OXFORD – Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy has been cleared for practice and the rigors thereof.
While Rebels head coach Houston Nutt has pledged to take things slowly with one of the nation’s top pass rushers, he does not intend to save Hardy for the season’s third game, the SEC opener at South Carolina on Sept. 24.
“We’re going to do everything not to rush him, but to think we’re going to hold him for the SEC …No, we want to get him ready for the first ballgame.”
While Hardy is unable to go an entire practice with the intensity coaches want, Nutt believes the conditioning will improve with time.
He plans for Hardy to play Sept. 6 at Memphis and Sept. 19 at home against Southeastern Louisiana.
Hardy was limited to nine games last year and parttime duty in those after a preseason stress fracture in his foot.
The same foot was aggravated in a car accident near Pontotoc in July, but no further surgery was required.
Hardy’s 81/2 sacks ranked third in the SEC last season. At 0.94 sacks per game he would have ranked seventh in the nation had he played in enough games to register with NCAA statistics.
Shay Hodge: Deep threat
– Senior Shay Hodge, the most experienced in a deep pool of receivers, has increased his speed and could become the team’s top deep threat as Nutt seeks a replacement for Mike Wallace.
In the spring sophomore Markeith Summers appeared to be the top threat to get behind an opposing secondary.
“I knew I wasn’t Mike Wallace fast, but I look at Markeith and think, ‘We’re about the same size, we’re built about the same. Why am I not running like him,’ ” Hodge said. “But it’s just like school. If you study it and learn it … Speed is a gift, but I studied the technique. I learned the technique, and that’s helped me be faster.”
Hodge has long been considered a steady player with good hands in traffic.
Hodge is the SEC’s active career leader with 103 receptions. He had 44 catches and eight touchdowns last year, including the 86-yard game-winner at Florida when he and quarterback Jevan Snead exploited a Gators’ coverage bust.
The blind side
– Quarterback Jevan Snead watched with great interest in the spring as sophomore Bradley Sowell was demoted at left tackle before rallying late and winning the job. The Rebels are trying to replace All-American Michael Oher as Snead’s blind-side protector.
Sowell remains No. 1 on the current depth chart ahead of heralded freshman Bobby Massie.
“I knew he’d be all right,” says Snead of Sowell. “When you’re in that role for the first time you can get nervous. I know how I felt. By the end of spring left tackle was not that big a question mark any more, and going into camp I’m extremely confident in him.”
Massie is confident too. He is not inhibited by beginning his college career on the second team with a chance to win the job, unlike most freshmen offensive linemen.
“I don’t think there’s additional pressure. It’s an honor to me. They expect me to get on the field and play,” Massie said.
Getting on the field early
– In addition to Massie, other freshman candidates for early playing time are wide receiver Pat Patterson and linebackers D.T. Shackelford and Joel Kight.
There’s a lot of excitement around tight end Zaccheus Mason for his athleticism, but Mason could get caught up in a numbers game with talent and depth at the position, starting with senior Gerald Harris.
The Rebels are trying to build depth at linebacker after the losses of Ashlee Palmer and Tony Fein. In addition to his new players, Nutt singled out redshirt freshman Jason Jones.
“One of the things that will help Jason Jones the most is D.T. Shackelford,” said defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, who coaches the linebackers.
Contact Parrish Alford at parrish.alford@ djournal.com or 678-1600.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal