The Rebel defense ruled Wednesday in practice.
"The defense got after us today, boy. We couldn't make a first down today. They were moving, playing fast. They did a good job," Nutt said. "I hope it's because the defense is that good, but I know this, our offense has to get better."
One of the main focal points of the offense is at the center position. A.J. Hawkins was elevated to first team ahead of Evan Swindall - for now - but both Nutt and OL Coach Mike Markuson said that position is not settled.
"The snaps have to be better. Not over here (left), not over here (right). They have to be right here, every time, right in the middle," Nutt noted. "It seems errant snaps always happen toward the end of practice when they are a little tired. Right now, Evan is a little better snapper, but A.J. knows more.
"They'll probably go back and forth for a few days until somebody takes over. A.J. knows who to go block and is a little stronger right now. Evan is learning on the run, but he's snapping better."
Nutt is already impressed with Cornerback Tony Grimes, who joined the team at Saturday's scrimmage after getting cleared academically.
"Tony is aggressive to the ball. I like that. He's not afraid of anything and it looks like he'll tackle," Houston noted. "I think he will contribute this year."
* Hawkins believes he's going to get the job done and improve his snaps. It's just a matter of time. "We've messed up some snaps. Once we get that down, we'll be OK. The pressure of the season has gotten to me a little. I'm thinking a little too much sometimes or sometimes not concentrating enough," he explained. "I'm looking for my comfort zone."
* Markuson thinks the center battle will go to the wire. "They both have strengths and both have weaknesses. I'm not sold on either one as to who is going to be the guy," Mike stated. "Each guy has done good things and both have had what is taboo - bad snaps. We are just going through the process of correct, correct, correct. It has to be a mindset and we have to keep working through the issues until we get it right." At the end of practice Wednesday, all the centers and quarterbacks were held over an extra 10-15 minutes to work exclusively on snaps, shotgun and from under center. "We'll get it, but we aren't there yet. We put a couple of more on the ground today. It's got to be 100%," he said. More from Markuson tomorrow.
* Senior Safety Fon Ingram will have surgery on his right knee (lateral meniscus) tomorrow in Jackson. It's expected he'll be out 2-4 weeks, as was reported yesterday, but Ingram is hopeful and optimistic it will be closer to two weeks. We'll see.
* Freshman Linebacker Ralph Williams was held out of practice again Wednesday. He's going to have to miss "a couple of days" due to an unfortunate oversight on some paperwork he was supposed to sign but failed to do so. It's a technicality, but one that is costing the rookie LB some practice time.
* Freshman LB Mike Marry has been dressing out in pads since his hamstring/knee injury a while back, but Wednesday he was in shorts and a helmet. He's been trying to participate in half-speed individual drills, but apparently the trainers are curtailing even that now. The indication is that he's getting better, but his injury is dragging out past what was expected. No word on when he may return.
* In Marry's absence, sophomore Brandon Sanders is holding down the number two Sam LB slot behind senior Allen Walker. Brandon was on some special teams last year and had been battling Marry for second team status before Mike's injury.
* With Ingram out, junior Damien Jackson has been elevated to first team with senior Safety Johnny Brown. Behind them is freshman Brishen Mathews and redshirt frosh Dele Junaid. Converted WR Jarius Williams could get in the mix there as well if he continues progressing the way he has started at that position. As of yesterday, Terrell Grant is not longer in that mix, having been moved to wide receiver, where he started his Ole Miss career two years ago. There was some thought given to moving Frank Crawford, who played safety in spring training but was moved to corner in the offseason, back to safety for the time being, but that idea was shelved after some consideration and the way Frank has responded to corner.
* WR Markeith Summers has overcome his hamstring pull and is back in full swing after missing a few days last week, but one thing he couldn't overcome was a conflicting class schedule. Markeith needs a course to graduate in December in crimianl justice that is only offered on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m. The Rebs don't practice on Mondays, so the decision was to live with Summers missing every Wednesday practice this season in favor of that required class. He was not at practice, obviously, today.
* Another interesting personnel move popped up kind of out of nowhere Wednesday. Redshirt freshman Alex Williams has been moved from defensive end to wide receiver. Williams started the fall at OLB, but was switched a week or so ago to DE. He's now at WR. He and Terrell Grant will be big targets for the Rebel QBs. Alex is in the 6-4, 225-pound range. Terrell is 6-2, 215 pounds. "Terrell has good speed and has played there before. Alex has excellent hands and both are big guys. We'll see how it goes," Nutt stated. Asked if Alex resembles his broher, Boo, who played for Nutt at Arkansas, Houston said, "Boo played WR most of his career and Alex has not. Alex would like to be a DE, but his lack of size just won't allow that right now. We are moving him over to help with numbers and see how he reacts."
* At Tuesday's practice, Punter Tyler Campbell hit a punt that left the practice fields on the first hop. It went 85 yards in the air - 72 yards from the line of scrimmage, and cleared the practice field fence on the first hop. He didn't hit that type of bomb today, but in four punts he averaged 47.5 yards. "Tyler has been more consistent and has done a good job this fall. He looks relaxed," said Nutt. . . Campbell agreed. "I have gained some consistency because I'm catching the ball with my hands instead of into my body and I'm more relaxed," said Campbell. "Last year, as a freshman, I just wanted to make sure I caught the ball and got it off quickly. This year, I'm more confident and am using more fundamentals. It's a lot different the second time around. I'm also more comfortable at directional punting. We are trying to limit a return guy to a third of the field by kicking to a spot or an area. If my alignment is correct, I can kick it where I want to most of the time." Campbell is also dealing with a new snapper. "Will Denny has done well and Wesley Phillips is back now. We worked all summer so whoever gets it, I will be OK," he added.
* In field goal drills Wednesday, freshly returned Deep Snapper Wesley Phillips snapped for the first team field goal unit, but true freshman Will Denny, who has been holding down the fort while Phillips finished his rehab for an injured knee, was the top guy on punt snaps. We'll see how that plays out as the season nears.
* Sophomore LB D.T. Shackelford had a brace on his right arm Wednesday for a hyperextended elbow. It does not seem to be affecting him in the least and it certainly beats the constant ankle problems he had a year ago as a true freshman.
* The field goal unit's forward wall is pretty hefty. Across the front, it's shaking out like this: Wing E.J. Epperson, RE A.J. Hawkins, RT Bobby Massie, RG Jared Duke, DS Wesley Phillips, LG Alex Washington, LT Bradley Sowell, LE Rishaw Johnson, Wing Ferbia Allen. Lot of beef. If this holds, we suppose that answers the question on whether or not Duke will redshirt. Appears he will not unless something changes on the field goal unit.
* From different conversations with different coaches, it appears the Rebels are going to go with a "simpler" passing game this year with less sight adjustment reads and more pre-called routes. The coaches felt the receivers and quarterbacks from a year ago, as a whole, had communication problems at times which led to a bunch of incompletions and several of the interceptions thrown. "We were not decisive with our decision making and there were a lot of communication breakdowns," said Houston Nutt. "Our guys were not playing as fast as they should. Coach (David) Rader is keeping things simpler, packaging routes differently and that's allowed our quarterbacks and receivers to play faster and make quicker decisions and more correct decisions. We were on the same page more in spring and so far this fall. We think it will make the quarterback reads simpler and more effective and will help a lot with the communication between the receivers and the quarterbacks. It's a more conventional passing game, but we think it will fit our personnel much better."