Practice Report: Saturday

On yet another cold day in Oxford, the Rebels held a spirited practice inside the IPF as the team prepares to face Texas Tech without the presence of senior leader Ashlee Palmer. Read about it inside.

"We had a real good practice today," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "What you love so much about bowl practice is the young guys get a lot of attention and they get some scrimmage time in. It's competitive and just so valuable to have this extra time."

As bowl preparations continue, the Rebels have begun to focus more on Texas Tech and the offensive challenges they present. Nutt expects an array of passing from the Red Raiders, so maintaining assignments and sure tackling are critical.

"You expect four-wide and empty sets in the passing game," he said. "Texas Tech leans towards the pass, but what's deceiving is they'll run the ball and run it well. They screen you and our linebackers will have to do a great job of stopping the run and hugging up to those backs."

Obviously an emphasis has been placed on the linebacker position, as it was learned this week that senior OLB Ashlee Palmer will likely miss the Cotton Bowl due to eligibility issues.

With Palmer no longer in the fold, junior Patrick Trahan ran with both the first and second team defenses without much rest. Nutt doesn't believe their will be a noticeable drop-off in production, however depth issues remain a concern.

"Patrick can handle it. It you've noticed, he's gotten better and has really come one lately," Nutt said. "He's actually done some things better than Ashlee. What hurts so much is he's been so valuable on punts and kickoffs.

"With this type of offense, you're running down great receivers so losing Ashlee really hurts our depth and keeping everyone fresh. It hurts to lose a guy like that."

Nutt also hurts for Palmer.

"Ashlee is a good person who has been a good leader for us. This kind of sends some shock waves through our team," Houston said, "but it's a clear message that academics come first. You have to get a degree. I hope that is my first and last experience with this."

Random Notes:

* With a handful of recruits in town for official visits, Nutt began practice yet again with bull-in-the-ring drills. The drill is used to not only up the intensity level for the day, but impress the recruits as it brings out the best in each of the players. One of the better hits of the period came when freshmen EJ Epperson and Jason Jones met in a bone-crunching collision. Epperson got the better of Jones, bringing on an explosion of cheers from the bunch. You could tell the recruits were enjoying it, as they joined in on the celebration.

* Another freshman that has continued to impress is wide receiver Melvin Harris. The lanky frosh continues to make big plays and a growing relationship with redshirt quarterback Nathan Stanley is developing nicely. The two hooked up for a textbook pass completion in seven-on-seven drills as Stanley lofted a beautifully thrown ball to the 6-foot- 6 receiver, who grabbed it at its highest point, causing all onlookers' jaws to drop.

* While many of the recruits stood out at first glance, it was hard not to notice defensive ends Victor Gray and Justin Kitchens. Both are as big as advertised, but can benefit from some time under strength and conditioning coach Don Decker. Each carries a solid frame and looks the part of big time college linemen.

* Running back Rodney Scott also fits the desired ballcarrier description. With broad shoulders and a strong base to go along with his well-known speed, Scott could easily become a workhorse at the next level. You could tell he was using practice to his benefit, as he continually hung around Nutt and running backs coach Derrick Nix, soaking up as much information as possible. Definitely a big priority for the staff.

* Sophomore cornerback Jeremy McGee was dressed today, but sported a yellow jersey signaling no contact. I was able to catch a glimpse of him during warm-ups with coach Kim Dameron and the other corners and he was moving around well. The coaches will continue to bring him along slowly, but there should be no worries on that front. With the challenges that Texas Tech present in the passing game, his presence will certainly be needed.

* It seemed every time you looked up today, freshman Gerald Rivers was making plays. In one-on-ones between the offensive and defensive linemen, Rivers continued to beat all opposition that stood in his way. The defensive end squared off against redshirt freshman Bradley Sowell multiple times, often winning the battles. You could tell defensive line coach Tracy Rocker was impressed, as he often met Rivers to congratulate him on a job well done. He's one to keep an eye on.

* One name that fans should keep in mind for 2009 is sophomore Markeith Summers. With the departure of speedy senior Mike Wallace, the coaching staff will look for a reliable down-field threat and Summers continues to show he's up for the task. During team work, Summers got separation on a post-corner, with Jevan hitting him perfectly in stride, for a 40-plus yard touchdown. His potential has no bounds.

* Lastly, as the conclusion of practice was approaching, the second team offense and defense were squaring off in a goal line battle of wills. Facing fourth-and-goal, Stanley handed the ball to freshman Enrique Davis off the right side. With the starters on defense chanting "defense, defense," Davis was met brutally by middle linebacker Tony Fein at the two yard line. Davis did all he could to try and punch it in, but the remaining defenders would have none of it. The goal line stand caused an eruption from the sidelines, with Nutt throwing up the "landshark" symbol to end practice. It was a perfect conclusion to a spirited practice.


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