Wednesday Practice Report

The Rebels held a shoulder pads/helmets practice Wednesday with a lot of emphasis on the various aspects of special teams play, particularly punt coverage and protection. Read about it inside.

It was bound to happen sooner or later - a practice session that did not suit Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt.

In fact, he's been halfway expecting it to happen.

"Today was not like I wanted it, practice-wise. It's just time to play. We haven't really had any bad practices. We've had 30-31 practices and they are tired of beating on each other. It's time to go," Nutt said. "We had a great practice yesterday and we'll come back and have a good one tomorrow. We'll put this one behind us."

With just two more practices before the opener in Memphis Sunday, Nutt has a laundry list of things the coaches will focus on as the game approaches.

"We'll work the two-minute offense, hurry-hurry situations, goal line situations and just about every situation that can come up in a game," Nutt said. "Even as long as I have been doing this, I always wonder if we covered everything enough or if we haven't covered something we needed to. It's just everything, big and little. For instance, if we block a punt, does everyone truly understand you can scoop and score if the ball is behind the line of scrimmage, but stay away from it if it is past the line of scrimmage. All those things, you worry about as a coach and the list is endless."

Nutt was asked about the backup quarterback situation. He's fudged a little on previous statements.

"Last Saturday, I would have said Billy Tapp is next. Today, I might say Nathan (Stanley). Billy has experience, which all coaches like. The upside with Nathan is that he has unlimited ability. He's just got to be a little more mature in some areas. He'll get there, but one way he will have to get there is with game experience. There's nothing like it. You can teach him everything he needs to know, but the bottom line is that he has to get out there in front of a crowd when the fire is on and see how he reacts," Houston noted.

Senior Tight End Gerald Harris pulled a hamstring in a scrimmage 10 days ago and returned to practice Sunday, but he's still feeling some tightness and soreness, enough that his practice reps have been limited this week.

"He's still sore. I think he can play Sunday. It's at a point where he's got to say 'it's time to play' and get on with it," Houston said. "He didn't re-injure it, but he's sore. Gerald has never been injured before - ever - in his football career and he's trying to deal with it mentally, but I think he'll be fine. He just doesn't know how to handle the setback right now, but I think he will be OK.

"Gerald is important to our offense. He's our best blocker, by far, and he gained a lot of confidence in the Cotton Bowl catching the ball. He had a tremendous summer. We have gained a lot of confidence in him in the passing game too. When I recruited him, I wasn't sure how he'd be in the passing game, but when he got here I saw he catches the ball naturally and has good hands. He got better and better, so much so that we have installed a few more plays where he is one of the primary receivers."

Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin is optimistic about Harris' condition.

"We've still got a couple of days to go and he's improving, which is good, but we have talked about it as a staff and have a plan in the event he cannot go," said Austin. "If he's limited or out, we feel we will be OK. The other guys are getting a lot of reps right now and are ready to play. Ferbia Allen, E.J. (Epperson) and Reggie (Hicks) are doing a nice job in his absence.

"We certainly want and need Gerald in the opener, but as I said, we have options and they have worked hard to get ready."

Harris said the injury has been tough on him because he has never missed any time in his football career.

"It's a little tight right now. This is the first time I have ever missed a practice in my entire career, so it's tough on me right now," Gerald noted. "I'm just trying to come back and do everything the trainers and strength staff tell me to. I'm running in the pool to take some weight off it and get that full range of motion back.

"The good thing is that I have a lot of faith in the other tight ends. They have been working hard and if I can't go I do not think we will miss a beat on offense."

Austin said the Rebels will prepare for everything Memphis showed defensively last year and expect some new wrinkles.

"Every game takes on its own complexion and it's our job to adjust as we go and modify what we are doing based on the defensive looks we are getting," Austin noted. "Our first priority is to make sure we are executing and making great decisions while playing with a high level of intensity, but that being said, we have to concern ourselves with what they are doing and make sure we aren't running things that don't work against their defensive looks. Initially, though, we will focus on us doing the right things and go from there."

Kent feels the offense is on schedule based on preseason camp results.

"We worked on a lot of things and have a lot on film. Now, we will scale it back and fit it to a gameplan that makes sense against the opponent we are playing," he explained. "We have enough in, though, that in the event we need to modify, we have enough in our arsenal that we can do that."

Random Notes:

* It's a beautiful sight to go out to practice this deep into preseason camp, with the team having been through two-a-days and the grind of August, and only see one player - sophomore DT Justin Smith (broken foot) - completely sidelined with injury. There have been a few minor injuries in camp, but nothing, besides Smith, of the major variety. A recap of the injured players we can recall shows FS Fon Ingram missed some time with the flu, which did not spread to the rest of the team; FB Dan Hoffman missed three days with a concussion; DE Greg Hardy had an abbreviated August, working one practice and taking the next one off until last week, but is now working every day; OLB Lamar Brumfield missed four days with a hamstring pull; TE Gerald Harris missed several days with a pulled hamstring and is still fighting that battle, but he is expected to play Sunday against Memphis; and TB Brandon Bolden missed a couple of days with a minor hammy pull but is fine now. From an injury standpoint, the preseason camp has been - knock on wood - about as close to uneventful as anyone could hope for. Hopefully, that "healthy trend" continues throughout the season. . . . And Nutt said he hopes to have Smith back by South Carolina. "That's the goal. His rehab is going well. We anticipate having him back somewhere around then," Houston stated.

* Freshman Wide Receiver Jesse Grandy did not expect to make a splash this quickly in the preseason, but apparently he has. It has been declared by Nutt that Grandy will play this year and will not redshirt. "I tried to come in here and make an impression on my teammates and coaches, but I really didn't come in here thinking I would play this quickly," said Grandy. "I'm happy about it, but I understand I have a long road to travel in the next four years. I know I have so much to get better at. I'm blessed with speed and I guess that's why I am where I am now, but on this level you need more than speed and that's what I need to work on continually."

* RS freshman Jason Jones' move last week to defensive end is the best thing that could happen to his career, but it is unlikely to do him much good this year. Having been moved late in the preseason, and playing a position completely foreign to him, Jason will most likely have to set his sites on spring training to make a mark at DE and concentrate on contributing on special teams this season.

* For those who did not know, Brandon Bolden is the grandson of former NFL Wide Receiver Frank Pitts, who played most of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Pitts was a regular target of QB Len Dawson and played under Coach Hank Stram. He is currently the sergeant at arms of the Louisiana legislature. (That's a Beacon tidbit, so if his title is incorrect, our apologies.)

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