Wednesday Practice Report

The Rebels had a punt blocked, fumbled a punt and a fake punt by Alabama work against them. Due to those uncharacteristic breakdowns in special teams play last Saturday, the coaches went back to basics in Wednesday's practice session and focused on the A-B-C's of specialty play. Read about it inside.

Since Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt has been in Oxford, special teams play has not been an issue. In fact, in most games it's been a strength of the team.

That was not the case last Saturday against Alabama, where three critical special teams snafus did major damage to the Rebel cause.

It's little wonder the Ole Miss coaches stressed special teams play in Wednesday's practice.

"We have to do a better job in special teams so we worked hard on that today. We did some extra work with Jesse Grandy, Dexter (McCluster) and Lionel Breaux catching punts. They all caught it well. We are leaning on going with Jesse, but we might use all three," said Nutt. "Jesse will still handle kickoff returns. We also worked on our punt unit. We have to get what caused the block corrected and we have spent the time to do so.

"I think we had a good day offensively and defensively as well and we spent some time on goalline with good-against-good to get a feel for the speed of the game and to get some physical work in."

An area being stressed this week has been the offensive line being more physical. Has Nutt, whose birthday was today by the way, seen that?

"They have responded in that area. They have done a good job of doing what we have asked them to do and getting some more intensity in going against our number one defense," he said. "That will help their physicality."

Nutt also discussed the offensive playcalling. (His lengthy response will be in the practice video from today on the front page.)

"It's a team effort," he said, in short. "It's a process we work on all week and practice. Anyone who has been in our meetings all week is involved in the playcalling, including Jevan (Snead), but we don't just reach in a bag and grab one - we have a plan we have worked on all week to meet every situation."

Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin was asked about the UAB defense.

"They run well and have good quickness and a couple of hitters in the secondary. They are good off the edge as well," said Austin. "They will be a challenge for us."

Kent said the Rebels have put a high emphasis on the whole unit being more physical in their attack.

"Mike (Markuson) has pushed the offensive line really hard and Houston has challenged them. I have seen them respond," noted Austin. "From my standpoint - we are keeping an eye on the basics. No turnovers, no penalties and put the ball in the end zone. We need more players across the board to make more plays - all 11 on our side of the ball.

"You can never let go of the fundamentals in football, even when things are going well. We have focused in on the things we feel our guys can do well and we are working them. We have spent a lot of time on identifying what our players can do well and putting them in those positions."

Austin was also asked about the playcalling, to which he gave a general response.

"Everybody can get better, including me. I can always do better in every area," he explained. "I take responsibility in every area and am accountable to my head coach, these players and this university. I take that very seriously. Everyone needs to improve in every phase."

With Enrique Davis out, will freshman Rodney Scott get more chances to strut his stuff?

"Rodney is a little hammer. Guys really fall off of him with his great strength. He's confident and aggressive. I think he has a great future," Austin stated. "He's progressed in the mental area as well. We will use him in situations where there will be a high degree of probability he will be assignment sound."

Random Notes:

* Senior Cornerback Marshay Green dressed out for practice on Tuesday but was limited due to a bruised/lacerated kidney and a fractured rib. Wednesday, he did not dress out, but it was not because he has taken a step back in the healing process. The trainers just wanted a gauge of where he is in the process and go from there. We've been told the kidney part of the dual injury is "much better" but the rib is still sore, which was expected. Marshay is out for Saturday, Nutt said.

* TB Enrique Davis was in a walking boot at yesterday's practice. Even though he's was not practicing today, he was at least out of the boot. His ankle is still visibly swollen and he will not play against UAB, but he's at least getting around better now.

* Freshman RT Bobby Massie missed Tuesday's practice to attend his Grandmother's funeral, but he was back in the fold on Wednesday. Markuson said Massie is making a lot of progress in some areas and there are thoughts of using him inside in future games, but he's still in the learning curve phase of development. "There are things we do we can trust him with right now, but other things he has not mastered well enough. Bobby has a great future here, just give him time," Mike stated.

* As was reported yesterday, Brandon Green is the number one RG in place of Rishaw Johnson, who is sitting out the UAB game due to a two-game suspension he has to serve during the regular season. It is assumed Northern Arizona will be the other game he will miss. A.J. Hawkins is also getting more looks this week and Markuson said he has responded well and may see playing time this weekend.

* With Marshay Green out, Jeremy McGee will get the start Saturday. The question remains, who will back him up? There was talk earlier in the week about getting freshman Charles Sawyer ready to go, but the latest word is the Rebs will likely go with sophomore Julian Whitehead as the fourth corner, if needed, rather than burning Sawyer's redshirt. Charles is a very promising prospect for the future.

* Backup MLB D.T. Shackelford hurt his already-sprained ankle in the Alabama game, but he's practicing this week and seems to be moving around at least as good as he was before the re-injury against Bama. Tough kid.

* DE Greg Hardy hasn't missed a beat in practice this week. He's still not 100%, and may not be all year, but he's getting closer.

* Frosh OL Emmanuel McCray has impressed the coaches so far with his adjustment to college football, but they believe he has only scratched the surface. One strength coach's eyes lit up when the subject turned to McCray. "He's going to be a monster, a heckuva player." . . . His freshman comrade on the OL, Michael Brown, has a different path to follow, but he's getting there. Brown came in carrying too much body fat and has had to shed that, which he has. Now, he's in the process of building back up with lean muscle mass. Spring training should be a good start to his proving ground.

* Freshman TE Z. Mason is having to put in some extra time in the weight room, but it's not about lifting for him right now. Mason has lost some weight in his quest to stay at tight end and is now down to 266 from the mid 270s. But the urgent battle for him is working on his flexibility. We were told his strength levels are "OK," but he's got to become more flexible to reach his potential. The strength coaches put Mason through a battery of stretching exercises every day and it's starting to pay off in increased flexibility already. Still plenty of work to do, but it's been a good start and Mason has been willing to do what it takes.

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