What a difference a couple of months and a few wins makes.
Words like "confidence," "fun" and "belief" are common now at Rebel workouts.
Take today, for instance. Coach Houston Nutt said, without hesitation, the Rebels had - probably - their best practice of the year, bar none, Tuesday.
"This was probably our best practice of the year. The kids had enthusiasm, a great attitude and worked hard. That's what winning does," Nutt said. "To have all your upperclassmen stay around to watch a short redshirt scrimmage and really get into it with encouragement of those guys - that's what it is all about.
"We just want to keep getting better and keep building and this was a good start to an open week. You always wonder how your team is going to respond in an open week. It's natural to say 'we're not playing this week, so we'll slack off a little,' but they didn't do that and I appreciate it. That's how you get better."
Nutt was asked about the surge of the running game in the past few weeks. He says it's consistency that has brought that about.
"We believe in what we do. It's easy to say 'let's try something else,' but you can't do that. You have to stay in there with what you believe and it will catch on, but it takes time," he said. "Eventually, the kids get tougher and more physical and take pride in it. When the linemen are hollering to the sideline 'run it,' you get excited as a coach. That was happening against Auburn."
Part of the recent team success, Nutt believes, is because the players are now having fun and are confident in what they are doing.
"That is so contagious. Even our scout teamers are really having fun and taking pride in giving the varsity a good luck," Nutt explained. "I see a lot of guys coming to work now with a smile on their faces and that's the atmosphere you want. In spring, they were unsure and kind of holding back on us. Now, they trust us and know what we expect and demand and are just giving it to us and that's fun to watch."
Houston was asked - in general terms - how he thought recruiting is going.
"We are getting so many positive calls, we just got a good commitment last night that another big school wanted, and we are getting a lot of positive feedback," Nutt stated. "I really don't care where we are ranked right now, I look at what we do on Signing Day. We are actually slowing down a little on asking kids to jump in the boat right now. We are going to be real, real selective from this point on with our last 12-14 guys.
"Our primary needs are offensive linemen and corners. We are losing Oher, Harris and Miller on the OL and we aren't real deep there. We want to sign five or six a year on the OL and DL, if possible, and get some depth and development going here at those positions. We've got a gap there we have to fill in a hurry. We will try to sign two to three JUCO OL and another three OL from high school, if we can get the right ones."
Changing the subject, Nutt said he was disappointed to see a member of his coaching fraternity, Phil Fulmer at UT, stepping down.
"He's been there so long and done so many good things. He's won a national title and SEC titles and has changed so many young people's lives, but it's not good enough. It's sad," Nutt said. "This league is much more difficult than it was when I came into it in 1998. Everybody wants to win and go to a bowl and to Atlanta and expects that. It is highly competitive and few understand that nobody is going to Atlanta every year. There are so many factors involved, like injuries, but people don't want to hear that. They just want to win.
"I am starting to believe you can't stay in one place too long, like Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno. Those days are pretty much over. About 10 years, and I'm just going by experience, at one spot and people get tired of you. Tired of your words, tired of the same responses. It's a different world in college athletics now."
* Nutt was asked if he regrets not redshirting Devin Thomas this year. "Hindsight is 20-20 and we just didn't know how the tailback slot was going to shake out at the time," said Nutt. "I can always redshirt him next year if I need to. At first, he didn't want to take a redshirt and we were unsure what we had at that position. But I have been very proud of how he has responded to the lack of playing time. He's staying ready and doing good. We can call on him at any time."
* Senior Tight End David Traxler has missed the past few weeks with a back problem. He was hoping to make a return this season after taking a couple of shots to block the pain in his back, but he's still out as of Tuesday.
* Senior FB Jason Cook sustained a mild concussion in the Auburn game and was held out of practice Tuesday and most likely for the week. He is expected to return Monday. In his absence, Andy Hartman is taking reps with the first team offense.
* Former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, now in the Tampa Bay front office, was at practice Tuesday. He said he does very little scouting work in the field, but decided to get out of the office for a couple of days. He opted to visit Ole Miss because "this team is on the rise and they have some interesting pro prospects."
* OL Aaron Hawkins is greyshirting this year and will join the team at the semester break and for spring training. In the meantime, the true freshman is trying to change his body. He weighs 315 pounds right now and said that's a good weight for him, but he wants to change some of it from fat to muscle, so to speak. He says he has gotten a lot stronger this fall working out four times a week. "I have not maxed in the bench press but when I first got here I could bench 315 pounds two or three times," said Hawkins. "Now I can do 8-10 reps with 315 pounds."
* DE Greg Hardy dressed out in full pads Tuesday but did not go through many drills. It appears rest is going to be the theme of the week for his ailing foot.
* Auburn Aftermath from Houston Nutt: "I don't think I have said enough about the crowd for the Auburn game. To be honest, we were worried about the early start and the energy we'd get from a late-arriving crowd," said Nutt, "but the fans came early and were fired up. The students were pumped up, the atmosphere was electric - everything was what we had hoped it would be. I just want to say thank you to our fans and support personnel. That is the kind of atmosphere that helps teams win. We fed off the crowd and I appreciate it."
Practice Report: Tuesday
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