Practice Report: Thursday

Christmas came early for Houston Nutt and his Rebels Thursday, as their first gift from the Cotton Bowl arrived after a lively practice inside the Indoor Practice Facility. Read about it inside.

"We took it off of them a little bit today because they were a little sore," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "But they were really bouncing around and showed a lot of enthusiasm. We went good-on-good today and focused on some kicking situations. We're going to focus on kicking and 2-minute situations the next two days.

"We'll turn them loose in the next 48 hours, but they've been doing really well."

The Rebels are steadily implementing Texas Tech work as the weeks roll by, focusing Thursday on special teams and ball control. The team will practice Friday and Saturday before taking off for Christmas break and Nutt said it will probably be light work with less contact.

"We've been banging on them pretty good, so we're going to take the pads off of them a little bit tomorrow and Saturday," said Nutt. "They're in uncharted waters, but they've been really good. Every announcement, they're hanging on every word. They're excited."

Donning a Santa hat as he made the announcement, Nutt presented the team with their first gift from the AT&T Cotton Bowl. It was a good one to say the least.

"Every one of them received a 32 inch, high-definition plasma television," he said. "At first they wanted to know if each of them got one or if they would have to share (laughter). But I have 109 players right now and they all get one as long as they qualify academically."

Random Notes:

* Once again, the team gathered after stretching in the middle of the field for one-on-one drills. Bull-in-the-ring is used to get the team in a frame of mind for a contact practice. It's literally a battle of wills that sparks enthusiasm throughout the team and really gets the adrenaline pumping. The players have used the drill to feed off one another, constantly celebrating a big hit and encouraging competition within the group.

* One player that made his presence felt today was freshman wide receiver Andrew Harris. The wideout made multiple impressive catches in team work, including an acrobatic effort against senior cornerback Dustin Mouzon. Harris leaped over Mouzon's shoulder, snagged the ball at its highest point against his body, before falling to the turf. The St. Petersburg, Fla. native is built for the next level and as long as he continues to impress, will most assuredly push for significant playing time in 2009.

* Nutt still hasn't received word on right guard Maurice Miller regarding his eligibility for the Cotton Bowl, as the senior is still working on his academics. With his status still up in the air, junior Reid Neely continues to work with the first team, but Miller was at practice if only for a short period. "He was here today, but left to go do some more work," said Nutt. "We should know something official, hopefully, by the end of the week."

* On the injury front, freshman E.J. Epperson, who dislocated his wrist Tuesday, will have a procedure Friday morning. Also, freshman running back Devin Thomas is out with lower back problems and how long until he returns is currently unknown. Senior fullback Jason Cook is said to be progressing well and should return in time for Dallas. Sophomore Jeremy McGee practiced at full-speed today and actually did a little extra running after practice.

* Having recently returned to the fold, senior Ashlee Palmer is running with the second team behind junior Patrick Trahan at outside linebacker. Both will see significant playing time against Texas Tech, but Nutt doesn't believe there is a significant drop-off between the two. ""Patrick can handle it. It you've noticed, he's gotten better and has really come on lately," he said. "He's actually done some things better than Ashlee. What hurts so much is he's been so valuable on punts and kickoffs."

* One man whose value can't be overstated is all-purpose superstar Dexter McCluster. Nutt said Dex stands out almost every day and it's easy to see why. The junior has to be accounted for whenever he steps on the field and is a threat to break a big play any time the ball is in his hands. If ever a conversation of which players should be considered the most valuable, McCluster should definitely be atop that list.

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