Ole Miss returned to the practice field for the first time in 12 days Tuesday, as the Rebels resumed drills following spring break.
Chilly and wet weather conditions forced the Rebels onto the indoor turf of the Manning Center.
Head coach Matt Luke was pleased with what he saw from his recharged troops.
"There may have been a couple of mistakes from the layoff, but I thought the energy was good," Luke said. "I thought they tried to be physical. We had a good session with weights yesterday and they were able to kind of get back into the swing of things. It was a good practice."
What does Luke want to see from his Rebels through their remaining eight spring practices?
"I just want to see them continue to build on the physicality and be a physical football team. Just build on that. It's always a balance. You want to be physical, but you don't want to get anybody hurt. There's always that balance. When we start practice with red ball we do inside run, I want to see those periods be physical. I want it to be fast. I want it to look like an SEC team. When it's time to go, I want them to go," said Luke.
"I've been pleased. I've been pleased with the energy. They guys are flying around and trying to play physical. That's been a big emphasis," said Luke.
One of the biggest concerns for the Rebels this spring is finding a few sets of linebackers who can play effectively this fall.
"They're taking on (linebackers) Coach (Jon) Sumrall's personality a little bit and playing physical," Luke related. "I saw a couple of really physical plays, that I haven't been seeing, with them playing down hill against the run."
Luke called out redshirt freshman linebacker Josh Clarke for his physicality as practices drew to a close Tuesday.
"There are some really good things going on right now. Obviously, there is still a lot to improve on and a long way to go, but you're seeing flashes," said Luke.
Prior to spring break, Luke was complimentary of JUCO transfer Scottie Phillips and true freshman Isaiah Woullard at the running back position.
"More of the same," he said. "I was cautiously optimistic about them before they got here. Scottie broke another long run here right at the end of practice. I'm really pleased with (running backs) Coach (Derrick) Nix's room right now."
Senior Armani Linton has moved from safety to running back this spring. Linton, though, has been suffering from a hamstring injury.
"Really, the jury is still out," Luke said. "Isaiah and Scottie have done a good job. They've got to keep coming. They'll make some mistakes, but they've got to keep coming. And (Eric) Swinney has been solid. Swinney has been there and started. He knows what to do. We kind of know where he is, we just want to see some of these new guys.
"The running backs, so far, half-way through, have maybe been the best surprise for me have been those two young running backs."
With starting tight end Dawson Knox out for the spring recuperating from foot surgery, ample reps have been available to junior Octavious Cooley, one of the nation's top prospects coming out of high school in the 2016 recruiting class.
"It looks like he's got his weight in check. he looks like he's in the best shape he's been in since he's been here. That's really helped him maybe be more consistent for not just one good play but several good plays in a row. I'm really pleased with that. At several positions we've got a lot of guys injured and out, and it's giving some people opportunities to step in there, and he's really taken advantage of it. It gives more flexibility to maybe play some 12-personnel and do some different things with Dawson and Cooley in there at the same time. It's exciting to see him play the way he is right now," Luke shared.
Luke said he also wants to see sophomores Gabe Angel and Jacob Mathis "come on" at the tight end position.
"Ben Brown has had a really, really good spring," said Luke. "He looks like he belongs. he's doing a great job. Royce Newman has also really stepped in there and done well. Those two guys have stood out. (Sophomore) Bryce Mathews, because of the injuries to (Alex) Givesn and Sean Rawlings have had to play a bunch of positions. We've had (sophomore) Eli (Johnson) out at center, so we've had Payton Cox and Samuel Plash, a couple of walk-on guys who've stepped in there and did a good job at center."
Ole Miss has one of the nation's best wide receiver trios in A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge. Though Brown and Metcalf are juniors, they could very well follow the senior Lodge into next year's NFL Draft.
That begs the question of how the younger receivers are performing this spring.
Luke has been pleased with sophomore Braylon Sanders.
"I think Braylon has had a really, really good spring," Luke offered. "He made a couple of really nice plays down the field today. I think he's coming."
True freshman DeMarcus Gregory is coming back from an ACL injury he suffered in high school.
"DeMarcus is coming off that knee, so he hasn't been full-go yet. He's a big looking kid. He'll fit right in to that unit," said Luke.