Spring Training, Day III

Now that's football! No more running around in shorts and t-shirts. The Rebels had their first day of full pads/full contact of spring training Monday afternoon on a beautiful, sunny day in Oxford. Read about the workout inside.

The Rebel football team got into "real" football Monday with a two-and-a-half hour full pad workout, their first of spring training after two days in shorts and helmets.

"We had too many mental mistakes today," said Coach Houston Nutt. "We reverted back a little to our old ways and didn't keep our fundamentals strong like I had hoped. You can't do that - you have to keep your fundamentals strong. But we will get out here tomorrow and get better."

The ongoing theme - which is very noticeable at practice - is the extra time the coaches are spending with a young team on fundamentals.

"It's been our theme. All the little things are so important and we are coaching them hard like our guys are in the first grade. We will continue to do that until the fundamentals become second nature to them," Nutt continued.

Once again, Houston had kudos for the defense, stating they continue to have the upper hand over the offense.

"They are absolutely ahead of the offense - miles ahead, but that's OK right now. In fact, it's a good thing," said Houston. "But hey, the defense can improve too. They've given up a couple of plays I know Tyrone (Nix) will be disappointed in.

"The offense did make some plays, but we had four plays of over 15 yards called back for penalty and you cannot do that. You can't beat yourself."

Nutt discussed the play of the quarterbacks today as well.

"Ryamond (Cotton) threw a beautiful deep ball (to Korvic Neat) late today and hit the tight end a couple of times. He did some good things. Nathan (Stanley) looked good in individual work and also threw a nice deep ball in team drills," Nutt assessed. "Nathan also got us out of some bad plays with a couple of nice checks. Mentally, he's a little ahead, but I'm liking the way both of them are working."

Asked who stood out to him today, Nutt mentioned one of the JUCOs - SS Damien Jackson.

"He jumped out at us. A lot of them look good in gym shorts, but he brought the wood. He did some hitting. He didn't shy away at all," Nutt noted. "Johnny Brown also stood out and (LT) Bradley Sowell had as good a day at left tackle as I have seen in a long time.

"I'm also happy with what I have seen from (DE) Wayne Dorsey. He's taken a brand new playbook and is catching on. He's attentive and what stands out is his quickness. Our tackles already respect his quickness off the edge."

Nix is becoming a fan of Dorsey's as well.

"He brings some excitement to the table. Wayne is tougher than I expected and he's showing some flashes of doing some real good things. He has big play potential. What we can't tell on film is how physical he will be against the run on this level," said Nix. "But he looks like he will stick his nose in there. We knew he could rush the passer. He's showed some courage today. All he needs is consistency."

Nix shook his head when told of what Nutt said about the defense being way ahead of the offense.

"I saw the offense make some big plays today too," he laughed. "We aren't very tough yet, but we will get there. This was the first day in pads. We'll continue to improve."

A backup who has stood out for Nix is OLB Mike Marry, who is getting a lot of number one reps with starter Allen Walker still being held out after offseason sports hernia surgery.

"Mike isn't very consistent yet, but I think he can be big time. He's making some plays and he's pretty physical. He's got a lot to learn, but he's willing," Tyrone noted. "Damien (Jackson) will fill it up too. We hoped he would be a hitter and he was today. Right now, he's our third best safety. I'd play him if we had to play tomorrow."

Tyrone was asked about RS frosh Corners Charles Sawyer and Ryan Campbell.

"Just like those other guys - Dorsey, Marry, Jackson - they are showing flashes. I like their progress so far," he said. "They just have to grow up. Jeremy McGee went down today, so that means one of them has to play. They have to grow up, concentrate and practice every snap like it's the most important snap of their careers. They will get there."

Who are the defensive leaders? Nix is seeing some of it develop.

"Right now, Jonathan Cornell and Johnny Brown are leading on the back seven. On the front, Kentrell Lockett and Jerrell Powe are leading the way. Powe is not a big vocal guy, but he is a leader," Nix closed.

Dorsey admits his head is spinning a bit, being thrust into first team duty quickly, but he's determined to get things right.

"I won't be the weak link on defense, but the transition from junior college is tough. It's a totally different level. I'm trying as hard as I can to pick things up," said Dorsey. "I feel I am improving every day. It is a good thing I got here in December instead of in the summer or I would have been behind the eight-ball.

"I am not surprised I am first team this early because that's why I came here. I knew what they were losing at defensive end and this was my opportunity to play quickly. I know what I can bring to the table. I just have to keep getting better. It will come."

Dorsey said he is getting a lot of help from the veterans.

"I am thankful to be around a veteran group. They have taken me under their wing and been great in helping me - Powe, Laurent, Lockett, all of them," he said. "They have really helped my transition and that's another reason this is the best place in the country for me."

So what does Wayne have to improve on? Simple answer there.

"Everything," he said. "Play recognition, being tougher, getting off the ball, learning the system, staying in my book and in the film room," he said. "It's tough physically and mentally, but I'll get there. I think I am off to a good start."

Random Notes:

* For the past few years, everyone has been spoiled with the reliability and ability of punter returner Marshay Green, and there was a safety net behind him, one Dexter McCluster. Where to now? It appears Jesse Grandy is the heir apparent and will also handle kickoff return duties, but the coaches are also working Lionel Breaux, Derrick Herman and Korvic Neat fielding punts. Grandy and Breaux look the most natural in the act of catching the high spirals, but Herman and Neat seem to be adjusting well also.

* Ditto on being spoiled at placekicker with Josh Shene, at snapper with Preston Powers and at holder with Justin Sparks. Now all three of those doors are open. Right now, Bryson Rose, David Hankins and Andrew Ritter are battling for the PK job, while Wesley Phillips, Powers' backup for four years, is finally getting his chance at snapping. He looks very good on the short snaps, but the punt snaps have been a little shaky in the early going in accuracy and velocity compared to Powers. Plenty of time to get it right. Richie Cantartesi, who filled in for Sparks last year for a couple of games when Justin injured his knee, is the leading holder candidate. He's sure-handed and should be fine by fall. He has big shoes to fill from the past few years. Rob Park and Sparks were excellent in that important role.

* The defensive two-deep is no suprise at this point. DE Wayne Dorsey, Cameron Whigham; DT Lawon Scott, LaMark Armour; NT Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent; DE Kentrell Lockett, Gerald Rivers; WLB Joel Kight, Alex Williams; MLB Jonathan Cornell, D.T. Shackelford; SLB Allen Walker, Mike Marry; CB Marcus Temple, Charles Sawyer; FS Fon Ingram, Frank Crawford; SS Johnny Brown, Damien Jackson; CB Jeremy McGee, Ryan Campbell. Pretty predictable.

* There were a couple of surprises in one-on-one drills today. . . . Bradley Sowell got the upper hand on Kentrell Lockett; Rishaw Johnson whipped Jerrell Powe - twice. That shocked the onlookers some, but it shouldn't have. Rishaw is a quick twitch athlete who power cleaned nearly 700 pounds in the offseason. He's explosive and powerful. True, not many are going to get the best of Jerrell, and Rishaw won't every day, but today, Johnson did.

* On the punt team, one of the most important players is the personal protector. He's got to call the signals, read the front and make call adjustments. Shackelford, it looks like, is going to be that guy. He is backed up by Kight. Both are intelligent and diligent and physical as the last line of protection to the punter, which the job requires. PP is in good hands.

* While there isn't the same type of speed as there was in the backfield with McCluster last year, what is obvious is the maturity of the available backs. We tend to forget they are just now what you would realistically call "veterans" with two true juniors in Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis and a true sophomore in Rodney Scott. All have helped their quickness, but what is more obvious is they have honed their craft. They are much more patient waiting on a hole to develop and quicker to react to the opening. That's maturity and you can see it now.

* Grandy continues to amaze. He made a spectacular catch over the middle today - a dart from Stanley that he dove for, tipped and came down with for a 20 yard gain. Nutt jumped two feet in the air when he saw that catch. Incredible.

* Dorsey got another sack in team drills today. Each day he's registered a QB sack so far, at least one. Good start.

* TE Ferbia Allen also made a couple of big plays that were appreciated by the offensive coaching staff. He's looking more mature and more physical as well. He's the one who put McGee out with a loud collision and Ferbia kept on going after the hit.

* Neat, as Nutt said, caught a bomb from Cotton, but what made it special is that it looked like Raymond had overthrown it by 10 yards. Neat, however, has an extra gear. He hit it and ran the ball down. Speed is not an issue with Korvic Neat.

* The Rebs will practice in pads again tomorrow around 4 p.m. and then will take Wednesday off.

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