OXFORD – Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix was able to just yell “next” and bring on a completely new defensive line last year, as the Rebels finished fourth in the country in run defense.
Right now he feels like he’s got a line and a half.
“I feel good about the first unit, and there are some guys in that second unit who can help us right now,” Nix said.
He mentioned end Emmanuel Stephens and tackle Jerrell Powe specifically. Powe was named spring football’s most improved defensive player Saturday prior to kickoff of the Grove Bowl.
It was difficult to get a read on the defensive line Saturday with starters going against offensive line reserves, a unit where Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is still looking for depth.
There were few big plays by the defense on a day where no turnovers were forced as drives by the reserves ended on downs.
Nix feels good about what his side of the ball accomplished throughout spring drills.
“Our deal is you either get better or you get worse, and the majority of our practices this spring, we got better when we hit the field.”
Pushing for time
– Two players making a strong push for playing time at positions with lots of bodies in front of them are wide receiver Andrew Harris and running back Devin Thomas.
Harris had two catches for 46 yards.
Thomas was the game’s leading rusher with 63 yards on two carries. He ran for a 53-yard touchdown with the Blue team.
Thomas has seven screws and a plate in an ankle that was surgically repaired after an injury in the middle of his senior season in 2007.
The hardware affected him some last year, but he says he’s used to it now.
“It felt like the old days back in high school. I was pretty excited. I knew if I wanted a chance to play I had to work hard every day, stay consistent and try to find my role on the team,” Thomas said.
In addition to his catches, Harris dropped a pass that would have resulted in a first down.
“I’ve come a long way to be pretty consistent, but that dropped ball today, I can’t have that. Even though I had three or four catches, that one ball … people see that. I have to catch everything in order to be consistent. That’s what coach Nutt wants. I feel like I’m right there to break into the rotation,” he said.
Moore with the reserves
– Former Louisville quarterback Clayton Moore was 3-for-8 for 36 yards. He completed a 30-yard pass to Richie Contartesi, a 5-7 wide receiver who made the grab against cornerback Marshay Green.
Moore calls his early career at Ole Miss a “joy” given the southward turn his recruiting took after an altercation with his coach in a playoff game resulted in his departure from his high school team.
Ultimately Nutt pulled his scholarship offer.
Moore had been a verbal commit and had told other schools he was solidly with Ole Miss. When he re-opened his recruiting there were fewer opportunities available.
“A few hadn’t filled their slots, and I got in touch with them and went through a little recruiting process,” he said.
For now, he’s excited to be a part of the Ole Miss squad.
– With a lot of eyes wondering who will replace All-American Michael Oher, sophomore Bradley Sowell will go into August practice No. 1 at left tackle.
The maturity of signee Bobbie Massie both physically and mentally will determine how hard Sowell (6-foot-7, 310) is pushed for the job in camp.
This much is certain now: The time Sowell spent with the reserves early in spring practice got his attention.
“Those were the most embarrassing few practices of my life,” he said. “Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure, but I waited behind Michael for two years. There are no excuses. I have to step up and take over that spot.”
Parrish Alford/Daily Journal