After two strong practices in shorts and helmets, head coach Houston Nutt acknowledged a different feel to the 2009 version of spring drills.
"We had two tough practices Friday and Saturday," Nutt said. "We gave them a break (Sunday) and a reward for really giving us everything they had the first two days."
There's a distinct air of enthusiasm hanging over the IPF ceiling. All involved are exuding confidence, with seemingly every player having benefited from another offseason under S&C coach Don Decker.
It's a renewed confidence, if you will. From the coaches to the players, no one wants last season's successes to be a one year affair.
"There's been a lot of energy these first two days," said senior WR Dexter McCluster. "Friday, the defense had a great practice – a lot of turnovers. That's making us better. Offensively, we have to protect the ball a little more. We're out here having a lot of fun. Everybody's flying around and just playing ball."
While there's been no contact, Ole Miss still used Friday and Saturday to get back into the groove of everyday football.
Usually in the early stages of spring, there's a temporary lag, with players suffering from the fatigue and drain of practices with no real game in sight.
But this year has been different, says defensive end Kentrell Lockett.
"We've been waiting to get out on the field," Lockett said. "It's kinda been a building anticipation from the Cotton Bowl. We need to see if we're going to take the spring head-on or if we're gonna take a step back. I don't think we will."
Already, the Rebel defense has made its presence felt.
Lockett and Co. are flying around, forcing turnovers and keeping last season's momentum rolling with April approaching.
"I think we're doing good so far, with it being just the second day of practice," said Lockett. "I think everybody's just getting the schemes down and learning what the coaches are wanting us to do."
Key in the progress has been the early improvement in the secondary.
Kendrick Lewis added more muscle to his already solid build, while both Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn look more confident from their cornerback slots.
Johnny Brown brings more speed to an already athletic group, but could bring better coverage at strong safety than previous years.
"The defense is smarter as a group (this spring)," said Brown. "We play together and feed off each other."
It will certainly be interesting to watch how the tide turns once Ole Miss takes the field for the first full-pad practice Monday.
The offensive and defensive lines will be areas to watch, as both groups have some interesting storylines developing.
LT Bradley Sowell and LG Rishaw Johnson had their moments in individual drills, but will be met with more of a challenge over the next few days.
"They look pretty good," center Daverin Geralds said of Sowell and Johnson's play over the first two days. "The speed of the game is new to them. Going with the first team is a lot different than going with the second team. They just have to get into the groove of things. They look good though."
DE Craig Drummond, who enrolled at Ole Miss early, looks the part of a SEC down-lineman. But how will he respond with full contact?
"It's hard, but I'm getting there," said Drummond of his transition from high school to college. "Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman are teaching me some stuff. It's been very different. I'm still getting a little more rust off now."
Monday's practice is set for 3:40 p.m.
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