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March 31, 2008

Rebels experiment with new cornerbacks

Ole Miss returned to the practice field Monday, going inside for the first time this spring for a two-hour workout.

The indoor practice facility might as well have been the laboratory, for Monday's session was all about experimentation.

"We're just trying to put one foot in front of the other," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "We're trying to get better. We're still experimenting with a few things."

The experiment that got the most attention was the move of Marshay Green from wide receiver to cornerback.

"He did a good job for the first day," Nutt said. "Without watching film, he brings energy. He's got passion. He's a fighter, a competitor. We're just experimenting a little bit and trying to keep our best guys on the field."

Green was working primarily with the Rebels' starting defense Monday, splitting reps with Cassius Vaughn and Dustin Mouzon. Green showed solid coverage skills in his first practice on defense, and he quickly displayed an allegiance to his defensive mates in the white jerseys. Green popped Lionel Breaux out of bounds and then trash-talked to young wide receiver, seemingly earning instant respect from the Rebels' other defensive backs. Later in practice, wide receiver Shay Hodge out-jumped Green for a deep ball and came down with a touchdown pass from quarterback Jevan Snead. As he left the field, Vaughn and cornerbacks coach Chris Vaughn encouraged Green, praising his coverage and urging him to play the ball and not the receiver.

Green wasn't the only new face at cornerback Monday. Running back Jeremy McGee, who spent one practice on defense last week, was back at cornerback on Monday, working primarily with the second unit.
"It's the same thing," Nutt said. "We're trying to build a little depth there, plus we're seeing who will compete, who can handle things one-on-one, who can play man, things like that."

Running back Reggie Hicks moved to tight end/H-back Monday, a position where the Rebels are thin.

"We're just looking at it," Nutt said.

Hicks' move does two things, if it becomes permanent. One, it makes it imperative that one of the Rebels' three running back signees _ Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden and Devin Thomas _ come in ready to play. Two, it further emphasizes the role Dexter McCluster has in Nutt's and Kent Austin's offense. On Monday, Nutt compared McCluster to former Arkansas running back/return specialist Felix Jones.

"That's what he looks like," Nutt said. "He can do it. He can do it right now. He's exciting. We just have to keep him healthy. He's been a little frail. I don't think he weighs past 158 and the things we have him doing, he's going to take a blow every now and then. He's going to take a hit. But he's awfully tough."

GREEN'S MOVE BRINGS OPPORTUNITY: Green's move to cornerback, assuming it becomes permanent, should provide playing time for some other wide receivers. Breaux and Michael Hicks worked with the starting offense at times Monday. Nutt said the move was made possible by the emergence of Markeith Summers and Hodge's continued transformation from solid SEC receiver into potential star.

MOVIE REVIEW: Nutt had plenty of time this weekend to review the film from Saturday's scrimmage.

"There were some times and some series where we executed and scored and we had 11 people doing it right," Nutt said. "Then there were about three or four series where we had six or seven guys doing it right and three or four guys messing up each play. That was the point we tried to make today in the film. You can't win in this league with just seven guys doing it the right way. We couldn't get 11 consistently doing it the right way. Defense, the same thing. We had too many missed assignments, too many missed alignments, a couple of goofs. We're just trying to teach them to compete and play hard each day."

REBEL RUMBLINGS: Offensive tackle John Jerry was held out of Monday's drills. Jerry continues to struggle from a second incision that was required for a staph infection he suffered earlier this month. …Terrell Jackson had his best day of the spring, intercepting a Snead pass and returning it for a touchdown in skeleton drills and then stopping Mike Wallace for a loss when the offense was using the Wild Rebel package. …Snead and Wallace combined for yet another highlight-reel play Monday. Snead rolled to his right and launched a deep ball on the run. Wallace caught it over his shoulder for a long completion. …Snead and Wallace also hooked up for a 60-yard touchdown pass late in Monday's practice. Wallace beat Mouzon down the right sideline and caught Snead's perfectly thrown ball in stride. …Nutt got upset with Cordera Eason when the Rebels' first-string tailback fumbled an exchange from Snead. Nutt had Eason run a lap around the practice field as punishment. …Strong safety Jamarca Sanford had the hit of the day when he pummeled Summers on a deep throw down the right seam. Summers had bobbled Snead's pass. Sanford made sure he didn't catch it. …Ole Miss closed practice with a two-minute drill. Cassius Vaughn blew a coverage early in the possession, allowing Snead and Wallace to hook up on a play that advanced the ball to the defense's 33-yard line. Two plays later, Snead's third-and-8 pass fell incomplete, leaving Joshua Shene to try a 48-yard field goal on the final play. The potential "game-winner" had the distance but was just wide left.

NEXT UP: Ole Miss will practice again Wednesday, Friday and Saturday this week. Nutt said the Rebels will likely stick to the same schedule next week before playing the annual Grove Bowl game in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on April 12.


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