Five days ago, Greg Hardy was the best player on Ole Miss' practice field, a veritable nightmare for offensive tackles to block, quarterbacks to avoid and running backs to encounter.
Five days later, Hardy had surgery on a stress fracture in his right foot, and his season _ and to some extent, Ole Miss' defensive line _ is in a state of flux.
Hardy underwent outpatient surgery on his fifth metatarsel at the Oxford Surgery Center. The Millington, Tenn., native is expected to miss six to eight weeks of action, according to Ole Miss head athletic trainer Tim Mullins.
"He was out here running, looking like a million dollars, the first five or six days, whatever it was," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "He looked good and the next thing you know, one day before pads, it flared up on him and we thought it was a bruise on the side of the foot. Then we did the X-ray and there was a little, bitty crack in there. He's had a crack in that other (left) one where he actually snapped it (during high school).
"It's not that severe, hopefully. Dr. (Ed) Fields said it went really well. We're excited about what he said after surgery, so you just don't know. It's hard to say, 'Well, he's going to be ready this game.' Everybody heals differently. But we do have about 18 days and then we'll see what happens."
Hardy has earned preseason All-America honors from several media outlets and was named to watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Hendricks Award. Last year, he topped the Southeastern Conference in sacks (10.0) and ranked second in tackles for loss (18.5).
With Hardy out of the lineup, Nutt said the Rebels will leave Marcus Tillman at defensive tackle and depend on Emmanuel Stephens, Chris Bowers, LaDerrick Vaughn, Jermey Parnell and Kentrell Lockett at defensive end. Lockett and Stephens figure to be the starters at the position. Parnell, a former Ole Miss basketball player, has had some surprising moments in his first foray into football and he got more reps on Monday.
"You just wish you had him a couple of years ago where you could develop those fundamentals," Nutt said. "So, it's a long process, but boy, he does some things that really catch your eye. We only had two days in the spring with him, so now is really his first time to put on pads and learn and go through the grind, so it's like teaching a first-grader how to start writing again. It's no easy, but again, because of his body, his size and his quickness, there are some things that he does very naturally. We still have time. There may be a package for him."
WALKING WOUNDED: While Hardy's injury status was the topic du jour Monday, there were more Rebels unable to practice. Linebacker Allen Walker (knee) had his left leg wrapped and he was clearly bothered. Defensive tackle Ted Laurent (knee) had his right knee wrapped, but the sophomore was moving better than he was late last week. Wide receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring) did not dress out Monday. Neither did starting offensive guard Reid Neely (Achilles) or walk-on offensive lineman Bobby Peterson (ankle).
All of the injury news wasn't bad. Free safety Kendrick Lewis returned to practice on Monday and showed no ill effects. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (knee) didn't practice, but the senior was jogging and moving extremely well.
"That was encouraging," Nutt said, referring to Jerry. "He was moving around a lot better. Allen Walker's moving around better. Kendrick Lewis coming out and looking good again, that really helps."
Nutt was even able to find humor in the injury bug, harassing Wallace about his injury, which came just after a 65-yard touchdown pass from Jevan Snead at the beginning of Saturday's scrimmage.
"I told him, 'You catch a touchdown pass and you go to the training room? I don't understand that. You catch a touchdown pass, you sprint into the end zone and now you have to go to the training room,'" Nutt said. "I've been kidding with him. Maybe he's not used to getting to that end zone enough. You shouldn't be hurt after a big play."
While Walker's out, several linebackers will get more reps and the Rebels' defensive coaches will have more film to evaluate.
"(Patrick) Trahan, Jason Jones, (Lamar) Brumfield, Lekenwic (Haynes) is back now from (his uncle's) funeral," Nutt said. "They're getting valuable reps. Trahan is good. He only has one problem and that's he hasn't had (strength and conditioning) coach (Don) Decker all summer. That's all he's missing. He's going to be all right."
KICKOFFS GET FOCUS: It's no secret the kicking game was a trouble spot for Ole Miss last season. The Rebels spent a good bit of time early Monday focusing on kickoffs, kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. Bryson Rose, Justin Sparks and David Hankins were getting work kicking, while Marshay Green, Lionel Breaux, Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis, Devin Thomas and Cordera Eason were working as kick returners.
SCRIMMAGE REVIEW: Nutt didn't go into great detail Monday about what he saw in film review of Saturday's 90-minute scrimmage inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"We graded them on technique and effort," Nutt said. "For the first scrimmage, it was all right. It wasn't too bad. We still have to get better. A lot of freshmen, of course, have their heads spinning but I like the way they're listening and trying to get better."
REBEL RAMBLINGS: Nutt put his team through a 2 ½-hour session Monday, one that started well but didn't finish the way the first-year Ole Miss coach wanted.
"We had about nine, 10 or 11 good periods and then we went into that sluggish mode, that feel-sorry-for-ourselves mode," Nutt said. "We've got to get a little tougher. We have to finish. We have to play four quarters. You can't play a quarter and a half. You have to play four. We have to get better."
Eason, Nutt said, will have a abcessed tooth pulled on Wednesday, opening up some more practice reps for Bolden, Davis and Thomas.
"So those freshmen will just keep getting more more and more," Nutt said. "We're going to put a little pressure on them, see how they respond. A couple of them had too many fumbles today, especially at the end when they started getting tired. We can't do it. So I'm excited to see how they respond in the next two or three days because we're going to put a little more on them."
Bowers was the day's only casualty. The senior from Shreveport, La., bruised a knee during inside drills.
"The defensive line has a bad bug, really bad," Nutt said, drawing laughter from the assembled media. "We're coming back. We've got to change that karma now. We've got to change it up."