Last year, the Ole Miss special teams were, to be kind, lacking.
What teams give up or gain on possession changes is called hidden yardage. Unfortunately, for Ole Miss, there was nothing hidden about it. The Rebel deficit was so large Stevie Wonder could see it.
Rebel Coach Houston Nutt gets it and that's why the whole afternoon practice today was devoted to special teams.
"We had a full special teams day today. We tried to cover every situation. Onsides kicks, fake punts, what happens after a safety and on and on," said Houston. "And I will still be in bed tonight thinking about what we might have missed. You find out quickly in coaching that everyone in the stands can count to 11 and you better have 11 out there and have every situation covered."
Nutt has been pleased, lately, with the production of all the kickers.
"Josh (Shene) has done a very good job with PAT/FGs. Our punter, Rob Park, has been very consistent of late, knock on wood," he said. "Justin Sparks will handle kickoffs and he's done a real good job so far.
"And I'll tell you, a big key to this all is our deep snapper - Preston Powers. He's one of the best I have been around. Boy, he can snap that ball."
Double take time? Does this mean Park has won the punting job?
"Yes, it's his - for now," said Nutt. "He was just more consistent, but like we told him, that doesn't mean Justin won't punt if things aren't going right. Justin actually has a stronger leg, but we have to go with Rob due to his consistency right now."
Nutt was reminded what a problem special teams were at Ole Miss last season. He already knew. . . .
"We've been putting an awful lot of emphasis and time into special teams. You have to win that real estate and we have driven that point home in the preseason camp by the emphasis we have put on it," he explained.
Tomorrow, the Rebels will have a full game rehearsal. (It is closed to the public and media and will be held in the stadium.) Nutt will also take that opportunity to get the Rebs used to the new video board and the rehearsal the production crew will be going through at the same time with that new "toy."
"I wanted the team to be exposed to it because it can be distracting. We had the same thing at the other school when that new board was put in and we'd catch players watching it instead of paying attention," Nutt said. "We want to get that out of our system tomorrow night.
"It's going to be beautiful. Our fans are in for a real treat, but we can't let that be a focal point of what we are trying to do."
The rehearsal tomorrow will be all-inclusive, except no tackling to the ground.
"It will be a total rehearsal, full speed. From patting Chucky Mullins' head to warmups to sideline procedure to who sits where to headsets to substitutions and on and on," he said. "We will have a script and treat it just like we treat a game.
"Also, the new rules state there is no warning for sideline control, it's a penalty with the first offense this year, so we will even be using our 'get-back' guy, Don Decker, tomorrow. He's been practicing too."
Houston was asked if he has a feel yet for the new 40-second play clock.
"We have been practicing with it, but a lot of it will be getting in a game and feeling it out, feeling out the flow, but I don't see it being a problem," he said. "We'll get used to it. It is what it is and we will deal with it."
Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest echoed most of what Nutt said regarding the kicking game.
"Josh has been very consistent, so now we just have to take it to the games. He's got the potential to be very good," Shibest noted. "We just want all of them to be consistent. I think we have the potential to be really good, but the consistency is the key - that's what we ask the most of them.
"If we are not consistent, we will be very average, so it's on their shoulders to produce."
Shibest said he has a philosophy on coaching kickers/punters.
"Don't try to overcoach them, number one. It's a position that has to have confidence in the equation," he continued. "We know every kick is not going to be good and every punt is not going to be perfect and they need to know we are going to stay with them when things go haywire, which they will.
"We try to build them up with confidence and let them go execute."
In the return game, Shibest said he's "very happy."
"Punt return should be very good with Marshay Green and Dexter (McCluster) back there. They are very good decision-makers, which is number one," he noted. "Kickoff returns? We're not sure yet. We are looking at Cordera Eason, Mike Wallace, Brandon Bolden and possibly Lionel Breaux. We need guys who can take a big hit, because you have to hit that thing full speed and downhill.
"I was spoiled with the two I had last year. The good thing is our head coach lets us use good players back there. If you want to be good in the return game, you have to have good returners. It's that simple."
* Injury List: OG Don Mosley (dislocated toe), S Brandon Sanders (shoulder - in green jersey but dressed out and participating in non-contact drills), S Jamarca Sanford (stinger - green jersey), DT Peria Jerry (knee), DE Greg Hardy (foot surgery), DT Justin Sanders (ankle), DT LaMark Armour (knee).
* Injury Update: Apparently MLB Jonathan Cornell, DT Ted Laurent, OG Reid Neely, DE Chris Bowers, WR Melvin harris and OLB Lakenwic Haynes are off the injury list. We're not sure if they are 100% or not, but they are practicing.
* Apparently, the Rebel coaches have five linebackers they are comfortable with and the sixth on the way. Right now, at MLB, Jonathan Cornell and Tony Fein are on the depth chart in an either/or status at number one. Same way with SLBs Lamar Brumfield or Allen Walker. And while WLB Patrick Trahan has not gained that status with Ashlee Palmer, the top gun there, he is starting to come on strong, we have been told.
Practice Report: Friday
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