OXFORD – Most college football coaches work through August camp with a number of goals. Always near the top is staying injury-free.
Or as close to that as possible.
At Ole Miss, the No. 8-ranked Rebels haven’t avoided injuries completely but have managed to avoid getting key players hurt for extended periods.
The most serious injury the Rebels have dealt with has been a broken foot by sophomore defensive tackle Justin Smith. Smith was running with the third team and could return late this season.
Freshman Darius “Tig” Barksdale was expected to provide depth or compete for a starting job at strong safety, but he’s out indefinitely with an undisclosed medical condition.
Elsewhere, the Rebels have been without starters Brandon Bolden and Gerald Harris, both with hamstring pulls. Harris, a senior tight end, could be back for today’s light workout. Bolden, a sophomore tailback, is expected back early this week.
Backup free safety Fon Ingram returned to practice Friday after missing three days with flu-like symptoms.
“The last two days it feels like it’s kind of piled up on us,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
Nutt attributes part of the hamstring pulls to the condition of the practice fields. The Rebels have been unable to practice inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium while new turf is being installed.
“The field is a little thin right now,” said Nutt, pointing to the middle section of three grass practice fields adjacent the football building. “This is when you miss your turf. You can’t stay in one spot too long, and all that kind of accumulates on you.”
Players have the advantage of coaches and trainers working to keep them on the field, but the responsibility for health doesn’t stop with the staff.
“Our job is to do exactly what our coaches tell us to do,” senior offensive lineman Reid Neely said. “These coaches are trying to take care of us, and if you do what they tell you, you’re going to be ready.”
The hamstring injuries to Harris and Bolden have served as a warning to other players to focus and concentrate through the stretch and warm-up portion of practice.
“You see guys go down like that, and you don’t want to be the next one,” junior quarterback Jevan Snead said. “Sometimes there are a few players, I’ve done it myself, who are not taking stretch seriously, but it’s a very important part of practice. You have to get ready to go.”
Beyond stretch the most important thing the players can do is carry a heightened sense of awareness through every drill. Focus, concentrate, and most importantly, go full throttle.
“When guys are tentative, standing around or looking around, that’s when they get hurt,” Nutt said. “You’re standing around a pile, and somebody rolls up on you. You have to go full speed, play with that bend in the knee. That’s their responsibility.”
There are exceptions to the full-speed rule. One of them is Snead. The transfer from Texas is a big reason expectations are so high for Ole Miss right now.
Nutt has worked to keep Snead healthy. That doesn’t mean he’s lacked for full-speed work. It does mean Snead has been held out of some drills, and his defensive teammates know not to hit him.
“I’d like to be in there getting as much live work as possible, but I can see the necessity of being held out at times,” he said.
And it’s hard to argue with a rule that keeps you from getting hit.
“I scrambled the other day and ran into the safety, Kendrick (Lewis) and laughed,” Snead said. “He just kind of raised up his hands and backed away. I don’t get hit any out here.”
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal