Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rebels Don Pads for First Time

With the temperature only reaching close to 90 degrees and winds shifting out of the north, it felt more like springtime than the dog days of summer Friday, but on the practice fields adjacent to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium the action heated up as the Ole Miss football team put on pads for the first time in preseason camp.

“We got a break in the weather, and had a really good practice,” said first-year head coach Houston Nutt. “I was hoping for a little hotter weather, but I am sure we’ll get it. The guys bounced around and moved around good. We had a good practice overall. I am looking forward to tomorrow. We’ll have about a 30 or 40 minute practice and then we’ll go inside the stadium for a 100-play scrimmage.”

With a couple of players out on the defensive line, freshman Justin Smith of Alpharetta, Ga., got a chance to show the coaches what he can do, and Nutt was pleased.

“Justin is really coming on,” Nutt said. “I like what he is doing. He’s intelligent, he’s committed and he runs to the ball. He may go the wrong way or line up wrong sometimes, but not very often. He’s physical for a freshman, and he’s not afraid to mix it up with the big linemen. I’ve been really proud of him.”

Nutt also praised the other side of the ball, talking about the improvement of the offensive line and the running game as well as first-year quarterback Jevan Snead.

“That group has stepped forward.” he noted. John Jerry had a good day, Michael Oher probably had his best day and then you have Daverin (Geralds) and Maurice Miller. Darryl Harris has probably been our best guy, if you had to pick one.

“Jevan had his best day today. He was on target today. He had good protection, and the receivers caught some good balls.

Saturday, the Rebels will scrimmage for the first time this season. Practice will start at 11 a.m. on the practice fields, before moving inside the stadium for the scrimmage. Nutt talked about what they hope to see from the team in their first scrimmage.

“I want to see a very physical team,” he said. “I want to see our secondary tackle and play the ball. I want to see some of our guards and tackles (especially in the second group), what they do offensively.

“We have young running backs. I want to see what they do with the helmets coming after them, because they’ve looked real good in shorts when they know they’re not being tackled. We’ve got three talented running backs. They are very good. They raise the level of play in Cordera (Eason) and Derrick (Davis). You’re not afraid to hand them the ball. They can handle it. It’s going to be interesting.”
Afternoon showers forced the Rebel football team indoors for Thursday’s practice, but the weather didn’t dampen the players’ morale.

Following their stretching routine, the players huddled at mid-field and formed a ring around coach Houston Nutt. Through the crowd of Rebels, fans could only see a wide-brim hat sticking up from the middle of the huddle as, one-by-one, a defensive and offensive player were called to the center. When Nutt blew the whistle, their shoulder pads violently collided. Players and coaches yelled and jumped up and down with excitement, slapping the helmet of whichever player won the battle.

Then practice started.

As players went through individual position drills, seven-on-seven passing drills, offensive line/defensive line battles and eventually 11-on-11 plays, Nutt prowled the field with a watchful eye.

“We had a good practice today. We really got better,” Nutt said. “I thought our offense really responded from yesterday, really picked up some things. Jevan (Snead) threw the ball well today. Receivers ran some good routes, and the offensive line did a much better job.

“Tomorrow is the first day of full pads, so now here comes the grind. Here comes the physical part of it.”

Offensive line solid

With Reid Neely out with a strained Achilles tendon, Darryl Harris stepped in to fill the left guard position, and John Jerry is now working at right tackle. Currently, the starting offensive line from left to right is Michael Oher, Harris, Daverin Geralds, Maurice Miller and Jerry.

“That’s a pretty good five,” Nutt said. “I know Reid doesn’t like being out when he sees those guys practice like that. That was a good group today. We’ll see if they can come back and do it again tomorrow.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Greg Hardy was forced to watch his teammates, who continue to impress Nutt, from the stationary bike due to a bruised foot.

“The defensive line was very good,” Nutt said. “When they got their motor running and their pad level where it’s supposed to be they’re hard to stop now.”

McCluster, Wallace impress

Wide receiver and everything-man Dexter McCluster continued to be one of the main targets on offense, catching most everything thrown his way. He took a couple snaps behind center in the “Wild Rebel” package and one in the halfback position. Wherever he went, he was elusive.

Speedy outside receiver Mike Wallace had several good grabs, and not just on deep balls. Nutt said he expects the SEC’s leader in yards-per-catch from a year ago to be more than just a deep threat this year.

“He’ll catch the ball. Possession routes, quick game, quick screens, he’ll do it,” Nutt said.

Tight ends inexperienced

One concern on offense has to be the fact that none of the tight ends on the depth chart has caught a pass as a Rebel.

So far, David Traxler and junior college transfer Gerald Harris have been getting most of the reps.

Nutt said he has confidence in both of them catching the football but would like to see a little more consistency in that area. He applauded their blocking and physicality.

Stanley getting noticed

Freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley, who is currently third string to Billy Tapp and Snead, has made quite an impression on his head coach.

“He’s really good,” Nutt said. “I’ve been proud of him because we’ve been putting him in some situations where (he’s) going against a Greg Hardy, going against an Emmanuel Stephens – pass rushers.

“And he doesn’t flinch. He hangs in there and makes his decision. He has good presence in the pocket. He throws the ball well, too.”

Competition fuels Eason

Running back Cordera Eason made a couple of huge plays Thursday, sending a message to the freshman trio competing for his spot that he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

In a situation where the offense was backed up to its own goal line, Eason took the hand off, counter-stepped, made a few moves and went untouched for close to 50 yards.

Later, from around the offense’s 25-yard-line, Snead rolled out to the right, planted, and threw a strike back across to his left where Eason had snuck up the sideline. The Meridian native caught the ball in stride and took it to the end zone.

Walker makes big play on D

The play of the day on defense came early in the scrimmage portion of practice when linebacker Allen Walker read Snead’s eyes and took off to cover the slanting receiver on his left. The ball was thrown off target, but Walker, running full speed the opposite direction, stuck his right hand up just in time to snatch the ball out of the air and come down with a circus catch for the interception.

Practice resumes today at 5:30 p.m. at the Ole Miss practice fields. It is open to the public.

Saturday will mark the final practice which will be open to the public. Starting Sunday, all practices will be closed.

Ole Miss will open the 2008 campaign Aug. 30 when the Memphis Tigers travel to Oxford. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.

LSU Media Day

The LSU football team had a busy day on Friday as the Tigers held their first practice as an entire unit with a morning workout followed by the school’s annual Media Day during the afternoon.

Friday’s only practice session had the Tigers going in full pads for the first time. It was also the first time the team practiced as an entire group since the beginning of camp.

“We had a nice long go,” LSU coach Les Miles said of the Tigers’ first full squad workout. “We were very physical; it was a lot of full line. We installed short yardage today, and at the end of the practice in the heat of the day we ran, and we ran hard.

“The defense thrived in the heat, and in my opinion had a great day. They also thrived in the run (defense), and the offense fought through it, which is what they're supposed to do. We're not ready to play a game, there is no way we're ready to play a game, but if we work like we did today, we will be ready to play and certainly have the opportunity to play well as the season goes forward.”

Following an afternoon of meetings, the Tigers, along with Miles, co-defensive coordinators Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto, and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton met with members of the media.

Among the biggest attractions of LSU’s annual media event, which attracted close to 150 members of the media, were quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch, all-America defensive end Tyson Jackson and preseason all-America offensive guard Herman Johnson.

Other highlights of the media session were posed pictures of the biggest and smallest scholarship players on the team in Herman Johnson (6-foot-7, 375 pounds) and running back/return specialist Trindon Holliday (5-5, 164); a group picture of LSU’s two-sport athletes (Holliday – football/track, Chad Jones – football/baseball, Ricky Jean-Francois – football/track, and Jared Mitchell – football/baseball); and group pictures of the siblings on the squad (Chad Jones and Rahim Alem; Brett and Trey Helms, and the Taylor trio – Curtis, Brandon and Jhyryn.

Saturday will be another full day of work for the Tigers as LSU will have two practices starting with workout in full pads at 8:30 a.m. The Tigers will practice in shells (shorts and shoulder pads) during the afternoon.

The Tigers will cap their first full week in camp with a stretch-and-stride session on Sunday morning followed by Fan Day at the River Center in downtown Baton Rouge during the afternoon. Doors to the River Center open at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday with autographs with the football team going from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

Chisox top Bosox

Not only did Mark Buehrle have an unspectacular stat line (8-10, 4.07 ERA) coming into Friday night's start against the Red Sox, but he had also been belted around for 22 hits and 13 runs in his past two starts.
But the Boston bats never saw that Buehrle. Instead, they saw the guy who has long been regarded as one of the best left-handers in the American League.

Buehrle carved up the Red Sox through most of Friday's 5-3 victory.

The Red Sox only wished they had seen the supposedly slumping Buehrle.

"He didn't struggle tonight," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He worked quick and he used every pitch and he changed speeds. That was pitching -- in, out, up and down."

It all added up to Jon Lester suffering a loss for the first time since May 25, snapping an 11-game unbeaten streak for Boston's solid left-hander.

Over seven innings, Lester (10-4, 3.23 ERA) gave up six hits and four runs, walking three and striking out two.

"I really just got outpitched," said Lester. "There's nothing more to say. I executed the pitches I wanted to execute. With the exception of the loss, I'm pretty happy with how I threw the ball."

What Lester did was keep the Red Sox close enough to where they could mount a comeback. And they almost did.

Entering the eighth inning, Buehrle had a three-hit shutout. Perhaps the first break Boston received all night was when Jason Varitek led off that eighth with a single, prompting White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to remove Buehrle (110 pitches) from the game.

Octavio Dotel came on, and the Red Sox rallied. J.D. Drew worked a one-out walk and Dustin Pedroia belted a 350-foot, three-run homer to left to bring Boston within one.

"I was just trying to get on base to be honest with you, to get David [Ortiz] up with a chance to tie the game," Pedroia said. "I ended up getting a good pitch to hit and hit it. That was basically it."

Ortiz then fell to 2-for-18 on the road trip by grounding out to first. With D.J. Carrasco on for the White Sox, Kevin Youkilis temporarily kept hope alive with a walk. But Mike Lowell extended his drought to 0-for-15 by fouling out to the catcher.

The Red Sox at least gave themselves a chance in that eighth.

"That's why you talk about working counts and trying to get to the bullpen," Francona said. "Again, that's what happens sometimes. You run into a problem. Petey took a great swing, and all of a sudden, the whole game changed. It just didn't change enough."

An ill-fated rundown in the bottom of the seventh proved to be costly for the Red Sox at the time. Orlando Cabrera was at first with two outs when A.J. Pierzynski drove one to right field.

Cabrera was held up at third, and the Red Sox had Pierzynski caught in a rundown between first and second. So while they pursued that, Cabrera snuck in to score. The Red Sox finally completed the rundown 9-4-6-3-6-4, but it was too late.

Rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie said he was at fault.

"My initial reaction right when Petey threw it to me was to go get him and try to tag him before Cabrera scored, and he was further away than I thought," Lowrie said. "I didn't even think to look home, because I thought I was going to get him on the tag. It was just a play that I made a bad read on and I cost us a run."

Holding the 4-0 edge wound up being huge for the White Sox in light of Pedroia's three-run shot.

From there, the momentum stayed with the White Sox. Carlos Quentin unloaded for a solo shot against reliever Manny Delcarmen to make it 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth.

Early on, Buehrle gave Lester no margin for error. Pierzynski gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly in the third.

In the fifth, things got a little ugly. After a walk to Nick Swisher, Alexei Ramirez blooped one into short left that fell between Lowrie and Jason Bay. Up stepped Cabrera, who ripped a two-run double to right.

"I think the big hit was Cabrera," Lester said. "It was a good pitch to him, and he's a good hitter. It goes down the line. Nothing you can really do about it. You've got to tip your hat to him."

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, there was a lot of hat-tipping in this one, most of it in the direction of Buehrle.

"He pretty much shut us down," said Pedroia. "We had nothing going. The innings he was working, he was working fast and getting their guys on offense."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

LSU-Appalachian St. Trailer

It's not often that you get the reigning national champs playing against each other in the opening game of the next season. John Kokemore forwarded this trailer to me for the Tiger's home opener against Appalachian St. It'll definately get you pumped up.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


The New Orleans Hornets will open the 2008-09 regular season on the road on Wednesday, Oct. 29, when they take on the Golden State Warriors. The Hornets will battle Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns on the road the following night on Thursday, Oct. 30 in a nationally televised game on TNT. The Hornets first home game comes on Saturday, Nov. 1 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“From the players to the coaches to the front office staff, our entire organization has set our sights on being a champion this season” said Owner George Shinn. “We are eager for the 2008-09 season to get underway and for our wonderful fans in New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to experience the thrilling, non-stop excitement of Hornets basketball in person at the New Orleans Arena”

After starting the season on a two-game road trip, the Hornets will play five of their next six games at home. Included in those matchups are games against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat on Saturday, Nov. 8 and MVP Kobe Bryant and the Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

“The schedule coming out creates a whole new excitement and anticipation for the upcoming season,” said Head Coach Byron Scott. “We look forward to carrying the momentum that began last season into the beginning of this season. The high hopes for this season will bring a wave of excitement and passion that even exceeds last year’s run.”

The Hornets will appear on national television a record 13 times this season, including a Thanksgiving night game on the road against Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 27 on TNT and a Christmas day battle on the road against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic on ESPN. Other national TV highlights include the Hornets first return back to Oklahoma City on Friday, Nov. 21 on ESPN, a road game against Kevin Garnett and the World Champion Boston Celtics on Friday, Dec. 12 on ESPN and a home game against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on ABC on Sunday, Apr. 12. Overall, the Hornets will appear on ESPN nine times, TNT three times and ABC once. The television schedule for NBATV will be announced at a later date.

The Hornets will play 18 of their 41 home games on Friday (7), Saturday (6) or Sunday (5) night. Their most frequent game night will be Wednesday (15).

All home games will tip off at 7:00 p.m. with the following exceptions: Wednesday, Dec. 17 vs. San Antonio; Monday, Jan. 19 vs. Indiana; Sunday, Jan. 30 vs. Golden State, Sunday, Feb. 8 vs. Minnesota, Friday, Feb. 27 vs. Milwaukee, Sunday, Mar. 22 vs. Golden State, Sunday, Apr. 5 vs. Utah and Sunday, Apr. 12 vs. Dallas. The Spurs and first Warriors game will tip off at 8:30 p.m., while the Timberwolves, Bucks, Warriors and Jazz games will tip off at 6:00 p.m. The Pacers will tip off at 2:30 p.m. in honor of Martin Luther King Day and the Mavericks game will tip off at 12:00 p.m.

The Hornets’ longest road trip will be two four-game swings, while the longest homestand is five games. The five-game homestand takes place Mar. 16-Mar. 25 (with games against Houston, Minnesota, Memphis, Golden State and Denver).

The Hornets will play Southwest Division rivals (Dallas, Houston, Memphis and San Antonio) four times each (twice at home/twice on the road). The same holds true for Pacific and Northwest Division teams, with the exception of LA Clippers (one home game on Jan. 9), Minnesota (one road game on Jan. 23), Phoenix (one road game on Oct. 30) and Utah (one home game on Apr. 5).

Season tickets are available by calling (504) 525-HOOP or by logging on to The team’s preseason schedule, on-sale dates for individual game tickets for both preseason and regular season games and the Hornets’ local television schedule will be released at a later date.

Rebel Update from Fall Practice

The Ole Miss receivers, led by veterans Michael Wallace, Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster, are supposed to be one of the Rebels' main strengths this season.

But during Monday's first day of practice, that didn't appear to be the case. Easy catches bounced off hands and routes weren't crisp.

After that practice, the team had a film session and coach Houston Nutt said he jumped all over the receivers.

"We talked ugly to them last night," Nutt said. "The film just doesn't lie."

But on Tuesday, the receivers responded.

Hodge and sophomores Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux made nice catches as the offense looked markedly improved during the second day of camp.

While the receivers were improved, Nutt said better offensive line production helped.

"(The defense) jumped all over us yesterday," Nutt said. "But today we didn't have that."

Punting problems
Ole Miss ranked close to the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in punting last season, and through two practices, not a whole lot appears to have changed.

Senior Rob Park, junior Justin Sparks and sophomore Bryan Powers are locked in a battle for the position. All had decent moments on Tuesday, but nobody in the trio has showed much consistency.

Sparks held the position for much of last season, averaging 39.7 yards per punt.

"They responded better today," Nutt said. "But they need to be quicker getting the ball off and more consistent."

Odds and ends
Safety Johnny Brown (hamstring) was able to go through some individual drills, but sat out large chunks of practice...

The Rebels will practice today at 5:20 p.m. on campus. The team will put on shoulder pads after going with just helmets the past two days.

LSU's Jones Focusing on Football

It was as if someone had recorded over Chad Jones' highlight of the 2007 football season.

It was Jones who blitzed and sacked Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson to force a fumble that LSU recovered deep in Alabama territory late in the fourth quarter last season. This set up the go-ahead touchdown with 1:26 to play for the Tigers' 41-34 victory in Tuscaloosa.

But when Jones, a sophomore safety this season, sat down to watch the LSU baseball team play Rice in the College World Series last June, his highlight sort of got trumped.

Blake Dean hit a bases-loaded triple in the ninth inning to beat the Owls 6-5 for LSU's first victory in Omaha, Neb., since 2000. Left fielder/wide receiver Jared Mitchell scored the winning run from first after nearly lapping Michael Hollander on the way home. For an instant, Sean Ochinko, Michael Hollander and Mitchell were all running between third and home in a play right out of the "Major League" movie.

"That was such a great play," Jones said. "What a way to win a game."

Jones cheered wildly, but it was somewhat bittersweet. He possibly could have been there between third and home and playing for a national championship in baseball after winning one in football last season.

A 13th round selection of the Houston Astros in the summer of 2007, Jones came to LSU with plans to play football and baseball. After struggling early last season in baseball and in academics while also participating in spring football, Jones felt like he was under an all-out blitz.

"It was just that everything at one time hit me hard," he said. "And it was hard for me to get out of the hole."

His grades suffered, and he gave up baseball for the season to focus more on academics.. He then spent late spring and summer with more free time than ever. He watched LSU in Omaha.

"It was my first summer since I can remember not playing baseball," he said after football practice this week. "I was probably 6 years old the last time I didn't play baseball. It was different. I kind of enjoyed the free time. I was just sitting back and relaxing, but then I see my team and I'm supposed to be out there playing with them. So it goes both ways. All I could do was cheer my teammates on. I'd call them after the game — Leon and Jared. I called them and wished them good luck. I watched every game."

Jones had impressed LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri so much in pre-season practice that he saw the dual-sport star as a possible starter in the outfield. But Landry, a freshman like Jones, was more impressive and won center field. Mitchell, who played center in 2006, moved to left field. Jones tried right field, but he didn't expect the wealth of talent next to him.

"They had four other people in right field," he said. "I was just thinking of how it used to be in high school (at St. Augustine in New Orleans and then Southern Lab in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina), because I just know this is my spot. This is my spot easy. But I get out there, and I'm like, 'All right, he can throw pretty good. Oh, he can hit, too. Oh, he can hit, too.' So it was just battling it out for the position. That's why LSU is pretty high up there."

The other right fielders at the time were Dean himself, Landry, Nicholas Pontiff and Johnny Dishon. In limited playing time in between spring football practices, Jones went 2-for-13 for a .154 batting average in five games.

"He didn't handle it particularly well," Mainieri said. "It wasn't so much the football and baseball. It was the school part. If you don't do any one of those three well, it knocks everything out of the water. He just didn't apply himself in school. I think the kid is an excellent talent, but it's tough. Hopefully, he'll be able to do better academically and balance things and help us next season."

That's Jones' plan.

"I definitely want to play baseball at LSU," he said. "The only thing I'd do different is step it up in the beginning because doing two sports at one time is very time consuming. I had to cut baseball out so I could catch up. I should be able to do it next year."

Baseball was always a clear No. 1 until last season.

"I was straight baseball," Jones said. "Football was secondary, but now after playing in a great stadium in front of fans like that, things get balanced out."

Beckett & Bay in Good Form

By the time the ball rolled along the outfield wall, from center fielder Mitch Maier to left fielder Ross Gload, Jason Bay had gone from a chance at a fly out to a chance at a home run to a sure double. As he turned into second base, watching the play all the way, Bay didn't have time to register the might-have-beens, only the what-weres. He had a double, on his way to a career-high-tying four-hit game and a shaving-cream pie in the face, and his team was on its way to one of those rare road wins.

Not that Bay carried the entire load, the Red Sox bolstered too by the reappearances of a 2007 vintage Josh Beckett and a 2008 early-season vintage Jacoby Ellsbury. With a crushing offense (13 hits) and a crushing performance by Beckett (6 2/3 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 7 Ks), the Sox captured an 8-2 win over the Royals in front of 22,069 at Kauffman Stadium.

"It keeps us where we want to be," Beckett said. "We've got to keep winning games. We don't have that big cushion where we can go out, oh, well, we lost this game. We've got to keep pace. That's something new for a lot of these guys in here, myself included."

They did that last night, on a night that the Rays kept rolling and the Yankees got nothing but bad news between their loss to Texas and Joba Chamberlain's visit to Dr. James Andrews. For the Sox, it was good news, for Beckett and for the offense.

After a start last week that the Sox hope was his nadir - 8 runs (7 earned) on 11 hits in getting his third straight loss - Beckett recorded his first win in nearly a month, the last coming over Minnesota July 9. After the first inning, in which the Royals had two hits and scored a run, Beckett allowed only two base runners over the next five innings. He slipped a bit in the seventh, giving up a double to Alex Gordon and walking Gload on four pitches.

He was removed after 90 pitches, with manager Terry Francona saying, "He looked like he was starting to feel it. He was up four straight pitches. That, to me, is when guys will feel it their next outing, more than just the pitch count."

Mike Timlin came in, allowed Gordon to score, but that was it for Kansas City.

"He looked great," Jose Guillen said of Beckett. "His ball moved all over the place. Inside and out. He looked like the playoff Beckett."

A high compliment, and not always a given for Beckett (10-8, 4.08 ERA) this season. But locating his fastball, as he did last night, certainly helps.

So too does a burst from Ellsbury, whose 39-game slide (.217) and lack of stolen bases have dropped him to No. 9 in the order. But two hits, including an infield single off the pitcher, were a precursor to two steals, his first since July 1.

"Like with hitters, you get a ball to fall and you feel better about yourself," Francona said. "The one thing he hasn't done is get frustrated and run into more outs. He's been an intelligent base runner. He got into situations tonight where he could steal it and he did."

And that helped with the buoyant feeling on the field and in the clubhouse, a feeling that has helped Bay settle in nicely with his new team.

"You kind of look around and no one's counting on you to be that guy," Bay said. "You're just a complementary piece to that puzzle. I think there was a little bit of relaxation that goes with that. I mean, since I've been here, I've got two guys on base every second or third time I get up there."

Though Bay managed to evade the pie on NESN cameras, as delivered by the less mobile David Ortiz, he has certainly made fans among his new teammates. Ortiz, searching for a bat to replace that of Manny Ramírez, had a big grin after the game when discussing Bay.

"He's a good hitter, bro," Ortiz said. "We needed that."

And the Sox needed the offense. Though they started slowly, with single runs - and missed chances - in the first, fourth, and fifth, the offense came together in the sixth and seventh. Starting with a Bay single in the sixth, the Sox got a run on Ellsbury's second hit of the game, another on a Gordon error, and narrowly missed a third when Ellsbury was tagged out at the plate.

Then came the seventh, and that bizarre play on Bay's hit, one that mirrored in some ways an equally weird play in Yankee Stadium in July. That time, the ball sat on top of the fence in left for a few beats before falling onto the field. This one? Just as surprising.

"Now's probably the time to get a lottery ticket," Francona said.

So was Bay disappointed that he missed out on a home run on his big night?

"Depends on the way you look at it, because the center fielder almost caught it," Bay said. "We'll take what we can get. That was one of the more interesting plays you'll ever see. I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fantastic freshmen catch Nutt's eye in 1st practice

An optimistic Houston Nutt left his first Ole Miss preseason practice with a high opinion of his roster - especially the freshman class.

"I'll tell you what - they don't look like little freshmen," said Nutt, the first-year Rebels coach. "They're physically ahead of the game for their age, and I'm proud of that."

Nutt mentioned several of the newcomers by name, including the running back trio of Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden and Devin Thomas.

All three are competing with junior Cordera Eason for the starting spot. Davis comes in with the most hype as the No. 1 prep school recruit in the country, but Bolden and Thomas have received considerable accolades as well.

And at least for the first day - the three left an impression worthy of their reputation.

"Everything you've heard about them," Nutt said, "I agree with."

The Rebels took the field at about 5:20 p.m. and went through a practice that lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Temperatures were hot, but not nearly as bad as the 100-degree predictions forecasted over the weekend. Players wore helmets, but did not wear pads as the team goes through the NCAA's required acclimation period.

Only a few players had to drop out of practice, which senior fullback Jason Cook said was an indication of how hard the team had worked over the summer.

"It's been a tremendous difference," Cook said. "The time of the practice helped, but (strength coach Don Decker) has got us so strong and so conditioned that it's unbelievable. I haven't been able to go through a practice like this since I was a freshman."

Nutt admitted that, as with any first day practice, mistakes were common. But he also saw numerous positives, especially at the quarterback spot.

Nutt praised Jevan Snead's first day, even though the sophomore and almost certain starter threw a few interceptions during drills.

"Some of those weren't his fault," Nutt said. "He threw the ball well, especially early."

The receivers dropped a few easy catches on hot routes that would have helped Snead's day. But the coach was pleased that his quarterback didn't hold a grudge.

"He's got a short memory and that's what you need back there," Nutt said.

One thing the Rebels sorely lack is quality depth at quarterback. But Nathan Stanley, a true freshman, showed a quick and accurate arm during drills, routinely hitting his receivers in stride.

When Nutt talks about the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder, his speech becomes even more excited than usual.

"We got us one there," he said.

Nutt was especially pleased when the coaches threw Stanley into a drill on a third-and-8 play. He connected with a receiver for the first down.

"He didn't even flinch," Nutt said.

Also of interest for many of the 200-some fans in attendance was how defensive lineman Jerrell Powe looked on the field. At 6-foot-2 and 340 pounds, Powe appeared a little out of shape, but did not have to leave practice.

Powe played mostly with the third team at nose tackle.

"It was good," Nutt said. "He was carrying around 340 pounds, (but) I was proud of him."

The Rebels will practice each day this week at 5:20 p.m. with the first scrimmage scheduled for Saturday. Practices are open to the public for the rest of the week.

Inclement weather from Tropical Storm Edouard did not dampen the spirits of the LSU football team as the Tigers opened fall camp with split-squad workouts on Monday under fourth-year head coach Les Miles.

The veteran players benefited from a strong breeze in Monday morning’s practice despite 90 degree temperatures. However, freshmen and selected veterans were forced indoors when a heavy downpour blanketed the practice field 30 minutes into the afternoon session. Both practices lasted just over two hours.

“In the morning practice were the veterans,” Miles said. “They know what’s going on, and the pace of practice was good. In the afternoon practice, I think this freshmen class is going to be a really good class. A number of guys stood out -- receivers, corners, offensive linemen and defensive linemen. I really enjoyed the practice. We went inside (because of rain), but it didn’t seem to stop the enthusiasm.”

LSU’s 105 invitees will go through the same routine the first four days before merging for the first full squad practice on Friday morning. The Tigers were in shorts and helmets on Monday and will do so again on Tuesday before practicing in helmets and shoulder pads on Wednesday and Thursday. LSU holds its first full pads workout on Friday morning.

Sophomore Andrew Hatch and redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee shared snaps at quarterback in the morning session, while true freshman Jordan Jefferson commanded the offense in the afternoon workout. Miles said all three quarterbacks were ahead of the learning curve.

“I liked them,” Miles said. “They had a good command for the offense and understood what was going on. We didn’t miss a beat. We put so much more in for our first practice than we did a year ago. We are really ahead.”

“I liked the way Jordan Jefferson, the freshman quarterback, learns. He picks it up pretty quickly. I was surprised with how well he handled everything.”

Miles was equally impressed with the rookie wide receivers, who took the practice field for the first time.

“Our receiving crew looked really good,” Miles said. “Tim Molton made a nice adjustment on a deep ball. DeAngelo Peterson was big, strong and physical, and he used his hands well. I liked Chris Tolliver. There were a number of quality guys.”

Monday marked the return of senior defensive tackle Charles Alexander to the practice field for the first time since last September. Alexander missed most of the 2007 season due to a right knee injury he sustained during the week of the South Carolina game.

“He practiced well,” Miles said. “His weight is up and his body fat is down. I expect he is in pretty good shape.”

LSU begins defense of its BCS national championship on Aug. 30 when the Tigers play host to Appalachian State in a nationally televised contest on ESPN.

Rebels begin Preseason Practice

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt got his first look at the 2008 squad, as the Rebels opened fall camp on the practice fields adjacent to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Monday afternoon.

“There is nothing like getting out on the field,” said the Rebels’ first-year mentor. “I was really excited about their effort and their listening skills. We threw a lot at them today. There was a lot of great carry-over from the spring. Our freshmen and newcomers were impressive. They don’t look like little freshmen. They are physically ahead of the game. I was really proud of our first day. We have a long way to go, but there is nothing like it.”

Nutt was impressed with the play of sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas.

“He had a couple of interceptions, but not all of them were his fault. He threw the ball well, especially early. His release is so quick. He is a real winner. We just have to help him and all get on the same page. He has a short memory and that’s what you have to have to play quarterback.”

Nutt also announced on Monday that freshman signee Kermit Tyler would not be able to continue his football career due to a medical condition, but would remain in school and assist with the football staff.

“It is really a shame, because he worked so hard this summer. You hate to lose a lineman like that, but we may have saved his life. Pete Boone did a good thing by honoring his education and his parents are very relieved and they will be ambassadors for Ole Miss for life.”

Marshay Green, who moved to cornerback in the spring, continued to impress Nutt, as did rest of the cornerbacks.

“We had great competition and that’s what Marshay brings to the table. Dustin Mouzon has a lot of experience and Cassius Vaughn as well. The young guys like Brandon Sanders, Marcus Temple and Derrick Herman are really competitors. You also have to love the height and length that Demareo Marr has.”

Nutt also praised the off-season work of linebacker Jonathan Cornell.

“He is smart. He watched a lot of film this summer. It seemed like every time I came in he was watching film. He has been a good leader for us. I’m really proud of him.”

Nutt was also pleased with the accuracy and poise of freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley.

“We got us one there. He looked very, very good. He has a quick release, he is accurate with the deep ball and he is tall and athletic. He was spinning that ball today. What I loved was we put him in on a third-and-eight situation and he didn’t flinch. That’s when you find out about a true freshman.”

The Rebels will hold their annual media day tomorrow at the IPF on the Ole Miss campus. Nutt will start the day with a 9:30 a.m. press conference, while players and assistant coaches will meet with the media at 10 a.m. Fans can watch Nutt’s press conference free on RebelVision.

Ole Miss will hold its second practice of the fall on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. on the practice fields adjacent to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Practice is open to the public through the remainder of the week. The Rebels kick off the 2008 season against the Memphis Tigers on August 30th at 6 p.m. in Oxford.

Sox Burned By KC

For a kid who grew up near Beaumont, Texas, not far from the Louisiana line, the heat beating down on Clay Buchholz last night was likely more due to pressure than the 96 degrees that scorched him - and the rest of the Red Sox and Royals - at game time. With Buchholz struggling, and Bartolo Colon starting tonight for Pawtucket, the golden kid might just be feeling the burn.

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Buchholz's starts since returning to the major leagues (and well before that) have not exactly been stellar. He has lost four of his five starts since his call-up, gotten a no-decision in the other, and has lost five straight overall. His last win came back on May 2 against Tampa, also the last time he left a game with his team in the lead.

So while his teammates were sweating under the brutal heat, Buchholz was also wilting, done in by a third inning in which nine Royals batted. Nor did it ultimately work out for the Red Sox, despite a ninth-inning rally, the team falling to the Royals, 4-3, in front of 24,378 at Kauffman Stadium last night.

"I'm just not catching any breaks at all," Buchholz said. "The great players that play this game, they make their breaks. That's the little challenge for me, to make a break. It feels like when I do make a pitch, it's right out of reach of somebody."

Insisting that he's not feeling pressured, Buchholz added, "The only time you've got to prove something to somebody is when you're in the minor leagues trying to make it up there. I told myself, 'I'm here, go out and throw.' "

But even with Buchholz's struggles, the Sox still had a chance. After stranding two runners in the eighth, they broke through in the ninth. After Coco Crisp led off the inning with a single, J.D. Drew struck out, but Dustin Pedroia singled for his third hit, and David Ortiz strode to the plate. It was strength against strength, Ortiz against All-Star closer Joakim Soria.

Soria won. Ortiz tapped a grounder to first base, moving the runners over.

The Royals followed that by intentionally walking Kevin Youkilis, the go-ahead run, to pitch to new acquisition Jason Bay. Bay converted, with Alex Gordon and Tony Pena colliding on his grounder to the left side. Bay was credited with a single, a run scored, and the bases were loaded again.

But Sean Casey couldn't come through, lining to right field to finish off the game.

"Probably should have maybe squeaked that one out of there," Casey said. "I hit an 0-and-2 curveball. I really thought I got it in the corner. I don't know if he had it shaded over there. I thought I got it in the corner, but he was there."

So was Ron Mahay, in the eighth. With Casey on third and Jed Lowrie on first, Kansas City brought in Mahay to turn Jason Varitek around to the right side. It took nine pitches, but Varitek struck out swinging, prompting a major fist pump from catcher John Buck and preserving the Royals' 4-2 lead.

"We're close friends off the field, so I'm sure I'll be hearing about that when we get together tonight," Mahay said of Varitek, who was 2 for 4 with a homer and two walks off him lifetime. "He's always got the best of me. Tonight I got him."

Buchholz was done in by a rocky third inning in which the Royals not only scored three runs but left the bases full. After Kansas City had grabbed its first run on a 402-foot home run by Gordon in the second, it came back to take the lead as Buchholz was unable to protect the 2-0 lead he was given in the first.

After Mitch Maier struck out to start the third, the next three Royals singled, followed by a walk to Jose Guillen. Billy Butler hit a sacrifice fly to score the second run of the inning, Gordon walked to reload the bases, and Buck was hit by a pitch to force home Mark Teahen. It got better for Buchholz after that, but it was too late.

"He was pitching with such confidence, his body language, he was working quicker, he was coming off the mound with some aggression," manager Terry Francona said of the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. "But we got into that bind in that one inning. There were a lot of baserunners, and he was trying to be perfect. Just need to limit the damage. He's growing.

"We talked about when he came back that it's still a work in progress, and we acknowledged that. But I do like the way he went back out and handled himself and stayed out and pitched, because that's the kid we think can really compete in this league."

Though Buchholz has been a passable 2-2 with a 3.45 ERA at home, he has continued to have trouble on the road, coming into last night with an ugly 0-4 record and 7.97 ERA. He echoed Francona, calling his pitching right now "a work in progress," as he attempts to figure out just what is going wrong, what has led to his 0-5 record and 8.07 ERA over his last seven starts.

There was a moment, though, when it seemed it might all be righted before it fell apart. With one out in the third, Esteban German lashed a ball toward Jed Lowrie. But the normally surehanded shortstop couldn't make the play, and instead of a double play to erase Mike Aviles, German had a single, and the Royals were on their way to the win.

"Need to make a pitch, get a ground ball, and just the ground ball tonight was hit 150 miles an hour at Jed," Buchholz said. "Can't fault anybody for that. It feels like it's an inch away."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Miles Welcomes 105 Tigers to Fall Camp

Les Miles and the LSU coaching staff will welcome 105 players to campus on Sunday as the reigning national champion Tigers open fall camp in preparation for the 2008 season.

LSU, which is ranked No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll, returns 13 starters and 42 letterwinners from last year’s team that posted a 12-2 record and claimed the BCS National Championship with a 38-24 win over Ohio State.

LSU will use Sunday as a day of orientation as the team will check-in to West Campus Apartments in the morning, while the afternoon will be used for football-related activities. The players will undergo physicals with the training staff and team doctors during the afternoon as well as getting fitted for equipment.

LSU will hold its first practice on Monday morning as the veterans will workout at the Charles McClendon Practice Facility. The freshmen, along with selected veterans, will practice on Monday afternoon. The first two days of practice will have the team working out in shorts and helmets.

The team will add shoulder pads in days three and four before dressing out in full pads for the first time on Friday, Aug. 8. After four days of split squad practices, the Tigers will workout as a full unit for the first time on Aug. 8.

The Tigers open their fourth season under Miles on Aug. 30 when LSU hosts Appalachian State at 4 p.m. in Tiger Stadium. The LSU-Appalachian State game will be televised nationally by ESPN.

A day after the Rebel newcomers arrived in Oxford, the Ole Miss returnees reported to campus on Sunday as the team prepares to begin fall training camp with the first practice slated for Monday.

“Everyone is here and ready to go,” said head coach Houston Nutt. “We’re trying to get everyone situated with the physicals, compliance and all the paperwork. We’ll have our first meal together (Sunday night), and then we’ll have our first team meeting.”

Nutt emphasized his club’s productive offseason and the players’ outstanding effort in academics, conditioning and overall preparation for the upcoming season.

“I really feel like we won the summer, if you look at their attitude, how much they’ve given and how much they’ve encouraged one another,” he said. “They’ve shown up for voluntary workouts and looked forward to coming to work each day.”

The first-year Rebel coach spent his summer speaking to local clubs throughout the Southeast, and said that the fans’ support has provided some additional energy for the team.

“If you look at the last few quarterback club meetings we’ve attended, the fans can’t wait for football,” Nutt said. “That gives us a little bit more motivation, and we’re very appreciative of that.”

Nutt also announced that senior defensive end Antonio Turner has returned to the team roster, while receiver Michael Hicks and defensive back Colby Arceneaux have transfered. In addition, linebacker Brandon Thomas has completed his undergraduate degree and will forgo his final year of eligibility.

On Monday, the team will meet following breakfast and then hold their first walk-through. The first full-scale practice will take place at 5:30 p.m. All evening practices during the first week of preseason will be open to the public, concluding with Saturday’s workout.

Check for daily practice reports and a schedule of practice times and locations.

The captain of the Red Sox now believes the team is climbing toward the mountaintop.

Whatever happens from here on out, Jason Varitek believes the wins of the past three days are precisely what they were hoping for after a team meeting in the aftermath of Thursday's Manny Ramírez deal.

The negative energy of the past few weeks is gone. The Sox defeated the Oakland A's, 5-2, yesterday at Fenway Park to complete a three-game sweep, and they have created momentum they hope will make them better.

"This is our team now," said Varitek after the victory and before the Sox embarked on a seven-game swing to Kansas City and Chicago. "The guys we have in this room are the guys we're going to be playing with from here on out. We feel good about that. We have to continue to compete. Get quality at-bats. Pitch quality games. I think everyone in here likes where we're heading."

The Sox held the A's to five hits as Daisuke Matsuzaka earned his 12th win with a six-inning performance (2 earned runs, 4 hits, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks). Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, and Jonathan Papelbon pitched three shutout innings - the bullpen allowed just one run in 10 2/3 innings in the series. The bats were again timely with young shortstop Jed Lowrie contributing a two-run triple to the triangle in the fourth, Coco Crisp a pair of sacrifice flies, and Kevin Youkilis a first-inning RBI single.

The Sox are in second place in the American League East, three games behind the Rays. "Where we are at the present means that we're good," said Varitek. "To go where we need to go, and where we want to go, we have to pitch like we did the last three games."

Boston has a chance to continue the upward trend with three games in Kansas City, another team down on its luck. The White Sox are a different story, but all the Sox really care about is playing consistently on the road.

Varitek pointed out, "We won our last three road games [at Seattle]. That's what we have to dwell on, not what we did before that on the road. We have to take the same mind-set that we have at home to the road. If we do that, we'll continue to win games."

This series was the perfect scenario for the Sox. They made a controversial deal, swept the A's to regain their confidence, and headed out on the road. They were able to not lose ground to the Rays, who just won't fade away, and keep ahead of the Yankees, who split their series with the Angels. It seems the entire team was on board with getting Ramírez out of town, and newly acquired Jason Bay had a very good start to his Red Sox career, which made players and fans feel much better about the trade of Manny.

"One of the things we talked about was not looking back or looking forward and just attacking what's at hand," said manager Terry Francona. "We did that very well. Daisuke came out and threw his fastball, stayed in his delivery, and the ball came out of his hand real well. He looked like he was pitching with confidence. We played with energy. It was a good day."

Before the series, it seemed the Sox had lost that energy. Was it the losing? Was it the constant antics of Ramírez?

"The momentum will carry over tomorrow if [Clay] Buchholz takes it and goes deep," said Francona. "That's always the case in this game. The momentum goes as far as our starting pitcher allows."

Matsuzaka, 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA with 38 strikeouts in seven starts since June 27, threw 105 pitches in his six innings. It was the 14th time he had limited opponents to two or fewer runs in his 19 starts this season. When there was a 37-minute rain delay in the bottom of the sixth, Matsuzaka's day was over, though Francona indicated he wouldn't have sent him out for the seventh.

The pitcher's finest moment was in the second inning. After surrendering a leadoff triple to the triangle to Carlos Gonzalez, he struck out Jack Hannahan and Bobby Crosby and got Daric Barton to fly to center. He struck out the side in the fourth - Jack Cust, Frank Thomas, and Gonzalez.

The Sox had a steady-enough offense. Dustin Pedroia doubled to lead off the first and was driven home by Youkilis's single. In the fourth, after Mike Lowell's double and Bay's single put runners at the corners, Lowrie really sent the ball for ride into the triangle. His first major league triple bolstered his bid to keep the starting shortstop job even when Julio Logo returns from his quad injury (which may not be for another month).

"He's giving us a lot of production," said Francona of Lowrie. "In limited at-bats he's gotten some big hits, some timely hits, but he's played the game and blended in like our young guys do. Mixed in with some veterans, he's helping us win games."

The Sox added a third run in the fourth when Crisp got Lowrie home on a sacrifice fly after Varitek walked. In the sixth, after the rain delay, Crisp was able to get Bay home with another sac fly.

And really, that's all that was necessary, as the bullpen allowed only three runners over its three innings. Okajima, always the adventure, allowed a walk and a hit in the seventh but escaped. Delcarmen walked a batter in the eighth but got a key out when his nemesis, Thomas, hit a ball hard only to have it run down in right-center by Jacoby Ellsbury. And Papelbon earned his 31st save with a flawless ninth.

The A's are nowhere near the team they were earlier this season when they had Rich Harden and Joe Blanton and were actually contending. Now they're rebuilding again and they're easy for a good team to dispose of.

"We're going on this trip in a good frame of mind," said Lowell. "We've created a better feeling for ourselves. We know what we have to do and we feel we have the players that we can do it with.

"I think everyone is on the same page. I think it's going to be a fun couple of months ahead."