For the first time in what seems like several weeks, the Ole Miss football team was able to practice on the practice fields.
Due to an inordinate amount of rain this fall, most outdoor work - what little there has been - has been done on the artificial turf in the stadium, but Tuesday the Rebels were met with bright, sunny skies, mild wind and 66 degree temperatures for their full-pad workout, which allowed them to work on the open spaces of the three practice fields to the West of the IPF and stadium.
"It was a perfect day, perfect weather, and we took advantage of it with a good learning day," said Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt. "We need another good day tomorrow because we have a real challenge ahead of us."
Nutt respects the prowess of the Razorbacks and was asked about the Hog offense.
"Ryan Mallett is the best we have faced so far. He can really throw it and he has good backs and receivers," Houston continued. "Their tight end is very good too. We have to do a very good job in coverage, we have to be sure tacklers and we have to get a rush on Mallett."
For that, Nutt and Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix will be leaning heavily on DE Kentrell Lockett, who is leading the Rebels in several statistical categories.
"Kentrell is having a very good year. He's also become a vocal leader for us. A lot of times a guy can be a rah-rah guy but they can't back it up. Kentrell has backed it up," said Nutt. "He's brought the helmet, he's a very sure tackler and he's been an inspiration to us. I have been very proud of the way he has lead us and the way he has played.
"Kentrell likes to have fun, but when it's time to get intense and concentrate, he does it. He knows how to pick the guys up. He has matured and has really kind of taken the place of Peria Jerry. We found out at 5:30 a.m. back in the offseason who our leaders were going to be and he was one of them."
Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin was quizzed about Dexter McCluster and his drop in numbers this season - so far.
"Football is complex and it is hard to choreograph exactly what you want all the time," he explained. "As defenses adjust, then we adjust and then they adjust again and so on. Sometimes programming a specific player to get the ball when the defense is trying to take him away is not easy.
"Dexter is the same as he's always been. He's one of our most dependable guys and one of the brightest. We have worked hard to get him the ball and we will continue to work hard to do so. He figures in at several positions and always with our eye to get him the ball in the right situations where he can have success."
For his part, Dexter says his production falling off is both frustrating and an honor.
"Of course I want the ball, but it's kind of a badge of honor that I am getting all the attention I am because defenses know I can make plays and are watching me closely," he said. "Overall though, I think all it does is open up my teammates to make plays and that's fine by me too. I am not a selfish player. If a teammate gets a ball, I am going to do all I can to block for him and help him make a big play.
"It's very different from last year. Now, I'm getting walled on the digs, double covered, whatever, but I know the coaches haven't forgotten about me and that they are going to find a way to get me the ball all they can."
The Rebel offense will be facing a Hog defense that leads the SEC in tackles for loss.
"Against Florida, they got a lot of pressures when the gators got into empty backfield sets. Asking five OL to block four DL is asking a lot of your OL," Austin stated. "They are a good front and they will come after you. You have to do a good job matching up and making sure you get a helmet on them."
The Wild Rebel formation has not been as successful as it was last year. Austin knows why.
"Defenses have evolved, spending time on it and figuring out ways to stop it, so we have to evolve in what we are doing to stay one step ahead," Kent noted. "It doesn't really matter what we run. What matters is putting our players into a position to be successful, regardless of the set."
* PK/Holder Justin Sparks was dressed out for practice, but it's not certain if he will be able to hold for placements this weekend or not. "We're checking to see if he can handle it," said Nutt. "It's pretty urgent since we have missed two extra points in the last two weeks. You gotta have every point."
* Freshman Running Back Tim Simon went to the doctor who did his knee surgery yesterday and got a good report. The ligaments that were repaired are healing well and Simon is currently working on getting his range of motion back in the knee. Simon is in great spirits, but he has lost some weight, which is natural after the trauma his body has been through. He believes he can gain that muscle mass back quickly once he's cleared to start lifting weights again. He's expecting his second surgery in January. In the meantime, he's catching up on the book work he fell behind on during his class absences. No timetable has been set yet for a return, but the goal is next August. Prognosis: Good.
* The Rebel defensive linemen know the importance of a strong pass rush against the SEC's leading passer in Arkansas' Ryan Mallett this week. And the Hogs know how important it is to protect their man with the golden arm. Arkansas has three returning starters on their OL and, according to Rebel DL Coach Terry Price, "they do a real good job of keeping people off of him." Unlike UAB's Joe Webb, who was like a pinball machine, Mallett offers a fairly stationary target to rush, but Price said he's adept at stepping away from the rush and he has a quick release. "We just have to play well, keep playing as hard as we've been playing and see what happens, but it's the same as every SEC game - a major challenge for us and our number one goal is always to stop the run first," Price noted.
* Redshirt freshman Tight End E.J. Epperson may be an insurance policy this week. Even though FB Andy Hartmann is back in the fold and is close to 100% after suffering a knee injury a few weeks back, the Reb coaches are looking at trying E.J. in some situations at fullback. He went through some fullback drills in practice Tuesday. The 245-pounder should be able to pack a punch with a running start out of three-point stance. Interesting move.
* CB Marshay Green reportedly got a good report today on his rib/kidney injury. He was allowed to dress out in pads for practice, but he was not allowed any contact. He did field punts and run all non-contact drills. If he has no setbacks this week, he is expected to play this weekend against the Razorbacks. P.S. - Marshay lined up in "stretch" with the first defense. "Unless the doctors tell me 'no' sometime this week, he's full go as far as I am concerned, but we haven't let him have contact yet," said Nutt. "He will also return punts if available."
* Nutt said Sunday that starting RG Rishaw Johnson will be held out of the Arkansas game to fulfill his two-game suspension requirements from breaking team rules in the offseason. He also sat out the UAB game. In his place, Brandon Green will get the start against Arkansas and freshman A.J. Hawkins will back him up. Rishaw is practicing and is expected to play against Auburn in two weeks.
* Freshman WR Pat Patterson, who was suspended for the UAB game, was at practice Tuesday. Apparently, no lingering issues from his bout with breaking team rules last week.
* Some rumors - can you believe it? - were circulating around about why freshman QB Raymond Cotton did not dress out during the UAB game. We were told he simply wanted to catch up on some academic work he felt he was behind in and the coaches granted that request since he was not going to play in the game anyway. Raymond was at practice Tuesday getting his normal reps. Rumor central was incorrect - again.
* The last couple of games, there has been a see-saw battle at NT between Jerrell Powe and Ted Laurent. Both have been playing a lot, so it's really no big deal, but it seems Powe has regained the upper hand on Laurent after Teddy started the last two games. Great "problem" to have for Price and the DL.
* TB Enrique Davis missed the UAB game with a high ankle sprain he got in the Alabama game, but he was back at practice Tuesday, dressed out and seemingly going full speed. Once again, the tailback slot, especially with the emergence of freshman Rodney Scott, has gotten even more crowded. "Enrique is not 100% yet, but he's trying to get there and he ran well today," said Nutt. Who gets the ball between Bolden, Eason, Davis, Scott and McCluster? We shall see Saturday. "The role of the backs will depend a lot on the flow of the game," noted Houston. "We'll see how it goes and make some decisions with the hot hands."
* Alex Williams, who broke his leg back in August, will not return to practice until spring training. Williams will take his redshirt year and work on his body from now until spring. As we told you previously, Alex reported to Ole Miss at 199 pounds on his 6-4 frame. He gained up to 216 before breaking his leg while playing defensive end. After the injury, he dropped back down to 204 and was told by the coaches he will be moved to outside linebacker in the spring. Now, Alex is tipping the scales at 221 pounds with a spring training goal of "235-240." The coaches have already determined he can run well enough to play OLB. A guy to watch in spring if he can indeed get his weight up in the 230-240 range. As a sidebar, it appears Alex may have grown an inch or so as well. He said he has not been measured lately but he feels he's grown taller as well.
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