The free flow of freshmen and newcomers into the workout Saturday afternoon, the first football practice for Ole Miss this season, is a clear indication of how much this class will be called on to help the Rebels rise from 4-8. It's a tall order.
There is plenty of talent in the class, and that's reason for excitement, but in the bigger picture, it's a problem when you go into a season having to rely on so many inexperienced players.
That makes the coaching that takes place in August even more important. Houston Nutt and his staff have to get these guys ready, then in three weeks evaluate who can help the most.
Lots of newcomers will get that opportunity. Nick Brassell, Senquez Golson, Tobias Singleton, Donte Moncrief, C.J. Johnson, Chief Brown, Jamal Mosley and Aaron Garbutt all got plenty of reps on Day 1.
The most impressive was Brassell, the wide receiver from South Panola. He started with the offense, but Nutt wasted no time in using him on defense, and that's where he was most impressive.
Brassell had a nice interception in a one-one-one drill in which he showed his closing speed against the receiver and was in good position when the ball arrived. On game day the same pick might have been waved off by penalty since Brassell grabbed a handful of jersey early on. He's learning. His skill level is evident. “Nobody out here turns the hips like he does,” former Ole Miss coach Billy Brewer said.
Overall, a good first day for the freshmen. Nutt says it's far and away the most he's ever thrown into the fire so quickly.
He also said we shouldn't read anything into how much the hard-hitting Brshen Matthews plays at linebacker. He's still a safety, and Matthews also spent time with the safeties in practice, but it's clear the wheels are turning, and options are being considered at weak side linebacker where two starters – D.T. Shackelford and Clarence Jackson – were lost in the spring, Shackelford to injury, Jackson for disciplinary reasons. Safety Ivan Nicholas also played some linebacker.
Regardless of thin numbers at the position, Nutt said he will not scarp the 4-3 in favor of a 4-2-5 to employ an extra defensive back on the field all the time. For a while there it looked like Chuck Driesbach, a defensive coordinator under David Cutcliffe, might need to be called in for some consultant work.
Among the freshmen, Johnson, the state's No. 1 recruit last season, got the most work, and that was with the second team. Didn't see Serderius Bryant or Keith Lewis much on the first day.
Nothing eye-popping from the quarterbacks on the first day, and there's not likely to be before Wednesday and the latter stages of the week after the pads are on.
In shorts and helmets the timing plays stand out, and Brassell and Golson looked good with those right away.
One roster note. Nutt announced that senior offensive lineman Logan Clair will not be with the team because of academice. He had no further comment on Clair. That's a hit to the depth of the line, but honestly, that's probably the one position on the team where depth can absorb a hit.
The Rebels will be back on the field after church today, Nutt said. Start time is 4:30.