Brandon Sanders came to Ole Miss as a big cornerback.
Sanders was eventually moved to linebacker, a position that finally feels like home. However, Sanders isn't having to wait to get on the field, thanks primarily to his status as one of Ole Miss' top special teams performers.
"The way I see special teams is I'm contributing to the team," said Sanders, a 6-foot, 208-pound redshirt sophomore. "If that's what I'm doing, then I'm going to bust my behind every play, on every kickoff return and every punt return. I'm going to do what I have to do to do what I have to do for this team."
Sanders said it's not his speed or his physicality that has made him successful in the kicking game.
"To be honest with you, it's hard work," Sanders said. "It's the SEC. There are athletic guys everywhere, so it's just all about your hard work and your focus. This year, I came with a focus that I've never had since I've been here. I plan on getting better every day. That's what I want to do."
Sanders, who is backing up linebacker Allen Wallace at this point in the preseason, appears poised for playing time on several special teams unit. Those roles aren't ones that are handed to backups.
"We don't mind putting some starters on there," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "On the kickoff team, there will be some good tacklers on there. …You're looking for speed, and the way our guys are kicking, they ought to be able to cover the kick with the hang time our guy gives us. We're looking for guys to find a role, but at the same time, we're going to put the best guys out there because that's a chunk of real estate that you've got to win."
Sanders' intensity on special teams has been noticed, Ole Miss tight ends coach/special teams coordinator James Shibest said.
"There'll be five or six of those guys, like Derrick Herman, Brandon, Jason Jones, guys where that's almost all they've done," Shibest said. "I know Reggie Hicks has done that the last few years, but you don't hear much about them. I think we've got a chance to be pretty good on those coverage teams. We see good personnel there. Last year, our kicker was good but our personnel wasn't as good as it is right now. Some of them are young and they've still got to grow up quick, but I think our coverage team is going to be good for us."
Shibest said the Rebels' success on special teams during Nutt's tenure is due to Nutt's emphasis on that aspect of the game as well as a staff-based approach to working on the kicking game.
"We've got a lot of people coaching it," Shibest said. "It ain't just me. I think that makes a difference."
OFFENSE HAS BOUNCE-BACK THURSDAY: Nutt was pleased with the Rebels' 2 ½-hour workout on the practice fields Thursday, one that finalized the transition from fall camp to preparation for the Sept. 4 opener against Jacksonville State.
"We had a good practice today," Nutt said. "We had a lot of enthusiasm today. I thought our guys bounced around for the most part. We ended with a two-minute drill. I thought the offense did much better today than yesterday, and I was proud of that."
Nutt said the Rebels started to focus on Jacksonville State for the first time Thursday. Ole Miss will have another similar practice Friday and then a dress rehearsal of sorts Saturday before getting into the regular game-week routine on Sunday afternoon.
With no news from the NCAA yet regarding Jeremiah Masoli's request for a residency waiver, Nutt said Ole Miss' three quarterbacks _ Masoli, Nathan Stanley and Randall Mackey _ continued to split repetitions evenly.
POWE COUNSELS MASOLI: If anyone on the Ole Miss roster knows about helplessness of waiting for an NCAA ruling, it's nose tackle Jerrell Powe. Powe, who had years of dealings with the NCAA before he was eventually cleared to participate, said he told the former Oregon quarterback "to just keep his head up. That's one guy I know is going to remain calm. He doesn't seem to get rattled about nothing, but I told him the main thing is to stay focused, don't worry about anything and put all his trust in God and Coach Nutt to handle it."
LOCKETT SEES HIS PAST IN REBS' FUTURE: Kentrell Lockett carries some 260 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame these days, but it wasn't always that way. When Lockett first reported to Ole Miss, he was barely two spins, and that meant he got pushed around in SEC battles. Lockett said he sees a lot of his former self in Rebel freshman defensive end Carlos Thompson and, to a lesser extent, freshman defensive tackles Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin.
"I tell them that all the time," Lockett said. "I tell them they're kind of like my little prodigies, but I don't want to say that because at the same time, I want to leave those skinny times way back in the past. I don't want to go back to those."
SANDERS TRYING TO CATCH UP: Freshman wide receiver Vincent Sanders acknowledged Thursday that missing summer workouts has put him behind in his development as a college receiver. Still, Sanders hasn't given up on helping Ole Miss this fall, even if it's in a limited capacity.
"I know I'm behind, but if they need me to go in, I'll go in," Sanders said. "It's not a big deal. If they call me in to run a go-route, I'll do it. If they call me in to block, I'll do it. It's no problem."
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Freshman defensive end Delvin Jones had to have fluid drained off a knee Thursday and was held out of practice. …Freshman linebacker Ralph Williams was back at practice Thursday after missing a day due to some compliance issues. …Linebacker Mike Marry (hamstring) and offensive guard Jared Duke (injury unspecified) practiced in shorts. …Senior deep-snapper Wesley Phillips has been cleared for contact starting Friday. Phillips is expected to share some snapping duties with freshman Will Denny. …Former Memphis coach Tommy West attended Thursday's practice.