The Rebel offense took a baby step or two in Sunday's practice, the first this year in shells (shoulder pads and helmets), but it was the defense that caught Coach Hugh Freeze's eye.
"We made some plays on offense today, but we have to do a better job of blocking folks," said Freeze. "They are doing so much stuff on defense and brought great energy on that side of the ball. There are a lot of moving parts to that defense and we are struggling to pick it up at times. Our defense did some really good things.
"On offense, I am impressed with our young running backs - I think they have a little something to them. We got some things done things done there."
The quarterback battle, between Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti, as it will most of August most likely, continues on.
"Their retention of what we have installed and installed last spring is good, but their decision-making has to pick up," said Freeze. "In taking care of the ball, we are having lapses. We'll have four good plays in a row that are good plays and then they will have two or three that are disastrous. You can't have that. Both have a long way to go there."
The Rebels had their first taste of the injury bug Sunday as well.
Safety Charles Sawyer pulled a quad muscle, WR Collins Moore banged up his shoulder and DE C.J. Johnson bruised his knee.
"It's sickening when you get guys who have worked so hard to get here and then they go out there and get banged up," Hugh noted. "Charles will be out a few days at least, maybe longer. We will have to get it well because he has a little indention there and it's the kind of injury that could last all year if you don't let it heal. We know what he can do. He'll study and do what he has to do to be ready when the games roll around. I'm not sure about Collins, but I do think he will miss some time. He dislocated his shoulder. We will get an MRI and hope it shows the shoulder has popped back in place, but you never know."
In Sawyer's absence, two rookies will get the majority of reps at Sawyer's safety slot - Trae Elston and Quintavius Burdette.
"Those two guys are impressive and it may be a blessing in disguise for them to get more reps while Charles is out," Freeze noted.
Freeze was quizzed about the apparent practice production of WR Vincent Sanders.
"He has caught the ball well, and we are going to need him," said Freeze. "A year ago, everyone thought the wide receiver unit here was one of the deepest on the team, but I think we need more depth there. Vince has had a good camp, but we need others to step up as well."
* The Rebels had a worship service this morning prior to practice. "We had a great service. We will never do anything on Sunday when we don't have that as an option for our kids and coaches. We had a good turnout," Freeze added.
* A cursory look so far, and history, tells us the kicking game should be in good hands. Even though kickoff ace Andrew Ritter will be redshirted, PK Bryson Rose and newcomer Nathan Noble both have strong enough legs to be competent kicking off. With the kickoff line moved up to the 35, both are kicking it into the end zone, mostly deep or through the end zone. Rose is Mr. Steady on field goals and is aided in that cause by the returning holder/snapper team of Chris Conley and Will Denny, both steady last year.
* DT Gilbert Pena, who has had past issues with injury and his weight, has dumped a few pounds and is healthy. As a result, he's drawing some early praise from his coaches and is holding down one of the interior defensive line top spots along with Bryon Bennett. "He looks quicker," said Freeze. "So far, he's been impressive."
* Rebel commitment RB Mark Dodson and top recruit Jalen Reeves-Maybin were at practice Sunday. Reeves-Maybin is supposed to make his final decision this Friday. Ole Miss and Tennessee are believed to be the main suitors for his services.
* Jeff Scott, Korvic Neat and Philander Moore are expected to handle punt return duties this year, but a new face was fielding punts Sunday also - freshman Safety Trae Elston. He looked comfortable catching kicks, but not "live" work was done.
* There also seems to be a large number of players auditioning for kickoff return, including Scott, Randall Mackey, Jaylen Walton, Tobias Singleton, Burdette and Dehendret Collins.
* The defense picked up three interceptions today in the various drills. MLB Mike Marry intercepted a Bo Wallace pass, S Chief Brown snatched a Barry Brunetti pass and DE Jason Jones got his second interception in two days, this one a Brunetti toss.
* It's apparent the Rebel coaches are going with more speed and quickness in the backfield. Besides Scott and Mackey, freshmen I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton provide the speed ingredient to the tailback position.
* WR Donte Moncrief took a knee to his thigh midway through practice and favored that leg the rest of the way, but he completed the workout.
* Freshman WR Cody Core made another long catch in pass scale, this time a 55-yarder for a TD. He continues to show up the playmaker radar.
* If the Rebs played tomorrow, the defense would look like this: DEs Cameron Whigham and C.J. Johnson, DTs Gilbert Pena and Bryon Bennett, LBs Aaron Garbutt and Mike Marry and DBs Senquez Golson, Dehendret Colllins, Charles Sawyer, Wesley Pendleton and Chief Brown. Brishen Mathews and Cody Prewitt are also getting some number one reps in the secondary.
* The Rebels will have another walk-through practice tonight and then resume full practice tomorrow morning at 9:45, again in shells. The first full pads practice is Tuesday.