"What I really liked today was the enthusiasm," said Coach Houston Nutt. "We had a really long teaching day because we have a lot of new guys who have moved up the depth chart ladder. For the most part we had a really good first day.
"Certainly, we have a long way to go, but that is what spring training is all about. I am very excited about the spring and the opportunity for a lot of guys to show us how they can help the football team. We see young guys who are no longer on the scout team. It's exciting at every position."
On a difficult day to throw the football due to the wind velocity, Nutt said he was pleased with the way his young quarterbacks, Nathan Stanley and Raymond Cotton responded. Of course, all eyes were on them most of the time of the 300 or so fans and 70 or so prospects who attended the workout.
Another focal point this spring will be the development of playmakers on offense. Today, TB Brandon Bolden and WR Jesse Grandy were the standouts, even though the Rebs were not in pads.
"They are good and we have to have those guys to be our difference-makers. I think they know they have stepped up to a different role and they are responding to that challenge," Nutt noted. "They really started out good today. Jesse hit a couple of really nice runs and made some really good catches. Brandon is lighter and looks quicker and faster. We are depending on them, no doubt."
While the QBs and some of the skill players on offense passed the first-day look test, it was the defense who ruled the day.
In every competitive situation Nutt and his staff the team in where some up-down exercises were at stake, the defense prevailed.
"It's going to be really good for our offense to go against that defense. I think our front seven are going to be really, really good," Houston stated. "Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent, Kentrell Lockett, Jonathan Cornell, Allen Walker and Johnny Brown bring a lot of experience and ability to the table. It shows, even when we aren't in pads. They had the upper hand today and they may have it all spring, but that's alright for now.
"We have plugged DE Wayne Dorsey and SS Damien Jackson into the top-two rotation quickly. We don't sign JUCOs to sit. They will get a chance. They are doing some good things. They have to get better, but I like their start."
One of the surprises of the day was seeing true freshman Evan Swindall playing first team center on the OL.
As was noted, Stanley and Cotton are taking center stage for the time being. And why wouldn't they? There is no position on the team more critical to success than the quarterback and ours have played very little and none at all, respectively.
"Considering the wind, I threw OK. I was rusty at first, but then settled in some at the end. I have a lot of room for improvement but it was good to get this first practice under our belts," said Stanley. "I wasn't nervous, but I was excited. It's been a while since the Cotton Bowl.
"The wind was tough, but we can't allow it to be a factor and I thought we handled that part pretty well today."
Stanley stressed the importance of Grandy as one of the main targets.
"Grandy brings speed and a lot of good things to the table. I like throwing to him," Stanley noted.
Cotton was equally as impressive.
"For the first day, it was good. It was windy and my arm is tired, which are not excuses. So far, so good," Cotton said. "We have a great atmosphere out here. Nate and I are competing, but it's more about the offense against the defense and what we can accomplish as a unit together.
The man of the hour, Grandy, who stood out more than any offensive player on the day, said he's ready for what faces him.
"My hard work is paying off. I have gained weight and flexibility and strength," noted Jesse. "I want to be a playmaker, I have been my whole career and I don't want it to change."
Grandy reported last year at 147 pounds, but he's now up to 164 pounds.
"My metabolism is racing and it's hard for me to put on much weight, but I like where I am now. I can also tell I am more flexible," he continued. "I have also improved my hands a lot. After watching Dexter (McCluster) and Shay (Hodge) for a year, I am more confident in the receiving ability. I feel real good right now."
The Rebels will work out tomorrow afternoon around 4:30 and will be in shorts again. The first day of full pads will be Monday.
* Sophomore Lakenwic Haynes has been moved from linebacker to defensive end.
* H.R. Greer has been moved back to fullback from middle linebacker. He was originally a fullback. He is taking reps with the second team right now behind E.J. Epperson.
* Dorsey was thrown into the fire quickly as the number one DE on the strong side opposite of Lockett. Dorsey is somewhat lost right now, but he's a pretty imposing figure at 6-6, 264 pounds on the edge. He's donning the number 7.
* At the corners, Charles Sawyer is backing up Marcus Temple on the boundary side. Temp is now wearing number 4 instead of 41 as he has the previous two years. Ryan Campbell is backing up Jeremy McGee at the field corner.
* As was noted in the main text above, Swindall took all the number one reps today at center, which was indeed a surprise. It was anticipated A.J. Hawkins would start out number one, but our understanding was that A.J. did not meet expectations in the offseason program and Evan did.
* The first team OL, for now, is LT Bradley Sowell, LG Alex Washington, C Swindall, RG Rishaw Johnson, and RT Bobby Massie. Massie, Sowell and Johnson had excellent offseasons and look better than they did last season. . . . Backing them up, for now, are LT Emmanuel McCray, LG Chris Gill, C Hawkins, RG Michael Brown and RT Logan Clair. A lot of that is subject to change.
* Freshman Cameron Whigham is currently behind Dorsey and he looks the part more now than he did during on-campus Cotton Bowl practices. He's now a 260-pounder versus 245 back in December. Gerald Rivers, who looks a lot like Lockett, is backing Kentrell and is now pushing 250 pounds.
* DE Jason Jones, who is limited this spring due to rehabbing a knee injury, pulled a hamstring early in individual drills and had to sit out the rest of the practice. . . . SE Markeith Summers slightly pulled a groin muscle and sat out the latter stages of the practice. He's expected back very soon.
* TE Z. Mason also ran some drills with the offensive line today. We're not sure where the coaches are headed with that since he played most fo the day at tight end behind Ferbia Allen and Reggie Hicks, but it appears they are covering all bases and possibilities with Z.
* All we got is a name for now, but Richard Absher is the third quarterback and a new face on the team. It was told to us his father used to play professional football, but at this juncture, we know little else.
* How do the RBs stack up? For now, it's Bolden, Rodney Scott, Enrique Davis, Devin Thomas, Korvic Neat and Derrick Herman. We'll see how that holds as spring progresses.
* The second team defense? Not bad at all. Rivers, LaMark Armour, Laurent and Whigham are across the front, Mike Marry, D.T. Shackelford and Alex Williams are the 'backers, Crawford and Jackson are the safeties and Campbell and Sawyer, now wearing number 3, are the corners.
* While Grandy stole the show out wide, Ja'Mes Logan also had a solid day, catching a couple of intermediate passes and showing some swagger. Keep an eye out for him to break the WR rotation.
* The talk is that Bolden is quicker. Talk is cheap, but he exhibited some of that today when he took a swing pass from Stanley and headed down the sideline with a defender closing with an angle. A quick inside left the DB frozen and Bolden in the clear - a move he could not have made last sseason.