Coming into the spring session, "everyone" knew the score.
The defense should be strong; the offense will be rebuilding, almost from the ground up.
So far, that's exactly how it's played out, almost as if the players are following a pre-determined script.
But there are so many storylines out there, it can't simply be summed up in one sentence. There are variables aplenty on both sides of the ball.
Let's start with the most productive unit, at this juncture, DC Tyrone Nix's defense.
We'll get to the offense later this week after a few more practices.
* Up front, in the middle, DT Jerrell Powe worked hard in the offseason to increase his movement and agility so he wouldn't have to come out on passing downs like he did a year ago.
He wanted to become an every down player, capable of stopping the run and rushing the quarterback effectively. Jerrell is quickly becoming that type of player as was witnessed in Good Friday's scrimmage. Jesse Grandy, who can motor, took a handoff and headed wide around the end with his sites set on the end zone.
Powe, yes Powe, ran to the sidelines and jerked him down like you and I would toss a loaf of bread, before Grandy hit paydirt. This was done toward the end of a 100-play scrimmage when everybody was near empty in their tanks. A remarkable effort play that showed vividly how Powe's offseason is paying off.
* DT Lawon Scott has also shown flashes of causing some backfield disruption and quarterback pressure that was not all that common a year ago. Ted Laurent, arguably the strongest player on the team, is becoming more visible as well in the stat sheets day in and day out.
* At one end, Kentrell Lockett is up to his old tricks, but even better. He's using his knowledge and experience, along with 10 extra pounds of muscle, to make plays and cause havoc. Nothing new there, only better. Kentrell recently got engaged to his long time girlfriend and it appears he's got making a living from football on his mind when his Ole Miss career is over. A family to support is always pretty good motivation. In other words, his maturity level has increased and, as a consequence, so has his level of play.
* On the other side, Wayne Dorsey has been one of the big surprises of the camp to these eyes. When Dorsey came onto the Rebel landscape, he did not have the look of a guy who could be physical enough to make an immediate impact other than as a speed rusher.
At nearly 6-8 and 246 pounds, something had to give. Wayne recognized that quickly and put in an outstanding effort in the offseason, gaining 18 pounds and getting stronger. Now, he has the look, but what was discovered relatively quickly was when Dorsey buckles his chin strap, he's not bashful at all. He's got a bunch of grit and determination and toughness is not an issue with him.
He throws his weight around with authority against the run and his pass rushing production has been more than expected - he's had at least one QB sack in each practice. He and Lockett seem to possess a lot of the same skills and that bodes well for the Rebel defense in a need area.
* Two pleasant surprises have emerged in Cameron Whigham and Gerald Rivers as well. Both are still in the early stages of their development, but Rivers is finally big enough at 245-250 to be a factor and Whigham is catching on more and more daily and has a good motor, sort of like a young Emmanuel Stephens, who never stopped.
* At MLB, Jonathan Cornell is playing like the three-year starter he is. Directing traffic with an intricate knowledge and awareness of everything going on around him. The goal for Cornell is to become more of a playmaker his final season and reach beyond the "steady and stable" plateau that has earmarked his career somewhat. In the early going of spring, he has done just that.
* Behind Cornell, nobody brings more energy to the field than D.T. Shackelford. He's the energizer bunny in cleats. In his life, it's God, family and football, with football running a real close third, and it shows in the way he plays the game. Some believe he's better than Cornell now. We beg to disagree, but in the long run, he will be. D.T. absorbs coaching like a sponge and has as much passion for the game as these eyes have seen. Also, D.T. is being groomed to play all three linebacker positions. He may very well end up getting as many reps as any of the linebackers, aka, Patrick Willis his sophomore season, when he was not a starter but got more snaps than anyone in the LB group. You can't place a price tag on that type of value.
* At Will LB, filling the shoes of Patrick Trahan will be difficult, but Cornell has stated sophomore Joel Kight has not missed a beat in that quest. Kight is as driven at D.T., but he doesn't show it the way Shackelford does outwardly. His intensity masks his enthusiasm for the game a bit, but we get the feeling his number will be called a lot by PA man Glen Waddle next year.
* Alex Williams, who backs up Kight, has never played much linebacker, but he has a frame and the ability that leads one to believe it's just a matter of time. Give him a little more of that and he will surface as a quality player.
* At Sam LB, senior Allen Walker hasn't had much full contact due to coming off offseason surgery, but he's poised to have a very good final campaign in 2010.
Meanwhile, Walker's semi-absence could not have worked out better for true frosh Mike Marry, who is lapping up his first dose of college football like a thirsty dog with the extra reps, and reps with the number one defense, he's been able to get while Walker is temporarily sidelined. Mike has plenty of work to do, but even a novice can see he's got what it takes and all he needs to do is keep listening to Nix.
* At strong safety, senior Johnny Brown is playing like a leader and a veteran. He looks more comfortable in his skin than any time in his career and the results are predictable - he's making more plays and being where he's supposed to be consistently. No major concerns with Mr. Brown.
* Like his JUCO teammate, Damien Jackson has made an immediate splash. As the players say, he brings the wood. Jackson's head is spinning somewhat in coverages, which is natural, but he's making up for that while he learns with an extremely physical style of play. There's nothing like a safety who likes to rattle some cages and Damien is in that mold.
* At free safety, Fon Ingram, who had a little scope surgery on his knee after the season, is back in good form. Fon, to this observer, has always had playmaking ability. Now, he's becoming more consistent in a starting role. RS freshman Frank Crawford is in the same mold as Fon, only younger. He's got a bright future - with good ball skills and a knack for being around the action. If he'll add ten more pounds to his frame and get a little stronger in the summer, whish is realistic, he will be a factor.
* The big question mark coming into spring was replacing the cornerbacks - Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn. That development has been sidetracked a little bit with ankle and hand injuries to senior Jeremy McGee. Jeremy has the necessary skill set, but he needs all the reps he can get. Marcus Temple is penciled in to man the other side and is doing yeoman's work thus far. Nothing flashy, but effective.
* The wild card in the equation is the continued development of RS freshman Charles Sawyer. Most in the know have him tagged to be an outstanding player in time. He's done nothing to disprove that thought process.
He will keep the pressure on both the starters to keep honing their skills and should surface as the third corner in 2010. Another RS frosh, Ryan Campbell, is making strides as well, but he may need another year to get it right.
While Nix says the Rebel defense is still a work in progress, which is true, they are getting closer and closer to being a finished product.
From the early look, the Ole Miss defense should be stout.
Next week: The offense, which, at this point in time, is a different story.