September 2, 2009

Harris' hamstring could be problematic for Rebels

Gerald Harris caught two touchdown passes in Ole Miss' AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic win over Texas Tech on Jan. 2.

In the spring and again in fall camp, it was obvious the Rebels' starting tight end is going to play a prominent role in what should be an explosive offense.

However, Harris was relegated to the role of spectator on Wednesday after experiencing tightness in the hamstring that he injured 10 days ago. Suddenly, his availability for Sunday's season opener at Memphis has been cast in doubt.

"It's a little tight right now, but it's coming, slowly but surely," Harris said. "I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see what the trainers tell me and see how they feel about it."

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he expects Harris to be ready to play Sunday, noting that the hamstring injury is the first one the senior tight end from Texas has ever experienced and adding that the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder "doesn't know how to handle it."

"It's just sore," Nutt said. "He didn't re-pull it but it's just sore. He'll be all right."

Harris, who caught seven passes for 84 yards and four touchdowns last season after coming to Ole Miss from Navarro (Texas) College with the reputation of being a great blocker with suspect hands, became a preferred target for Jevan Snead both in the spring and in August.

"He's by far our best blocker," Nutt said. "He's gotten a lot more confident since the Cotton Bowl catching balls. He had a tremendous summer."

If Harris can't play, redshirt freshman Ferbia Allen will likely draw the start. Redshirt freshman E.J. Epperson and junior Reggie Hicks are also available.

"We've talked about it as a staff and we've got a plan in the event that he's very limited or not playing at all," Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin said. "We also have a plan if he is playing. The good news is the other guys are getting a lot of reps right now, so if Gerald's ready, that's great, but we've gotten Ferbia and the other guys a lot of reps in his absence."

REBS ARRIVE AT 'TIME TO PLAY': Nutt wasn't thrilled with his team's work on Wednesday afternoon, but he also seemed to understand the reason for some of the Rebels' struggles as they put the finishing touches on the gameplan for Memphis.

"Have you ever been to a point where you say, 'Hey, it's time to play?' Nutt said. "That's where we are.

"I just think it's time. You hit about your 29th or whatever it is opportunity and it's time to go. We had a real good one yesterday. We'll come back and have a good one tomorrow."

Nutt said the Rebels will spend the next couple of days refining the two-minute offense, the "hurry-hurry situation" and goal-line situations.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: Austin admitted Wednesday that preparing for Memphis' defense isn't as cut and dried as preparing for an opponent several games into the season. The Tigers have changed defensive coordinators, promoting Kenny Ingram when Tim Walton left for a position with the NFL's Detroit Lions, and have an influx of transfers set to make their debuts Sunday.

"We're going to be prepared for what we've seen throughout their season last year," Austin said. "When it's a first game, it's both (scheme and personnel). You've got transfers that you haven't seen them play live and with it being the first game of the season, you don't know exactly what their philosophy is. …But every game takes on its own complexion and there's always wrinkles and it's our job to adjust to those wrinkles and continue to modify throughout the game to put our players in position to have success."

Austin said the Rebels got a lot of the offense in during camp and got a lot of aspects of the offense on film.

"Now we'll scale it back and try to fit it to a gameplan that makes sense based on the defense that we're playing and what we're anticipating," Austin said. "We've got enough in that in the event that we need to modify throughout the game, we should have enough in our arsenal to be able to do that."

BACKUP QB JOB STILL OPEN: Nutt indicated Wednesday that Nathan Stanley might be on top of the see-saw battle with Billy Tapp for the backup quarterback job. However, the job is clearly one that is still being fought for.

"Billy has some experience, you know," Nutt said. "The upside to Nathan is unlimited. He's just got to be a little bit more mature in some different areas and I think he'll get there. There's just nothing like game experience for these guys. We can get on the board and we can teach them a lot, but the bottom line is we've got to get their feet wet when the fire is on them."

REBEL RUMBLINGS: Defensive tackle Justin Smith, who broke a bone in his foot at the end of the first week of camp, is "getting better rehab-wise," Nutt said Wednesday, adding that the plan is still in place for Smith to return in time for the Rebels' Southeastern Conference opener Sept. 24 at South Carolina.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!