Cotton Bowl Practice Report, II

The Rebels took advantage of temperatures in the 50s and bright blue skies for their second full-pad workout in Dallas on the SMU practice fields.

Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt talked about the team being rusty and still in the Christmas mode after yesterday's practice.

He said Sunday's practice had to be better.

It was. . .

The Rebels worked out on the twin practice fields on SMU's campus under perfect football conditions and turned in a gem of a practice, according to Nutt.

"We had a really good day today," said Nutt. "The guys came out with tremendous focus and moved around well. I couldn't have asked for more. The weather was just perfect, I mean perfect, and the guys were tuned in today after knocking off the rust yesterday."

Houston tipped his cap to the scout team's effort.

"I have to brag on the scout team. They came with an excellent attitude and brought it all day," Nutt stated. "They know they are not going to play in the game, but they understand their importance to our success.

"They are our Kodak team, they have to give our starters a good picture of what the starters will be seeing in the games and they did a beautiful job today on offense and defense. I appreciate that."

The Rebel defense spent extra time in early portion of the practice running to the ball as a group in a ball drill. Nutt says that will be a key to the game against Texas Tech.

"With the way they space things and spread things out, we have to do a good job of tackling and chasing the ball. We've always done that pretty well but we haven't played an offense like this one yet, so it is urgent for us to get their weapons on the ground in a hurry," he noted. "When you have guys like Michael Crabtree and that bevy of wideouts, you have to be able to keep them in front of you and tackle them quickly. They are the best I have seen in turning a 5-yard hitch into a 60-yard TD."

The Rebels are practicing hard and playing hard. Nutt was asked how he's been able to keep the team focused with all the distratctions of extracurricular activity going on.

"They've been good distractions," said Nutt. "The Cotton Bowl does a wonderful job. We worked hard yesterday and then had the chance to go hear Frank Caliendo last night - what an opportunity for good, clean fun.

"We work, go have fun, work, go have fun. As long as we keep work in the proper perspective, we will be fine, and the players have done that so far. Right now, we are taking them to the biggest arcade in the world. They deserve every opportunity like this they can have."

Random Notes:

* Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn, it appears, will have the distinction of being the starting corners against Texas Tech. They understand the challenge involved and will be important factors in the outcome of the game, but two players who may end up being just as vital will be the backup corners, Dustin Mouzon and Jeremy McGee. "Texas Tech runs, runs and runs some more with their wideouts. I do not think two corners can handle that without help. We are going to have to depend on Dustin and Jeremy for quality reps, I believe, and them being able to play at a high level is imperative," Nutt explained.

* Nutt told the team prior to practice that after last night's outing he received "a lot" of text messages from different people complimenting him on how his team acted, etc. "It means a lot to me to hear that we were dressed well and acted with class and were gentlemen," he told the team. "That is what it's all about. The staff and I thank you for your good behavior."

* A couple of weeks ago, DE LaDerrick Vaughn was asked to be moved to wide receiver where he felt he could make an impact in the future. In today's practice, it appeared LaDerrick may be on to something. At 6-1, 225 pounds, Vaughn is a kid with good strength and size to manhandle DBs and he's also showing wideout-type speed. After he really learns the ins and outs of the position, he could be a quality WR for the Rebs, maybe as early as next season. We'll see. . . .

* Yesterday the wind was whipping in Dallas and it affected the Rebel passing game adversely. Today, under calmer conditions, the quarterbacks were throwing the ball with authority and on target. As a result, the passing game looked much crisper today.

* Fullback Jason Cook is still working hard to be able to play in Friday's game. He said today that he has made progress since he's been in Dallas and is probably "70%" right now. He's five weeks into his rehab and feeling good about his chances to suit up, stating "I'm real close." It's unlikely he will be able to play a lot, but he could very well see some game action in his final collegiate game.

* A lot has been made of the Texas Tech wideouts, but Rebel WR Coach Ron Dickerson said they are not the only good wideouts who will be playing in the Cotton Bowl. "Our guys have developed into a pretty good unit too," said Ron. "Shay Hodge has been reliable and good all year; Mike Wallace is now channeling his explosiveness into being a more consistent threat, especially with the deep ball; Dexter is working more at tailback now, but he's still a weapon for us out wide; and Markeith Summers, Lionel Breaux and Andrew Harris have all improved by leaps and bounds this year. We can play too."

* We put Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker on the spot today and asked him to give us three or four players who aren't starters who have made the most strides this year in his area of expertise. "That's a tough one, but off the top of my head I would start with Reid Neely. He has set a personal record in the bench press three times since spring, twice during the season, even though he's playing a lot," Decker said. "Bradley Sowell has really gotten a lot stronger as well. He still has strength to gain but Coach Jason Wilfong has done an excellent job with him. You can see it in his play - he's much more physical than he was at the start of the year.

"Kendrick Lewis is a starter, but he wasn't at the first of the year. He was in a battle with Johnny Brown for the strong safety slot and I think he eventually won the job because he had a phenomenal offseason. He did everything by the book and everything we asked of him. He had major improvements in the broad jump and vertical jump. That helped his confidence and his speed and his explosiveness. He has turned into a playmaker for us. Another would be Markeith Summers. We have a guy who has a 10' 10" standing broad jump and a 38" vertical, but we weren't seeing that on the field as much as we wanted to. I know the type of athlete he is because he's a 300-pound power clean guy and will probably set the record this offseason in the power clean for wide receivers at Ole Miss. But for Markeith, it wasn't until later in the season when we saw some of that offseason gain begin to show on the field. Now, he's exploding and doing what we knew he was capable of doing all year long."

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