With close to sixty players requested and numerous media in attendance, Ole Miss held its annual Media Day Tuesday inside the Indoor Practice Facility.
Head coach Houston Nutt took the podium first, discussing his impressions of the Rebels' first practice and also what he expects during two-a-days with the season opener against Memphis less than a month away.
"It was good to be back on the field yesterday," he said. "It was exciting to have everybody back and to see our freshmen. I'm really proud of that recruiting class. There were some good plays made yesterday. Of course, they were very anxious. I loved the way our varsity set the tempo with our practice. They were moving very, very fast early. We have to come back today and do it better.
"Compared to this time last year, you have to be impressed with the terminology, communication and how they responded compared to a year ago. They feel a lot more confident. They know what to do. We want to play fast and at a very high level. So we're excited about hitting that field again today."
Nutt has continued to praise his incoming crop of freshmen, who have already begun to prove their worth in drills.
During practice Monday, Patrick Patterson, Bobby Massie and Joel Kight stood out, with each making plays uncharacteristic of newcomers.
Patterson notched a one-handed grab on an underthrown ball during teamwork, while Kight intercepted a Jevan Snead pass attempt for a touchdown.
"You look at a guy like Patrick Patterson; he makes two or three great catches yesterday and is very strong. The receivers really did an outstanding job yesterday," Nutt said. "On the flip side, you look at Joel Kight, who intercepts a ball yesterday and runs it in for a touchdown. Tim Simon, Rodney Scott – those guys looked very good.
"They're very athletic. It's just exciting to watch all these guys for the first time live. Corey Gaines, Alex Williams, Bobby Massie, Emmanuel McCray. I'm excited about the entire group. Are they ready to play SEC ball yet? Probably not today. But it's sure good to see them."
The Next Shay?
Partnered up with senior wide receiver Shay Hodge, Patterson has not only received praise from his head coach.
As a junior, Hodge tied for the SEC in touchdown catches (8) and sixth in yards per catch (16.5) He recorded 44 catches for 725 yards last season, averaging 55.8 yards per game.
Listed No. 1 at split end this fall, Hodge has been partnered with Patterson to help the Rebel newcomer become acclimated to the next level. But according to Hodge, Patterson isn't your typical freshman.
"Dude's pretty good right now. He reminds me of me coming in as a freshman," he said. "I try to keep him by my side and tell how to run certain routes. Running an out route in high school, you can go wide. Here, you have to use your technique, hands and other small things – things I had to learn. He'll have to learn them as well."
The Law Firm of Cornell, Trahan and Walker:
With arguably the best defensive line in the SEC, the Ole Miss linebacker corps of Jonathan Cornell, Patrick Trahan and Allen Walker have found doing their jobs to be a bit easier.
"We got a great defensive line, so they make us look better than we really are," Walker said. "Playing behind those guys, they open up holes and push the line back. All we have to do is make the tackle."
But it hasn't stopped the trio from becoming one of the top units in the conference.
Similar to the offense, the Rebel defensive began to gel as a more cohesive group toward the end of last season. Cornell, the returning starter at middle linebacker, believes the squad can carry it over into 2009.
"We're the same defense, but we expect more out of ourselves," Cornell said. "It's not just two or three people leading this year. It's the whole starting unit. As a defense, we're very accountable to each other. That's what we took upon ourselves halfway through last year and I think it'll be manifested more this season."
Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford, two newcomers to the linebacker fold, have impressed early. Trahan said if the two continue in their development, they'll be able to contribute immediately.
"They look really good," he said. "Kight is really good. Everything he's doing is good. D.T. looks great; he's just got to slow down. He's a little anxious right now. Other than that, they look really, really good.
"It's a transition. When you're a senior in high school, you're playing on a totally different level. You're a man among boys. When you get to this level, you're stepping into a level where everyone is about the same. You have to adjust to that. Once you do, that's when you see the improvement."
Walker also sees potential in the newcomers.
"They watch film and take coaching well," he said. "They always get mental reps when they're not in. I really don't believe depth is going to be an issue for us this year, because those guys do have ability and they want it."
Sowell Stepping Up:
While showing inconsistency early in spring drills, sophomore left tackle Bradley Sowell has continued to make strides in his attempts to replace departed senior Michael Oher.
The 6-foot-7, 310 pounder committed himself to the weight room this offseason and has also shown a better grasp of the Rebel playbook early. Sowell said he could see the improvements Monday.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "It's just the same stuff we did in the spring. We've just picked it up a little bit. I feel more confident than I felt in the spring."
Nutt said competing against the likes of Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman and Kentrell Lockett will only help Sowell in his development, as facing gameday situations in practice is the best way for a lineman to learn.
Sowell agreed, saying his experiences during two-a-days should carry over into the fall.
"The more times you go against really good guys, the better you'll be," he said. "We're working really hard. As an offense, I feel like we were on target yesterday."
The presence of Massie is certainly felt by Sowell, but the Hernando native is only worried about controlling what he can.
"Massie is really good," said Sowell. "He's got a lot to work on, but for a freshman, he's unbelievable. He's strong already, he takes really good steps and he bends well. I'm just going to do the same thing I always do. I've actually been teaching him most of the stuff. He got his first taste of what it was like yesterday. He's got a lot of work to do just like everybody else."
Notebook: Impressive Freshmen
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