The Ole Miss football team learned of former MLB Tony Fein's death last night after supper.
Needless to say, they were all shocked of the news of their fallen comrade, but Coach Houston Nutt said the Rebels fought through their sadness Wednesday and came up with a very good practice in preparation for their Saturday tilt with No. 3 Alabama.
"We had a very good workout, despite most of us having a heavy heart because of the news of Tony," said Nutt. "The guys were able to focus and were very intense in practice. That's a very tough deal to go through, but more for his family, who is in our prayers.
"We did get a lot done today. It was good."
Nutt said it was hard to gauge the way the terrible news affected the team, but he could tell it was something on their minds.
"Everyone handles grief differently," Houston continued. "They talked about it at dinner a long time and today at our meetings and things. We tell them every day that every day is precious and you have to take advantage of every second, no matter what you are doing."
Fein had a stormy start with Nutt and his staff, but the relationship warmed up more and more as time passed.
"I had a whole new respect for Tony by the time we got through with the Cotton Bowl. Tony kind of invented the (land) shark sign for our guys and he came so far academically, in the weight room, in team matters, and on the field. It was beautiful to watch his development," noted Nutt. "He was really close to Ashlee Palmer. Ashlee called Coach (Tyrone) Nix and told him last night. He was also close to Jerrell Powe, Kentrell Lockett and a lot of guys on defense."
Besides having an intense practice, Nutt did have some good news to share. FB Andy Hartmann returned to practice in full pads and participated in a lot of the drills.
"You just don't know how much you miss someone like Andy until he's not available," Houston stated. "He was in full pads and is going to play Saturday. I don't know how much, but he will play. He's just like getting Gerald Harris back - full of energy and enthusiasm and it's infectious.
"D.T. Shackelford was also better today. At this juncture, we're not afraid to play him either. We are glad to see him coming around too."
Houston was also pleased with the progress of DT Justin Smith, who is returning from a broken foot.
"I don't think we will play him this weekend, but he's moving around well, better than we thought he'd be at this stage of his recovery," Houston added.
Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix has a lot of respect for the upcoming opponent - the Crimson Tide.
"So far this season, they are the best offense we have faced. They have more explosive plays - big runs, big passes. They have two or three running backs they can keep fresh and pound you with. They have a big time tight end and of course you know about Julio (Jones) and the other WR, Mays," said Nix. "They also mix things up well. They try to take what the defense is giving them at times and at other times they just do what they do - come right at you.
"The most impressive thing about them is that they sound and they don't beat themselves. They know where to go with the ball. They don't miss a lot of blocks or assignments."
Nix has not been surprised with the effectiveness of first-year starting Tide QB Greg McElroy.
"He has not had a lot of pressure because they do a great job of protection and understand the importance of not letting their quarterback get hit," Nix continued. "He also understands when to get rid of the football. Our goal is to stop the run and hope we can get them into some passing situations where we can force some punts, but they are a good football team. Real good.
"I'm not surprised McElroy knows where to go with the ball even though this is his first year starting. They do such a great job of coaching over there and he's a product of their system. He's learned a lot just being in the system. Sometimes playing in games may be overrated. What matters is how you learn and apply what you learned when you get your opportunity. He's done well."
Nix's number one goal for this Saturday is simple.
"We have to minimize big plays - number one. They have more explosive runs and passes than anyone on our schedule," he said. "We are going to have to tackle well. They are going to make plays, but the bottom line is can we tackle the guy after the catch or the back after a minimum gain? One play against Arkansas I saw, eight guys missed their back and that was their freshman, Richardson.
"They are talented and have guys on the sideline chomping at the bit to get in the game and do their thing. We have to play very well."
* PK Josh Shene "lost" his main holder, Justin Sparks, just before the Vanderbilt game and his roommate and friend, Richie Contartesi, a backup wideout, was thrown into the fire. Shene missed one extra point, but said he and Richie have had time to get things down pat this week. "He's doing a lot better this week, but I didn't get to work with him at all until right before the game last Saturday," Shene noted. "Sparks has given him a few pointers this week and that has helped. Justin is better, but we don't know if he'll be able to hold against Alabama or not. If not, I have faith in Richie." Shene respects the job Contartesi did in an emergency last week. "He always holds for Bryson (Rose) in practice so we have not worked together hardly any," Shene continued. "It was a tough situation for him against Vandy. That's a really big deal. If the holder misses the spot, it throws the kicker off big time, especially if the spot is too close to the plant foot. Folks don't realize how important the hold is and how hard we work on it to get it right. There is also a trust issue involved there and it helps Richie and I are friends and roommates."
* DE Marcus Tillman said the challenges abound when facing Alabama. "It's all about discipline and playing smashmouth football, because they are going to come right at you. You have to be able to hold your gap and take on spills. You have to be a man in there," Marcus noted. "When coaches recruit defensive ends, they don't tell them about this kind of week. They tell you about pass rushing off the edge, but not what we face against a team like Alabama. (laughs) It's all about being physical and being willing to stick your nose in places where it could get knocked off and bloodied."
* TE Gerald Harris is not only excited about being back full speed after missing most of the first three games with a hamstring injury, he's excited about the challenge facing the Rebels. "We've had a great week of practice so far and I think we will do great," said Harris. "Our team knows what we have to do to get this one. We have shown a sense of urgency and pride all week and I look for that to carry over into the game. We are anxious to prove to everyone we are one of the best teams in the country."
* QB Jevan Snead saw some rhythm developing with his play and the play of the offense in the Vanderbilt game and is happy to see that carrying over to this week's preparations. "We've had a great week," said Snead. "I think it is the best week we have had. We kept the ball rolling from the Vandy win. The receivers are tuned in and I can see the OL improving every day. It's been intense and a great hard-working week. It's also great to see Andy Hartmann and Gerald Harris back in the huddle again. As a quarterback, you love to be on a roll like we were on in the first half of the Vandy game because it perks everyone up. The receivers are crisper and feeding off my rhythm. The backs are running hard. Everyone just has more focus it seems like. We're still having fun, but it just seems like we have turned it up a notch this week."
Wednesday Practice Report
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