Monday Practice Report

For the second day in a row, the Rebels, in a short week of preparation for Thursday's SEC opener, practiced in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Read about it inside.

On the regular calendar, today is Monday.

On the Rebs' football calendar, today is Wednesday.

With the SEC opener in Columbia, SC, against the South Carolina Gamecocks just 72 short hours away, Monday is Wednesday on the "getting ready" clock.

And the coaches reacted accordingly, holding a two-hour, full-pad practice that covered all the areas they usually cover on Tuesday and Wednesday rolled into one enthusiastic workout.

"We had a good Wednesday practice with good concentration," said Coach Houston Nutt. "We worked hard on every phase of the game. We kind of combined a Tuesday and Wednesday practice - they are the same, hard hat days. The guys responded well."

How did Greg Hardy look?

"Not too bad, not too bad," Houston repeated. "I'm anxious to see if he can go Thursday and for how long."

The punt return and punt portions of the SELA win were poor. A lot of work was done in those areas on Monday.

"They did a good job. Their concentration and intensity was really good. For now, Justin Sparks is still our punter and Marshay (Green) is still returning punts," Nutt responded.

Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin talked a bit about what the Rebel offense is facing in South Carolina's defense.

"They are very aggressive and very well-coached. They are sound fundamentally and they are hitters. They make you work hard and earn it. We have to be very well-prepared, play very physical and play a clean football game to win," Austin noted. "They want to get you in a brawl. We know the nature of this game and we've got to be assignment-sound and aggressive as well.

"South Carolina also mixes up what they are doing very well, but the main thing is that they run hard to the football and hit hard when they get there."

USC's Eric Norwood is one of the top defensive players in the nation and the Gamecock coaches move him around to utilize his many talents.

"We better know where he is at all times," said Austin. "We know that. But he's not the only one we have to be aware of on that defense. They have other playmakers too. This will be a 60-minute, typical SEC football game."

Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix has the same level of respect for USC offense.

"They are explosive. They are physical, they run the ball well and they have big playmakers," Nix assessed. "They can score points on anyone - look at the Georgia game. They are scoring a lot of points right now. They are well-balanced and have big-time players. Stephen Garcia has made a big jump since last year. He's getting them in position, making the right reads and throwing the ball on time and accurately. He pulls it down when he needs to and gets positive yards when he runs it.

"Our keys are to play sound with great effort and to be physical. This is a great opportunity for our team and for Ole Miss."

Nix was at USC prior to coming to Ole Miss. He knows about the atmosphere in Columbia first hand.

"It's just like Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa or Athens. It's SEC football. It's why you play and coach in this conference - for the type of atmosphere we will see in Columbia," he continued.

Nix has coached with and against USC Coach Steve Spurrier and Spurrier's vaunted offense.

"They do everything well. They run it well, they are sound in their blocking schemes and they understand how to attack coverages, all coverages," Nix added. "They have opened their offense up some as the season has progressed, but they still show you balance you have to respect."

Nix said last year's loss to USC came as a result of "several" missed assignments.

"We are going to keep it simple. They outplayed us and out-executed us last year. We have to be sharper than we were last year in our assignments," he closed.

Nobody was more suprised than Special Teams Coordinator James Shibest with the punt return issue - two lost fumbles - and the poor punting.

"It happens, but I have to admit it was shocking. Marshay has done it so long that I think he lost his focus and his concentration," Shibest said. "Justin just had an off-night. They will be more focused Thursday.

"On Marshay's deal, I think the left-footed punter had a little something to do with his issues as well. You don't see that often. The ball is tailing the opposite way from what he is used to. Besides that, though, what was surprising in his performance is that he's such a competitor and works so hard, he's not one you expect to lose focus. I think he learned his lesson on looking the ball in and staying focused. We have a world of faith that won't happen again."

Random Notes:

* As Nutt said in his Monday press conference earlier this afternoon, the injury list is not as daunting as was once thought. FB Andy Hartman (knee), TE Gerald Harris (hamstring) and DT Justin Smith (foot) will miss the USC game, but the rest are expected to play. Several players had minor bumps and bruises in the SLU game, but all were practicing Monday, including DE Greg Hardy, who has been out since the win over Memphis with a bum ankle. MLB Jonathan Cornell, WR Dexter McCluster, TB Brandon Bolden, FS Kendrick Lewis and all the players nicked in the SLU game were going full speed for the first five periods the media is allowed to watch. Hartman is not going to require surgery and is aiming for a return in the Vandy game. Harris is also hoping for a return to the lineup against Vandy. Smith should be getting his walking boot off in another week and can start practicing shortly afterward.

* Hardy was available after practice briefly. "The ankle is feeling better. It's getting looser. I'll just keep working on it and get it ready. I don't feel like myself yet, but I feel a lot better in my wraps and am moving around OK," he said. . . . Hardy was asked about the importance of keeping Garcia contained and pressuring him. "He's a good quarterback. He's got skills. He's elusive so we will have to try to keep him in the pocket and get pressure on him without him breaking containment," Hardy explained.

* WR Dexter McCluster said it's time for the Rebel offense to have a complete game. "We've been kind of up-and-down so far," Dexter noted. "We need to be sharper and have the mentality we are going score every time we have the ball. This is the SEC - you have to have that attitude and you have to back it up with production."

* The only depth chart changes noticeable from the SLU game was, naturally, at fullback, and it appears Cassius Vaughn has regained his number one spot at CB ahead of Jeremy McGee. Rishaw Johnson is still number one at right guard and Jerrell Powe is still the top man at one DT slot. Dan Hoffman, Derrick Davis and converted OL Mark Jean-Louis all took snaps at fullback in the early going.

* Uncharacteristically, and to get the players' attention and adrenaline going early, Nutt ran about six-to-eight scrimmage plays to get practice going. It was man-on-man time and then they were ready to get down to business all lathered up.

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