Greg Hardy worked with the third-team defense at times on Saturday morning.
There's probably not another place in the country where media would be asking a "third-string" defensive end and his position coach about his future plans.
However, that's the situation at Ole Miss and with Hardy, who recorded 17 tackles and 8 ½ quarterback sacks in extremely limited play this season. Hardy, a junior from Memphis, said Friday afternoon that despite finishing the regular season strong, he hasn't made a decision about whether or not to return to Oxford for his senior campaign.
"I'm in the same boat (as earlier in the season)," Hardy said. "I'm going to finish my season out, play as hard as I can and see what happens in the future. I'm having fun out there playing with my team. I'm getting better. I'm able to play and do what I can. It's a good time.
"As every junior does, I'm going to assess my situation (after the season). This is my first bowl game and I'm excited about it."
Hardy suffered a stress fracture in his right foot during the third practice of fall camp. He didn't get significant snaps until Sept. 27, when Ole Miss won at Florida. A week later, Hardy was pulled from the lineup and after aggravating the injury in practice, he seemed to re-injure the foot in a loss at Alabama.
He played sparingly at Arkansas and at home against Auburn on Nov. 1 before turning things on in the final three games of the season -- easy wins over Louisiana-Monroe, at LSU and at home against Mississippi State.
"It was driving me crazy a little bit, just sitting out, away from your team and away from the sport that you play," said Hardy, adding that his injured foot is about 85 percent healthy right now. "It's a work in process. When I got back, I was ecstatic just to be out here."
Hardy said he would factor into the decision the fact that the last few weeks have been "fun," adding that he didn't have a specific spot projected as a breaking point that would determine whether he bypassed his senior season or returned for it. "We go out there and know what's going to happen. We practice every day and when we go out there and execute, it's a fun thing.
Whatever happens, happens. I'm just going to assess my situation when it comes.
"I love my coaches and I love what they came in here and did. I love winning. Of course, going to the bowl game is an exciting time for Ole Miss, so I'll enjoy it."
Ole Miss defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said Saturday he'd support whatever decision Hardy made, adding that he would love to have him back for another year.
"He's a guy I wish I would've coached when I first saw him," Rocker said. "That's what I see. I wish I would've had him early. There's nothing I can do about that, but that's what I wish most. You see a guy who has great speed. He can change a game quick. It's a matter of football. How deep does it burn in your belly? When you play this game, you have to let it burn down deep when you play in that hole.
"That's the thing. Greg has great talent and he can change a game. But you find out. How bad do you really want to be down there. But when he's ready to do that, he does it and that's the thing you deal with with Greg."
Asked if he had challenged Hardy prior to the Rebels' November run, Rocker smiled, admitting that they had a "conversation."
"It was a good conversation," Rocker said. "I challenge him and he likes challenges. I've said from Day One is the big misconception people have is he's this or that. Greg is a good person. He's not disrespectful or anything to any of us. I just think he's like any other kid. You're teaching him how to grow up and you're helping him along and that's part of me being a coach.
He enjoys me giving him all that attention, too. Then you turn around and you laugh about it. I'm still learning about him and I hope to have him around."
REBELS HAVE SPIRITED SATURDAY: Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace told Nutt Saturday that this week of bowl preparation is new to the Rebels
"It's exciting," Nutt said. "We've been a part of some bowl practices where it's been kind of, 'Ugh, after 12 weeks, there's a dullness or a dread, an I-don't-want-to-go-to-practice-attitude.' There hasn't been that."
The Rebels also made sure the prospects on official visits saw what they needed to see.
"He wants to see that position coach coach," Nutt said. "He wants to be in that huddle, be right there watching and listening to his words. Then they see the players, how they respond, how they play, the joy they have. That's a heck of a recruiting tool."
FEIN CLOSING WITH A FLOURISH: Tony Fein lost his starting spot to Jonathan Cornell, but the Rebels' middle linebacker trails only Jamarca Sanford and Kendrick Lewis in total tackles. Fein has 51 tackles, including five for losses, a statistic that probably would have been unpredictable back in the spring, when Fein seemed to be on the verge of falling out of favor.
"You're not always going to be playing at your best," Fein said. "A-Rod (New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez) has a slump. It's just one of those things where sometimes you're not playing as well and you have to get back to what you got you here -- getting in the playbook, get yourself focused and work your way out.
"I really feel like I could have went two different ways. I feel like I could've tapped out or I could've kept working hard. Obviously, I wanted to start. I didn't start many games this year, but I felt like when I played, I played well and helped my team win some games. I feel like I raised my stock."
YOUNG D-LINEMEN GET LONG LOOK: Rocker said he's been keeping a close eye on freshman defensive tackle Justin Smith and freshman defensive end Gerald Rivers the past couple of days. He noted that both youngsters, as well as the rest of the younger players on the defense, have been inconsistent, which is as expected.
"That's a little bit of frustration, but it's part of growing up," Rocker said. "I've been challenging (Smith and Rivers) every day. There's no doubt they're going to be great players in time, but my deal is trying to challenge them."
Rocker said he's also pushing veteran defensive linemen such as Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent and Kentrell Lockett to fill the leadership void that will be left when Peria Jerry leaves following the bowl game.
"We have to create leaders," Rocker said. "I don't know if I need to wait until the spring to start creating leaders. You kind of have to start talking about, 'What do you want to be on this team?' Because we're going to lose some guys. It's all of those facets going on right now."
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Following practice, Nutt met with Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat. The purpose of that meeting was not discussed.
Cornerback Jeremy McGee turned an ankle and left practice early.
Tight end Gerald Harris dislocated his pinky finger, had it popped back into place and returned to practice.
Devin Thomas injured his lower back after he was blasted by defensive lineman Jermey Parnell in a live scrimmage at the end of practice.
Quarterback Jevan Snead was throwing crisply in skeleton drills, his shoulder apparently feeling much better.
The play of the day: Nathan Stanley's 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end E.J. Epperson.
Ole Miss will work again on Sunday afternoon.
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