Tuesday Practice Report
With the season opener against Memphis just days away, Ole Miss took the practice fields Tuesday for a spirited session in full pads.
Head coach Houston Nutt said he could sense a different level of excitement amongst his team, as the anticipation to hit somebody else for a change has brought some added intensity to practice.
"The players had a lot of bounce in their step today," Nutt said. "I thought they really came to practice today with a good attitude. They realize it's game week. It's a fun time of the year. I know they're excited. They know that practices are getting shorter and shorter. They like that, and it's getting closer to game time, so they're excited."
Admittedly, Nutt has mentioned before of depth along the offensive line being a concern throughout fall camp. Emphasis has been placed on sophomore left tackle Bradley Sowell, as his increased maturation is certainly a focal point in the offense's success this season.
Nutt talked of the importance of Sowell's play and how he's handled himself throughout August and now September.
"It's a very critical position. I've been really proud of Bradley and how far he's come since last spring," said Nutt. "Of course, it's game time and he's got to do it when the lights come on in a game. The good thing is he's been going against pretty good ones every day. There are a lot of things that happen, especially if you've got a right-handed quarterback. You want to protect him."
Though mentioned before, senior defensive end Greg Hardy has been more focused than ever this fall.
May it be the extra workouts or expanded leadership role, the difference in Hardy's demeanor is of a man on a mission according to Nutt.
"We're depending on him," said Nutt. "His attitude has been completely changed since January. He's been very committed. He's gone through the surgery. He's gone through different things. I've just been real proud of the ways he's attacked meetings, practices – the whole deal. I'm looking forward to seeing him play this year – and more than four games.
"In his defense, he did have a broken bone in his little toe, and that's frustrating. When you're a full-speed guy and you're playing against Alabama with one of the best offensive lines last year, it's frustrating not to have him out there. So we all had frustrations. But in his defense, he had a broken bone, and you can't play with a broken bone in this league. That's all healed and we're excited about that. I feel like he's a new person."
In a bit of an upset, Nutt announced Monday that freshman Andrew Ritter would handle kickoff duties against the Tigers.
Ritter had been competing with David Hankins and Justin Sparks for the job, but apparently separated himself from the pack with his ability to consistently put the ball in the end zone.
"I'll tell you it was a very close race," Nutt said. "You're not afraid to put Hankins in the ballgame. You're not afraid to put Sparks in a ballgame. Ritter consistently put the ball in the end zone, three to four to five yards deep. If it's not in the end zone, it's at the goal line with tremendous hang time."
* In-season lifting began for redshirts today. The youngsters will hit the weight room four times each week, while selected varsity members are set for three times, depending on which players the coaching staff deems it necessary. For the rest, two days of lifting will be the norm, with no leg work.
* On an academic note, it was thought that junior fullback Derrick Davis was a class short. Though he was out of practice for a bit today, the situation appears to be ok. "They dropped a class he was using to be a part of his 18 hours in order to be eligible," Nutt said. "They had to do an appeal and everything worked out. So that's real fortunate and we're real glad about that."
* There were no depth chart changes Tuesday.
* Both senior TE Gerald Harris and sophomore RB Brandon Bolden were dressed out in full pads today and were running around full speed. Apparently their hamstring injuries have healed.
* For the better part of two-a-days, Hardy would practice in only the morning session to allow any soreness or swelling to settle. However, now the 6-foot-4, 275 pound mauler is running full speed, as Hardy said he feels close to 100 percent heading into Memphis. "I'm ecstatic about life. It's great to be here and my foot doesn't hurt," he said. "It's a process. It's a foot injury and I've had two surgeries. Of course there are going to be growing pains. The pain I had last year, it's nowhere near. The soreness and swelling is fine with me."
* All through the preseason, Derrick Herman has been at backup free safety and Fon Ingram has been at backup strong safety. Now that's swapped. The positions are interchangeable, but Derrick is better at run support and Fon is better at coverage. Fon is the third safety, so he can play both positions. Part of the reasons he's been swapped is to get him more familiar with free safety.
* Last year, journeyman offensive lineman Darryl Harris was the guy who could play any OL position. Taking the baton this year is senior Reid Neely - starting left guard - who can also play either tackle or guard slot. That type versatility is invaluable with an offensive line that isn't real experienced. His intelligence and experience allows him to do that.
* It seems a daily routine, but Sowell has been in the spotlight for most of camp as he attempts to fill the shoes of now-Baltimore Raven Michael Oher. Sowell said he's prepared to handle the job Sunday, and isn't really feeling the nerves for his first start protecting QB Jevan Snead's blindside. "I got to play a little bit last year, so I kind of know what to expect," he said. "I'm going to be nervous like everybody else, but once I get the first couple of hits out of the way, I'll be alright."
* Joshua Shene was 1-for-2 on field goals from 32 yards.
* Sophomore defensive tackle Justin Smith was at practice today with his foot in a boot and was on crutches. That's the first time we've seen him out there since his injury. He started his rehab and things are going well.
* Coach Nutt said today would be the last practice in full pads before Sunday's season opener.
**Chuck Rounsaville contributed to this report
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