove Bowl.
"We will look at everyone hard," he said. "But I'd say guys like Fon Ingram, Marshay Green, Chris Strong, Justin Sanders, Rishaw Johnson, Don Mosley, Brandon Green, etc. We need those guys to come on. We want to see them, and some more, to perform at a high level and see what we've got. We need every gun next year. They are important. TE Gerald Harris has come on strong the last three or four practices. He's smart, a hard worker and a fighter. I love his attitude. He's in the mix."
Cornerback is still an area in the air and still crucial to Houston.
"We've got to have our best players there. That is the last line of defense, nobody is behind you," he explained. "Marshay has lifted everyone up on defense and I like that in a player - he's competitive, but he's not a finished product at corner yet. Dustin Mouzon and Cassius Vaughn have gotten better, but we will continue to put a lot of emphasis on those positions because they are vital to our success."
Nutt was asked about OC Kent Austin and their working relationship.
"We have great chemistry on this staff, as good as I have been around. They are good teachers," he continued. "Kent brings a lot to the table with his passing game knowledge mixed in with what we already had in the run game. And he's done a great job with Jevan Snead. Jevan had a few minor flaws he needed to correct and Kent has corrected those things with Jevan. I am very happy to have him on the Ole Miss staff."
Nutt is excited about the Grove Bowl and will prep the team with a rehearsal practice Friday afternoon.
"We've got Eli Manning, Patrick Willis, Derrick Burgess, Archie Manning and more coming back home this weekend and that's exciting. I'm going to get Eli, Derrick and Patrick to talk to the team. I think we are going to have a big crowd and we are all anxious about it," he closed. "There's nothing like going in that stadium with a lot of fans in there and performing, even in a spring game."
Austin was asked about his relationship with the staff and Houston.
"How could you not have chemistry with Houston Nutt? He is the reason I am here. He is the kind of head coach I want to work for," Kent said. "The staff is great too. They know how to win, they are bright and know how to teach, and they understand it's not about them - it's about the players. All they want to do is care for their players and teach them how to win, without an agenda and with no regard to titles or such.
"Houston is a great person with a great heart. He pulls the best out of all of us. We script everything for practice and Houston calls the plays during practice. We all collaborate on the offensive plan. Houston is an excellent playcaller with a ton of experience. I am learning a lot from him."
Austin was asked about the progress of the offense during spring.
"We've made a lot of improvement from the first day until today," Austin continued. "In general terms, we have gotten tougher up front, our QBs are fundamentally better and are throwing the ball well. The light bulb has turned on for Jevan the last week or so. We have built a great foundation to build on in the summer."
Snead feels he has been the beneficiary of some excellent teaching from Austin.
"Coach Austin is brilliant with his plays and his routes and also at teaching us," Jevan said. "I'm still learning from him every minute of every day and I'm excited to have him as my coach. I have been around real smart people before who can't teach, but he's brilliant and can break it down where we understand everything. I've never been around anyone as football smart as he is. It's amazing and fun to learn from him."
Snead's biggest improvement over spring has centered around footwork and lower body.
"Coach Austin picked up that I was locking my left knee when I threw and it was taking off velocity and accuracy to my throws. He's great at seeing little things," Jevan continued. "We are spreading the ball around and throwing it. I love it, as any QB would be."
* Basketball player Jermey Parnell, as was rumored earlier today, was at practice today, but he was not dressed out, did not work out with the team and did not comment to the media on his plans. Obviously, he is strongly considering joining the team. We'll update that situation as it unfolds.
* OL John Jerry and FB Andy Hartmann were out today and will miss the spring game.
* Nike sent some odd looking practice jerseys for the Rebels to try out with some new types of fabrics. Six of the players wore them today. They were white with blue shoulders.
* This Rebel team has good offensive linemen, even without John Jerry, but one-on-one none of them can consistently handle DT Peria Jerry. Now that he has lost down to 290, the combination of speed, quickness and brute force is just too much for one OL.
* Dexter McCluster got extensive work with the tailbacks today. It is amazing how quickly he gets from 7 yards deep in the backfield into the hole and beyond the line of scrimmage. Amazing. . . Dexter also worked the Wild Rebel set some today and it's apparent he's learning more about that series of plays. Now he can read the defense and make quicker, better decisions on when to keep, when to hand off and when to reverse the ball. At the first of spring, he was basically just keeping. Now, it's a different story.
* It's pretty encouraging to look on the field at the number two defense and see Greg Hardy and Emmanuel Stephens at the defensive end slots. You can draw whatever you want to from that, but the bottom line is that it means the Rebels have four - with Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman - DEs the coaches feel have starter status. Nice problem to have.
* In inside drills, this staff does not just pit ones against ones, etc. They mix and match to give everyone an opportunity to play with some of the better players. For instance, the two DEs may be with the one DTs on one series and the three LBs may be matched with the one DL. That type of mixing of personnel in spring ball gives the coaches a better look at every player and gives everyone a chance to shine.
* For the second day in a row, Dustin Mouzon was ahead of Cassius Vaughn in team drills at right corner. Marshay was the top man on the other side ahead of Jamariey Atterberry.
* A wideout who is starting to catch Coach Ron Dickerson's eye is walkon Jacarious Lucas. He's on the edge of making it in the rotation and had a TD catch from Snead today. With Marshay moving to corner, his window of opportunity opened wider and he seems to be taking advantage of it. In last Saturday's practice, Lucas knocked Mouzon out of the game with a vicious block and he's showing he can catch the ball in traffic.
* FS Kendrick Lewis had two interceptions in team drills at the end of practice. SS Fon Ingram also snagged a tipped ball for a pick.
Practice Report: Wednesday
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