Fall practice begins!

Today was the day every Ole Miss fan has been waiting for - the start of fall football practice. The Rebels did not disappoint as they opened things up with a spirited workout with the newcomers showing why they were ranked in the Top 20 in the nation in recruiting classes. Read about it inside.

It didn't take Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt to get to his point of emphasis about the first football practice, a 2 1/2-hour workout on the practice fields in hot conditions.

"There's nothing like being out here with these guys working hard," said Nutt, "and I am just so excited about our freshmen. When you see them run around for the first time with an Ole Miss helmet on, you realize they are a special group.

"Are they ready to go? No, I'm not saying that, but they can run, jump and catch and I can see real potential out there."

Nutt also got some good news prior to practice - standout safety Tig Barksdale was cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, rounding out the signing class 25 - and he was quick to jump on that subject as well.

"I hope we can get Tig out with the team tomorrow and get him going," said Nutt. "That was good news on him today. Signed 38 and we have our 25 in here. It worked out great."

The first thing any coach looks at the first day of practice is the retention of the plays and routine from spring training.

"We were talking about that coming off the field. It's night and day from last year," Houston noted. "The retention is so much better from a year ago. Jevan Snead is in control in the huddle and Jonathan Cornell is handling the other side like the veteran he is. Everybody is much quicker and more tuned in."

Another exciting happening was watching DE Greg Hardy work, seemingly pain-free.

"I'm glad he's out here and he's looking good. We are taking it slowly and gauging him as we go, but he looked good in individual drills," Nutt noted.

Houston quickly diverted his attention back to the freshmen.

"We threw several of the freshmen in the fire early to see how they would respond and they did very good for their first time," Nutt said. "Patrick Patterson, Bobby Massie, Terrell Grant, Ja'Mes Logan, Raymond Cotton, Z. Mason, Charles Sawyer, Tim Simon, D.T. Shackelford, Joel Kight all did a very good job. There were other young ones too."

Nutt said he and his staff will have some big decisions to make in the next few weeks.

"We are thin on the OL and in the secondary, but we've got a lot of options at some other positions that are more crowded, like RB and wide receiver."

Nutt expects Massie and the other young OL to get a chance to show their stuff in a hurry, some out of necessity.

"Bobby has no choice. He's one of those guys who has to get ready to go," Nutt noted. "I saw enough good things to know he will be alright, and I was also impressed with the first showing of Emmanuel McCray, Michael Brown and Chris Gill on that OL. They are going to be good players.

"Bobby is just a little older, a little stronger and a little bigger."

Nutt did not want to grade the first practice, but he did give the squad an 'A for effort.'

Random Notes:

* LaMark Armour was running with the number two defense next to Jerrell Powe at DT. Some assumed Justin Smith would man that spot, but the veteran made headway in spring and is battling right now to be in the rotation. "LaMark has worked hard and has earned it, but he's going to have to keep working hard. Justin had a very good offseason and has changed his body for the better. I expect better things from him in camp," Nutt said.

* Hardy was showing no signs of limping and had excellent quickness off the ball in individual drills, which he was limited to today. He's also sporting a new haircut. The dreadlocks are gone. He's wearing his hair cropped relatively short now. "I needed a new look," he smiled. "Maybe it will change my luck with injuries. I feel real good right now."

* The Rebels are also in new duds this year. The new practice shorts are navy on the front and grey in the back with red piping outlining them. The players were also excited that they have a pocket this year and are lighter weight. Sharp.

* It's just been one look with 105 players running in all directions, but if forced to characterize the newcomers, one word comes to mind - speed. Sawyer, Ryan Campbell, Logan, Grandy, Patterson, Neat, and Scott can all scoot and several more, like Alex Williams, Kight and Shackelford showed good movement for their positions. It's safe to say that from top to bottom, this is a fast class and it was easy to see.

* Bobby Massie is massive, 6-7 or 6-8 and about 340 pounds, but he does not dwarf the other freshmen OL. He's bigger, for sure, but Emmanuel McCray, Michael Brown and Chris Gill are certainly not small by any standard. They are all comparable to Reid Neely, Rishaw Johnson or Daverin Geralds in size already. They have the look you want. For the record, Massie is taking snaps with the number two offense at left tackle. McCray is currently working behind him at LT and Brown is with the threes at RT.

* Just from watching a few drills with the linebackers, Kight and D.T. already blend in nicely, movement-wise and size-wise. They look like the veterans look. Kight was thrown in with the number two defense in team drills today with MLB Jason Jones and OLB Lamar Brumfield and he promptly picked off a short Jevan Snead pass and ran it into the end zone for a score. Heads up play for a veteran, much less a rookie.

* DE Alex Williams is very quick off the line, but he is much like Gerald Rivers was a year ago. He has to spend a lot of time in the weight room for a year, like Rivers did. But guess what? You can add weight to a good frame, which he has, but you can't teach speed. He's got it.

* DT Corey Gaines is powerfully built and seems eager. He looks like a slightly bigger version of a young Lawon Scott. He's going to have to change his body some, but his feet are good and he's got plenty of time to develop. Good start for the young DL.

* Tig Barksdale came out to practice after he was cleared by the NCAA and he immediately got into a conversation with OLB Allen Walker. Standing side-by-side, Tig appears almost as big as Walker, who is pushing 230 pounds. Good guess? Tig is in the 220 range and looks fit.

* As Nutt said, DT Justin Smith has changed his body. Less body fat, more muscle. That appears to have helped his movement. "Justin had a terrific second semester of summer school. The light came on and he has made a good jump forward," said S&C Coach Don Decker.

* It's easy to see that several Rebels were on offseason diets, namely John Jerry, Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott and Mark Jean-Louis. Jerry said after practice he is at 330 pounds now, the lightest he has been since high school and 38 pounds less than he was at the first of June. Jean-Louis and Powe are also under 330 now and it shows in their play.

* Frosh RB Tim Simon may be at running back longer than most think. He ripped off a couple of nice runs today and showed good cutting ability and movement. Wherever he lands, he's a good looking athlete.

* The play of the day? A deep bomb from Snead to WR Andrew Harris. The ball went about 60 yards in the air and was a perfect strike that Harris caught in stride. Beautiful.

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