When Ole Miss strapped on full pads for the first scrimmage of preseason camp Saturday, head coach Houston Nutt said he was eager to give a long look at the Rebel newcomers in game-like action.
With many veterans viewing practice from the sidelines, Nutt got his wish over the course of a humid afternoon in Oxford, as the freshmen put on a show in front of the roughly 1,200 fans in attendance.
"It's always good to scrimmage and see where we are," said Nutt "We know we have a long way to go, but I thought the longer we went the more we saw some of the younger players getting into a rhythm and making plays like Pat Patterson, Rodney Scott, Tim Simon, Alex Williams, Craig Drummond, Bobby Massie, D.T. Shackelford and Joel Kight. You can tell a lot about a player when they perform when they are hot and tired.
"We didn't play the ones that much. We just wanted to get them a taste of it. I thought we started slowly. I think we need to go to another level as far as tempo next week."
A "Wild Man" Emerges:
Throughout fall sessions, the names Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford have been mentioned on an almost daily basis.
And for good reason.
Proving once more of their abilities to possibly contribute early in their respective careers, the pair shined on Saturday, with defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix mentioning Shackelford as a player who stood out from the pack.
"I saw some good things. I saw some young guys moving around making some big hits. D.T. Shackelford made some big plays. I like him a lot," he said. "We've got some young guys who really look like they're going to be able to contribute."
Shackelford, ranked as the 20th-best linebacker in the nation by Scout.com out of high school, made the most of his scrimmage reps. The 6-foot-1, 230 pounder notched two TFLs on the day, including an impressive stand against fellow frosh Rodney Scott for negative two yards.
The showing earned Shackelford "wild man" status from his counterparts, as he flew around with confidence and enthusiasm unseen by some freshmen.
"It's been very good," Shackelford said of his jump to the college level. "I give a lot of credit to the elderly linebackers. They're teaching me everything I need to know. Along with what they know and teach me, and me trying to go out there and give my best, our defense can be pretty good. We just have to keep it up. They teach me a lot. Everything I know, it's them.
"Everyday Coach Nix tells me to go hard every play. That's all I can do. As far as playing time on Saturday's, you never know. You can only practice as hard as you can. I try and focus on what I can control and stay humble. I'm just working as hard as possible."
As one of many mentors for Shackelford, junior OLB Allen Walker has tried to do his part in helping the Decatur, Ala. native hone his craft.
Walker, who totaled 41 tackles, four TFLs and one interception last season, said most improvement can be made by staying true to the scheme.
"Personally, I just tell them to learn their playbook and listen to what Coach Nix has to say," he said. "He's one of the smartest coaches in the game. He's a pro at this. He can mold any player that wants to be molded. They just have to want it all day, every day."
The Touchdown Maker:
To the casual eye, two catches and a couple of drops look meek when combing a stat sheet. But when both of those grabs go for touchdowns, onlookers begin to take notice.
Freshman wide receiver Patrick Patterson has made a habit of acrobatic catches this fall, including a 50-yard leaping effort for six over rookie corner Ryan Campbell Saturday.
The play drew oohs and aahs from the crowd, as those fans lining the practice fields witnessed the athleticism and sure hands Patterson became known for as a Parade All-American at Noxubee County.
"Pat Patterson makes a play a day that makes you do a double take," Nutt said. "You see someone going up to get the ball and you assume it's him. He's pretty good."
Senior wideout Dexter McCluster has taken notice of Patterson's abilities quickly, saying the 6-foot-3, 215 pounder is already polished in technique.
"I see Pat being real physical. Very physical," said McCluster. "He has the ability to go up and catch the ball and has great route-running skills. He makes big plays at times that we need them.
"I've just told him to stick to his playbook and to go 100 percent every play. When you're tired, that's when it's more important, because he could be called on any given play. He's working hard."
An Abundance of Riches:
Over his coaching career, Nutt has always been known as a collector of running backs.
That certainly hasn't changed throughout the Rebel roster, as Ole Miss offers a stable of productive ball carriers eager for opportunity. Along with returners Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis, Cordera Eason and Devin Thomas, a trio of freshmen were added to the backfield via recruiting for competition.
But with each passing practice, one name seems to be lost in the shuffle. The role of Eason, who started 12 of 13 games a year ago totaling 647 yards and three touchdowns, seems undefined at the moment.
"I don't know," Nutt answered when asked how Eason fits in the offense. "He's an experienced guy we can count on for protection. He made a good run (Saturday), so it's good to have the backs that we have. It's good to have that many. Enrique is in really good shape, Brandon looks good. We just keep working them and see who separates."
Notebook: Crowded Backfield
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