Every once in a while, coaches have to let off the physical throttle to let the guys recover from the fatigue and battle scars of constant hitting, which usually takes place in spring training and in the first two weeks of August drills.
But that doesn't mean an "alternative" practice is easy because as soon as the coaches let up on the hitting, they tend to turn up the heat mentally with a teaching day.
Those days, which Friday was one for the Ole Miss Rebels, demand total focus and attention. Details, corrections from days before, fundamentals, reaction to different situations, etc., are all incorporated into the shorts, helmets and shoulder pads workout.
"We put our guys in a lot of different situations like two-minute drill and worked fundamentals and teaching really hard after putting the guys through a couple of tough practices earlier this week," said Coach Houston Nutt. "We wanted to let them get their muscles back before we hit again Saturday in a scrimmage that will be roughly 100 plays."
Nutt says "mental days" are just as important, if not more so than the hitting days.
"They're so critical. This was not a day off by any means. We told them before practice this was a work day," he stated. "We're trying to keep them fresh, but a mental day is as important as any day in spring. Who is going to react? Who's going to get out of bounds in the 2-minute drill? Who is thinking? Who is focused? The little things are so important and days like this are when you instill those traits in your team."
Houston is looking for the basics in the scrimmage.
"Who can we count on? Who is going to make plays? Who is a team player? We want to see how fast we are playing in every area," Nutt said. "Our offensive line is very young and we are trying to help that situation along. The only answer is work and more work. Those are the basics we will be looking for. Execution, producing under pressure and so on."
Nutt and the whole staff want to get more of a look at some of the players who have impressed them so far. Case in point, TB Derrick Herman, who has shows flashes of excellence and is looking like an option as a quick, change of pace back to add to the Rebel offensive arsenal.
"Derrick has shown some glimpses of some quickness. We are going to get him the ball more tomorrow," Nutt said. "He's learning on the run, but he's made some big plays and has done a good job."
Houston made the decision to move Herman from safety to tailback when the Rebs signed S Damien Jackson.
"Derrick ran our scout team Wild Rebel last year and showed signs of being a good offensive player. He's been after me to switch him to offense, but I didn't want to do it until we solidified the safety positions," Nutt explained. "He gets a little more excited when you mention offense and seems to be more of a natural offensive player."
Herman concurs and was elated when told of the switch before spring began.
"I love offense. I have been begging for it for two years. I've got it now so I have to show what I can do," said Derrick. "Coach Nutt told me when they signed another safety he would make the move and when Damien came on board I knew it was my time for some offense.
"My biggest adjustment is to learn the blocking schemes and the techniques of blocking - keeping my feet and shoulders square."
Herman believes he can help the team at tailback.
"I'm a better player running forward than I am running backwards, like you have to do a lot playing safety," he smiled. "I've been doing it since I first started playing football and I just feel like I am in a position where I can help the team now.
"My quickness is working to my advantage. I'm getting my balance back and things are going well."
Another player transitioning from defense to offense is Wide Receiver Jared Mitchell, who moved from safety also.
"The adjustment is going OK. When they asked me if I wanted to switch to offense, I didn't have a problem with it because I want to play a role on this team and offense may be my quickest way to that end," said Mitchell. "The hardest part of the switch is getting off press coverage, getting off the line of scrimmage. I played some wideout in high school, but you didn't get much press coverage. I'm figuring that out now."
At 6-3, Jared is using his height against shorter coverage men.
"My size is my biggest asset. I'm finding ways to use it to my advantage and make plays over defenders," he assessed. "The other wide receivers are helping me a lot. We are all on the same page and offense is more comfortable for me. I have work to do, but I'm liking the change."
* QB Raymond Cotton did not throw any on Tuesday and Thursday, complaining of a sore arm. He warmed up a little Friday, but really didn't push matter, tossing the ball rather than zipping it. Nutt hopes he will be able to participate in Saturday's scrimmage.
"Raymond needs the reps badly, but I don't know if he'll be back or not for tomorrow," Nutt said. "I sure hope he does. As I said, he needs the work."
* The number one offensive line is a work in progress. But what of the number two guys? Ditto, except some of them appear to need more time as well as work. It lines up like this: LT Emmanuel McCray, probably a summer offseason away physically; LG Chris Gill, definitely another offseason away; C Evan Swindall, loads of potential but in his infancy of college football; RG Mike Brown, has made good strides this spring but a good offseason is also needed; RT Logan Clair, has gotten much stronger but needs to keep working his movement and technique.
Bottom line? They have potential, to the man, but it's a good thing they still have the summer to hone their skills and mature more physically. P.S. - You can throw Josh Tatum in that mix as well. He's had an ankle injury most of spring, but is starting to come around a little now.
* Right now, the punt team across the front, from left to right, is made up of: Johnny Brown, Allen Walker, Reggie Hicks, DS Wesley Phillips, Ferbia Allen, Jonathan Cornell and Terrell Grant - all physical guys who can hold off the rush but run well in coverage. The gunners wil most likely be Lionel Breaux and Jeremy McGee. The personal protector calling out signals three yards deep is D.T. Shackelford and the punter is Tyler Campbell.