Spring Practice, Day XII

Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt is always cooperative and generous with the media, but after Monday's practice, he seemed to want to talk even more. Read about it inside.

The Rebels returned to spring training after taking Sunday off with a rugged practice, in which Coach Houston Nutt had a couple of periods of full tackling contact.

For the fifth day in a row, the Reb offense made the day interesting and competitive as they continue to show steady signs of improvement.

After the 2 1/2- hour workout, Nutt seemed to have a lot to get off his chest, so to speak.

"We are heading to our last three days of spring training, but through the first 12 practices, I have some seen some good learning and improvement," said Nutt. "I love how physical we can be at times and you can see guys getting better and better."

TB Enrique Davis instantly popped into Houston's head, as did others.

Enrique Davis

"Enrique really ran the ball hard today. That was good to see. He's having an overall good spring," he continued. "I have been very impressed with all the linebackers all spring. Jonathan Cornell leads the way with Allen Walker, coming off surgery. Then we have our young LBs - D.T. Shackelford, Mike Marry and Joel Kight, who all have a chance to be really special.

"In the last three days, three of our young offensive linemen - Emmanuel McCray, Josh Tatum, and Mike Brown have made good jumps and are showing us the kind of improvement we want to see out here in spring. McCray is on the heels of the guys in front of him and we are now working him at different positions. We are in the phase now where we are experimenting with different players and playing the what-if? game. What if this or that happens? Emmanuel is next in line at this time. He's taken two steps forward in being physical and handling his body. It's encouraging. Mike is very intelligent and can play either guard. He's got to keep getting stronger.

"Our playmakers are starting to show up more often as well - Markeith Summers, Jesse Grandy, Ja'Mes Logan. Melvin Harris has made some big plays, but he's also dropped a few. If he can get his consistency level higher, he can be a playmaker for us."

QB Nathan Stanley is starting to catch Nutt's eye more and more as each day clicks on as well.

Nathan Stanley

"Boy, he really threw the deep ball well today. Beautiful. Very accurate deep ball. Nathan came back from the scrimmage and made some good decisions today," Houston said. "He's protecting the ball well and doing an overall good job. His teammates like him and he commands the huddle well. He also understands situations, down-and-distance.

"We are telling him we don't need him to be Superman. You get in trouble when you think you have to make a Superman play. Let it come to you, take care of the ball, get it to our guys or nobody, and everything will be OK."

Jumping back to defense, Nutt's train of thought went straight to RS frosh CB Charles Sawyer.

"Charles is one of the best young corners I have seen in a long time. He's physical and he can cover," he said. "I'm excited about him."

Overall, Nutt has been pleased with the move forward by the OL the last several days. And, as most say, it all starts up front.

"(OL Coach) Mike Markuson knows how to use good adjectives. He's a motivator and he's going to stay on them when he knows in his heart they can do it," Nutt stated. "They've never done it in a game, but Mike will get them ready."

A guy on the number one OL who has kind of moved in without a lot of fanfare is LG Alex "Tank" Washington.

"I want to make a pact with him to get his weight down in the offseason. That is all that is holding him back. Take 20-25 pounds off and he'll be a different guy," said Houston. "At his current weight (350), McCray and Brown are on his heels. He has the ability. He has it. He can do it, but he needs to trim down some."

At running back, there has not been a lot of separation.

"They are all bunched in there together. I like what Enrique did today. He played physical and had a burst. Brandon Bolden knows everything about the offense and is executing well. Rodney Scott is a hammer.

Rodney Scott

"Heck, Devin Thomas has been making a run a day and he's always with the second team line," Nutt added. "Derrick Herman and Korvic Neat have shown a lot of quickness. They get in a hole and get out into the open field quickly."

The Rebels will take tomorrow and Wednesday off and then come back for practices Thursday and Friday and then Saturday's 1 p.m. Grove Bowl to wrap up spring training.

Random Notes:

* S Frank Crawford and CB Marcus Temple missed Saturday's scrimmage but were back in full gear today. Temple was sick, but is fine now. Crawford has a torn meniscus in his knee, but will finish spring training before getting it fixed in the offseason. It must not be bothering him too much - Tuesday he had an excellent interception on a Stanley throw over the middle.

* Nutt's quickie evaluation from Saturday's scrimmage? The OL looked better, no worried about the defense, and the potential "difference-makers" need to keep coming on. Overall, OK.

* The placekicking unit is sometimes taken for granted, but nothing can change the momentum of a game quicker than a blocked kick from poor protection on a placement. The leading candidates for the field goal/PAT team are: Left Wing Ferbia Allen, LE Chris Gill, LT Brandley Sowell, LG Tank Washington, DS Wesley Phillips, RG Rishaw Johnson, RT Bobby Massie, RE A.J. Hawkins and Right Wing E.J. Epperson. Lot of beef to take on a bull rush.

* For the first time this spring, some kickoff return men were tested. It appears Jesse Grandy and Rodney Scott will have the top spots with Bolden and Herman backing them up and Fon Ingram and Devin Thomas behind them.

* DS Wesley Phillips had a bike accident Sunday and sprained his knee. He did not practice Tuesday and we're not sure of his status for the Grove Bowl at this time. . . FB Derrick Davis (hamstring) and DE Jason Jones (hamstring) also did not practice and are doubtful for the Grove Bowl.

* MLB D.T. Shackelford has a sore heel, but he practiced through the pain with very little favoring of that foot. Meanwhile, Jonathan Cornell has an injured elbow and was held out of full contact drills.

D.T. Shackelford

D.T. played with the number one defense in Cornell's absence with no dropoff. D.T. is considered a starter by the coaches.

* DL Coach Terry Price does not hand out compliments haphazardly or easily. More and more of late, Price is saying "good job, Rivers." that's for backup DE Gerald Rivers, who apparently is making his mark this spring. Trust us, those words would not come from Price's mouth unless they were warranted.

* One thing you readily notice is that this Rebel defense is taking on the personality of its leader, DC Tyrone Nix. For Tyrone, practice is as intense as any game. "Give them (the offense) nothing" is his mantra and it's infectious.

* To illustrate Nutt's observation on Sawyer, on one play the talented corner broke up a long pass and on the next he stopped Scott dead in his tracks in the backfield on a running play. But being a rookie, of sorts, he can also have his lapses. A few plays later he let Grandy get behind him for a 35-yard TD from Stanley. The life of an underclassman, even a very good one like Sawyer, still has it's ups and downs. With Charles, however, the downs are few and far between.

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