Ole Miss’ depth along the defensive line took another hit Monday when junior standout end Greg Hardy was lost to foot surgery. Hardy, who was named to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference First Team earlier this summer, could miss up to eight weeks of action after team doctor Ed Field inserted a screw into Hardy’s right foot.
According to Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, the surgery to repair a stress fracture in Hardy’s fifth metatarsal was successful and the prognosis for a full recovery looked good. There was no definite timetable set as to when Hardy could return to practice, but even the most optimistic return date would be in the Rebels’ second game against Wake Forest.
“(Hardy) was out here running looking like a million dollars the first five or six days. Then one day before we put on the pads, (injured foot) just flared up on him. We thought it was just a bruised side of his foot. Then when you do an X-ray, it showed a little bitty crack in there,” Nutt said of Hardy, who had 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2007. “He’s had a crack in that other (foot) where he’s snapped it. So it’s maybe not that severe right now, hopefully. Dr. Field said (surgery) went well and I’m really excited about what he had to say after surgery. You just don’t know when he’ll get back because everybody heals different. We do have about 18 days and we’ll see what happens after that.”
Nutt may have some time to decide when Hardy sees the field again, but he doesn’t have any more healthy bodies to add to a defensive line rotation that is already without the services of tackles Peria Jerry and Ted Laurent.
“The defensive line has got a bad bug. We’ve got to change that karma, we’ve got to change that feeling,” Nutt said about the injured players.
Until Hardy gets back into the swing of things, Nutt is looking for other ends like Kentrell Lockett, Chris Bowers, LaDerrick Vaughn, Emmanuel Stephens and converted basketball player Jermey Parnell to get more reps in practice. Junior Marcus Tillman, who has played both end and tackle during his career, is still expected to practice in the middle of the line with Jerry and Laurent out.
“Right now we’re going to keep Marcus inside,” Nutt said. “Hopefully Stephens, Bowers, LaDerrick Vaughn, Jeremy Parnell and Kentrell Lockett will keep coming.
“(Parnell) is getting reps right now, but he’s just so far behind. You wish you had him a couple of years ago where you could have developed those fundamentals. It’s just a long process, but boy, he does some things that just catches your eye,” Nutt said about what Parnell brings to the end position. “It’s like teaching a first-grader how to write. It’s not easy, but again because of his body, because of his size and because of quickness, there are some things he does very naturally. We still have time and there may be a package for him.”
Injured players return
There was some good news to report on the injury front for the Rebels as safeties Johnny Brown and Kendrick Lewis both returned to practice Monday after missing some time last week.
Linebacker Allen Walker, who also missed time last week, is getting closer to returning to practice, while Nutt said wide receiver Mike Wallace was still suffering from a strained hamstring. Wallace caught a touchdown pass in the Rebels’ first scrimmage Saturday but left practice immediately after the score, which took Nutt by surprise.
“I told him ‘you catch a touchdown pass and you go to the training room.’ I don’t understand that,” Nutt said. “I’ve been kidding with him that maybe he’s not used to getting into that end zone enough. You shouldn’t be hurt after a big play.”
Saturday’s scrimmage was reviewed on tape by Nutt and his assistant coaches over the weekend and the results seemed to be positive considering it was the first one of the preseason.
“The first thing we did was grade them on technique and effort. Do they know what to do? How hard did they play? And then how hard they did their technique,” Nutt said. “For the first scrimmage, it wasn’t too bad, but we still have to get better. A lot of the freshman’s heads are still spinning, but I like the way they’re listening and trying to get better.”
Freshman to get more reps
A position that is expected to utilize some freshmen during the season will be at running back and Nutt said that players such as Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden and Devin Thomas will get more practice time over the next few days because junior running back Cordera Eason will miss time due to a dental procedure on Wednesday morning.
“Cordera is going to have a tooth taken out, so those freshman will just keep getting more and more reps. We’re going to put a little pressure on them to see how they respond,” Nutt said. “A couple of them had too many fumbles today. That happens at the end (of practice), but you just can’t do it. So I’m excited to see how they respond over the next two or three days because we’re going to put more on them.”
The early tempo at Monday evening’s practice pleased Nutt, but he said the team didn’t do a good job of finishing the workout strong.
“We had about nine, 10, 11 good periods and then we went into that sluggish mode. We’ve got to get a little bit tougher, we’ve got to finish, we’ve got to play for four quarters,” Nutt said. “People were executing. They were crisp and coming off the ball and blocking who they were supposed to block. The defense was chasing the ball. Everyone was throwing and catching. And then it just fell off.
“You can’t have seven or eight play on offense. You’ve got to have 11 and it