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September 16, 2008Ole Miss began its preparations for its Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon.
Greg Hardy was part of that practice. He'll put on full pads for the first time since spring on Tuesday, and if all goes well, the Rebels' All-SEC defensive end will be on the field Saturday evening when the Commodores invade Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"He moved around fairly well," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "He's a little sore. I'm anxious to see Tuesday how everything goes when he puts on pads and goes through practice. I'll be very curious because he hasn't done anything in a month. You just don't know but running straight forward and doing a few drills, he looks good. We just won't know until probably after practice how everything is going to go."
Hardy suffered a stress fracture in his foot on the third day of fall camp. He had surgery five days later and had been limited to running in the pool until last week, when he began jogging on the practice fields. His return would bring one of Ole Miss' preseason strengths back to form for the first time this season. Peria Jerry made his first start Saturday against Samford, one week after Ted Laurent returned for the Rebels' trip to Wake Forest. Jerry and Laurent's returns allowed Ole Miss to move Marcus Tillman back to his natural defensive end position after he moved inside for the season's first two games.
Nutt said in an ideal world, Hardy would play "every play, every down. That's what I'd love to do. He may be so sore after Tuesday after turning and twisting and trying to get to a quarterback, I don't know. I've never experienced a screw in the foot like this. I haven't been around this type of surgery, so I don't know. It's a wait-and-see for me, but what I'm hoping is he's going to be fine enough to give us a lift and apply pressure. That would really help (Kentrell) Lockett, Emmanuel Stephens and Tillman."
"It would be a huge lift," cornerback Marshay Green said. "Greg is like a freak of nature. He would help our pass-rush abilities. It would be a great lift."
Hardy had 64 tackles and 10 quarterback sacks last season, giving him 113 tackles and 13 sacks in his collegiate career.
"He's been on a strict schedule, trying to stay in condition and get the foot well," Nutt said. "He's been very good. He hasn't missed anything with (head trainer) Tim (Mullins). He's been trying to get back. I think he misses football. There's no question in my mind. I think he wants to be back on the field."
NUTT HAS PLENTY OF RESPECT FOR COMMODORES: Nutt said Monday that he's always been a big fan of the work that Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson does.
"You can just see improvement each year," said Nutt, who is 1-1 in his career against Johnson. "I think this is probably one of his better years besides maybe having (Jay) Cutler back there at the helm. But their defense has really improved. It's one of the best defenses he's hound. They're sound. They can run and he'll hit you."
What caught Nutt's eye during film study was the play of Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson, who is 24-for-45 passing for 252 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 49 times for 268 yards and five more scores.
"Chris Nickson, to me, is the difference," Nutt said. "He's a healthy guy that's moving around. He can escape and he can create. He can run. He has good receivers and they have a running back (Jared Hawkins), boy, who is physical and tough and knows how to hit it up in there full-speed."
REBELS PROTECTING SNEAD: Quarterback Jevan Snead had what appeared to be a nasty carpet burn on his left arm Monday, but all in all, the Ole Miss signal-caller has gone untouched so far this season. Through three games, Snead has been sacked once, the lowest amount for any SEC quarterback.
"I love it," Snead said with a laugh. "I'm just very fortunate to have a great offensive line and to know that I'm back there being protected from both sides and have time to throw."
Nutt said that while his offensive line has done a great job and the Rebels have gotten strong protection efforts from the tight end and the running back spots, a lion's share of the credit should go to Snead.
"Jevan doesn't take sacks," Nutt said. "You have to give him a lot of kudos on that deal because he can avoid and escape and when he feels pressure, he gets rid of it. It's been good. Protection has improved each week. We have about 12 protections and they've done a good job of handling them. It's been 11 people getting it done, so I've been proud of that part of it."
SECONDARY SHUFFLES WITHOUT INGRAM: Strong safety Fon Ingram will not play this week after being arrested for DUI Sunday morning.
"Fon was playing really good football," Nutt said. "He was doing a really good job of covering kicks for us. We were going to get him more plays starting this week, but he made a bad decision."
Without him, the Rebels will use a safety rotation of Kendrick Lewis, Johnny Brown and Jamarca Sanford, while senior Terrell Jackson will likely see more time as a result of Ingram's absence.
REBELS, GATORS ON RAYCOM: Ole Miss' Sept. 27 game at Florida is set for an 11:30 a.m. CDT kickoff in Gainesville, Fla., and will be televised by Raycom Sports, as announced today by the SEC office.
This will mark the Rebels' second TV game of the year and 162nd all-time since making their network TV debut in the 1953 Sugar Bowl versus Georgia Tech. A total of 78 Ole Miss games have been on TV over the past 12 seasons.
Ole Miss leads the all-time series with Florida 11-10-1, including a 5-3-1 record in The Swamp. The Rebels have won two of the last three meetings.
VANDY LB BREAKS HAND, WILL PLAY: Vanderbilt junior linebacker Patrick Benoist broke a bone in his right hand during the first half of the Commodores' 38-21 victory Saturday night over Rice, The Nashville Tennessean reported Monday.
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said after Sunday's brief practice that he thought Benoist would be available at Ole Miss.
"We should be able to cast it," Johnson told The Tennessean.
Benoist played with a cast during the second half of Vanderbilt's win over Rice. He finished with 10 tackles - including one for loss - for his second consecutive double-digit tackling performance. With the Commodores leading by only a touchdown in the third quarter Saturday night, senior kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt gave the team a lift by booting a 48-yard field goal to extend the advantage to two possessions and keep him perfect on the season. It was his longest successful field goal since hitting a career-long 51-yarder as a sophomore against Temple on Sept. 30, 2006. Hahnfeldt also became the school's all-time leading scorer with 210 points when he kicked his fifth extra point of the game. John Markham, who kicked for Vanderbilt from 1997-2000, held the record of 209 points.
"(Hahnfeldt's) made some big kicks for us," Johnson told the Nashville newspaper. "I don't think you have to have a record to validate it, but he's worked hard and always been there for us." Vanderbilt has scored 96 points en route to its 3-0 start, a 32 point-per-game average that is the team's best offensive stretch in nearly two years. The Commodores scored 100 points in a three-game home period in September 2006 against Arkansas, Tennessee State and Temple, although the team went just 2-1 in those games.
Vanderbilt lost 21-19 to the Razorbacks before routing the Tigers 38-9 and the Owls 43-14.