Now is the time to separate the wannabes from the real deals, the men from the boys.
The Rebels held their first full pad, full contact day of spring training Monday with a nod of approval, but not elation, from Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt.
"We have to move a little faster than we did today," said Nutt. "We weren't as fast as we were in shorts in our first day in pads since the Cotton Bowl. We looked like we were running in mud a little at times. We did OK, it was a decent start, but I want to see more when we resume practice Wednesday.
"We had some physical middle drills and inside runs and our scrimmage was OK. We have to get much better. We had too many missed assignments, penalties and miscues - can't do it. We have to get a little tougher and get a little better Wednesday."
Some players, however, did catch Nutt's eye.
"Jerrell Powe really made a step up today. I was very glad to see that. We've been waiting on him to make a jump. He played well and was pushing some people around," Nutt continued. "Kentrell Lockett, Jonathan Cornell, Kendrick Lewis and Johnny Brown were pretty good today.
"Kendrick and Johnny were real physical in the secondary today and that's what we want to see. We are seeing their offseason work pay off on the field."
One area the coaches are waiting to develop is replacing Mike Wallace at wide receiver. Right now, Lionel Breaux is the top candidate.
"His speed is close to Mike's, but Mike outran every corner every Saturday. Lionel is fast, though, real fast," Nutt stated. "Lionel just needs to work on getting in and out of breaks and running with his pads on. He's got to stay consistent. He's getting there. So far, so good."
The left side of the offensive line is a real focal point for OL Coach Mike Markuson and Nutt. Bradley Sowell is manning the left tackle slot and Rishaw Johnson is the current left guard.
"They are getting better. Bradley is making strides and Rishaw was very physical. I was excited about our middle drill because usually the defensive line is ahead of the offense, but it wasn't that way today," Houston said. "The defense hit some creases and made some plays because they have more experience than that left side of the OL, but I thought the OL held their own pretty good.
"Rishaw has to keep his concentration and avoid busts and Bradley has to keep coming physically."
Houston said the young Rebels like MLB Jason Jones, TE Ferbia Allen, DT Justin Smith and OLB Lakenwic Haynes are coming on, but have a way to go.
"I like them, but they need 1,000 days like today," he said. "Reps, reps and more reps and they will be fine.
"The same goes for our backups on the OL. Brandon Green is very important to us as a utility guy. A.J. Hawkins and Logan Clair have to get all the terminology down, but they will get better."
QB Jevan Snead was asked about Breaux and what he brings to the table.
"Not too many humans have Wallace's speed, but Lionel is extremely fast and moves well. He's doing a great job this spring so far," Snead noted. "We are looking for all our younger guys to step up. We know who our playmakers are, but now we are trying to develop those younger guys to become playmakers too. We need them to step up and they are all doing that. I've enjoyed throwing to all of them. They are improving."
Snead said he is still getting used to not having Michael Oher at left tackle, but he thinks Sowell will do a good job.
"I am having to adjust a little, but I have patience because the team had to be patient with me last year. I know what he is going through," Jevan noted. "There's a lot to learn and do at that position, but Bradley is working hard and is doing fine so far."
And where is Jevan, according to the man himself, right now?
"I can make a lot of improvement. I'm a little rusty, but I am a lot better than I was last year at this time, that's for sure," he closed.
* There has been no depth chart change on the two-deep since spring training began, but there weren't any expected this early.
* Senior Justin Sparks will be asked to wear a lot of hats this spring. He's the holder on placements, the kickoff man and the top punter currently in camp. He's handling all duties well. Today Josh Shene and Bryson Rose hit all three field goal attempts out of his holds, he punted fairly well (needs to work on his consistency) and his kickoffs are deep.
* As usual, the big bulls are used to protect from blocked kicks on placements. Across the front from left to right are Sowell, Johnson, Reid Neely, DS Preston powers, John Jerry, Alex Washington and Daverin Geralds. Lots of meat in that alignment.
* Right now, it appears Fon Ingram is the third safety in the safety rotation. Last year, Johnny Brown was the next guy to play for both FS Kendrick Lewis and SS Jamarca Sanford. Will Fon hold that spot behind Lewis and Brown in 2009? He's on his way to doing that.
* WR Jacarious Lucas, who had to sit out last year with academic issues, is in the hunt to get into the wideout rotation next year. "He does a lot of things right," said WR Coach Ron Dickerson. "He's long, he runs good routes, he catches the ball well and he's a good downfield blocker. He just has to keep working."
* QB Nathan Stanley needs to get into the Rebel playbook deeper and he could use some more pounds on his wiry frame, but one thing he doesn't need is more arm. Stanley has plenty of arm strength and can make all the throws. He has similar arm strength to Snead. Nutt said he's reacting better under fire this spring as well. Stanley has a bright future if he will stay on his current path.
* In the offseason, MLB Jonathan Cornell said his main goal would be to make more plays in 2009. So far this spring, he is doing just that. Cornell has developed a quicker first step, he's 15 pounds heavier and he's better at shedding blockers than a year ago. He also knows where to go. All those factors are putting him in a position to do exactly what he wants to do - make more tackles.
* While the left side of the OL is developing, the right side is looking pretty formidable with Geralds at center, Neely at RG and Jerry at RT. It's obvious where the Rebs will go when they need the tough ground yardage.
* Sowell went out briefly with an ankle issue. When he did, Markuson quickly slid Johnson to LT and moved Brandon Green in to LG. "Rishaw can play left tackle if we need him to. He's a very good athlete who can handle it," Mike stated.
* There was very little full contact until the end of practice. Nutt is playing it smart with full contact work, picking his spots. "We have pretty good depth in some areas, but we do not need any major injuries in other areas this spring. We will need all hands on deck next fall. I doubt we are going to have as much full contact work as we did last spring because we know what most of these players can do," he explained. "The backups may be a different story - we have to get them developed, but the top guys we will limit."
* The Rebs will practice again Wednesday afternoon in full pads.
Monday Practice Report -
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