This is part two of our two part series - no, we're not going to say what our special teams "should" look like because who they are and what they're doing ain't much of a mystery - on what Juco and I would like to see regarding personnel and their roles come this football season.
Part one, the offense, is here. Part two, the defense, begins now.
The Rebels replace a good bit on the interior of the defensive line, but Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent, and Lawon Scott really didn't live up to any of the hype last year. Still, they had a lot of experience, and the guys replacing them don't. Redshirt freshman Carlton Martin looks to start at one of the defensive tackle spots and will probably be joined by either Uriah Grant or Gilbert Pena (both juco transfers). Martin is a more athletic and agile DT while either of the jucos could serve as a space filler, hopefully to eat up blockers. Redshirt freshman Byron Bennett will certainly see time as well and has a chance at a starting job. Either way, we won't see a single defensive tackle who has taken a division one snap. It's going to be a tough task for these guys when going against the offensive lines we'll see this year. But the good part here is that our defense isn't likely to be built around much pressure from the tackles. They're there to take guards and centers and hopefully prevent them from getting to the linebackers. It's simple and can be effective enough. That's how we've used tackles since Peria Jerry graduated.
The defensive ends on the other hand are there to get to the quarterback. We won't have much success stopping misdirection runs to the outside simply because we overpursue so much at end. That's bad, but what's good is that we get to the passer regularly and look to do so better this year than the two before it. SR Kentrell Lockett is a pass-rushing specialist, but he'll play three downs for the Rebels since we have such inexperience around him. SO Carlos Thompson is who I hope will start on the other edge simply because he's young and has flashed the ability to break up passing plays. Junior Gerald Rivers and senior Jason Jones are candidates to start there as well, but neither has the raw physical talent that Thompson possesses. In any case, our defensive strategy, if it holds from Nix's first three years, is to get defensive ends into the backfield.
With Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker graduating, and D.T. Shackelford's ACL deciding to commit ritualistic seppuku during spring drills (WHAT IS IT WITH KNEE LIGAMENTS AND TALENTED OLE MISS ATHLETES?!), a lot of weight will be placed on some guys with little to no SEC football experience at the linebacker position this fall. With Clarence Jackson setting a couch on fire/stealing a TV/pissing on something (honestly, the crimes are all so silly that I can't keep who did what straight anymore) and earning himself a dismissal from the program, the weak linebacker spot is wide open. If the post spring depth chart isto be believed, walk-on 'backer Sam Noblin, all 217 pounds of him, will earn the nod at Will.
At middle 'backer, the aptly named Mike Marry will likely start, but share much of his time on the field with Ralph Williams. Both Marry and Williams have the bulk to play mike backer, and both performed well during the Spring. Their inexperience will cause a blown assignment or missed tackle, but I wouldn't doubt the athletic abilities of either.
Joel Kight will take the Sam spot. Just as with the Will spot, there won't be much room for error with Kight's backup likely being former cornerback Rudy Wilson. I think Kight could perform well at either outside spot, which helps me answer the question as to how the oft discussed CJ Johnson play into this? If I were in charge, and I'm not for good reason, I'd have him at Sam with Ralph Williams splitting time serving as a spell for both Mike and Sam (Crazy? You betcha, but we're thin here). Marry would naturally hold down the Mike position with Kight in the Will spot. I'm just not sure CJ has the speed, range, or headiness needed for a weakside linebacker.
(One of) the bane(s) of our existence last season was the play at cornerback. The unit will probably be better this season, but it may not be as good as necessary to compete in the SEC. Sophomore Charles Sawyer will have to serve as our cover corner. As a freshman, he was hit or miss, but it was obvious that he was the best Rebel corner on the field. He's big, physical, quick enough, and has a decent nose for the ball. He works best in man, and he'll probably get to see that coverage a lot this year. The rumor we are hearing is that, while we'll still run zones sometimes, it won't be nearly as common as it was last year. We're terrible at running zone defenses for whatever reason. Senior Marcus Temple or junior Wesley Pendleton will be manning the other outside job, and I really hope it's Pendleton. Having a corner with elite speed on the outside can really help take pressure off the safeties. Hopfully we'll be able to use Pendleton to try to blanket opposing teams' fastest receivers. I think Temple is better served as a nickel corner who acts as a safety/corner hybrid by providing help in run support and covering receivers running underneath routes.
Other than the starters, we'll see freshman Cliff Coleman in the rotation. I've never seen him play, so I've got no insight there. I know that he has more size than we're accustomed to at the corner position, so perhaps he'll switch off with Temple in that nickel role some. Freshman Senquez Golson has a chance at playing time as well, and I think it would be a mistake not to give him time. I hypothesize that a redshirt year for Golson would be a waste since he'll probably sign a pro baseball contract after three years. If he's actually able to play both sports, I certainly can't see him staying at Ole Miss past his true senior year. Freshman Nick Brassell should see time here too, though it remains to be seen just how much we'll use him here.
I am not concerned with Damien Jackson's ability at strong safety. He has yet to earn an interception in Oxford, but the guy's heads-up decision making and tackling abilities are disputed by nobody. In that respect, he's like a thinner, quicker Jamarca Sanford. He's not going to make rangy plays which end in acrobatic interceptions, but he'll knock your ass into the dirt if he has to. Frank Crawford is currently listed as his backup, which seems a bit disconcerting because I'm not really sure what Crawford's tackling abilities are, but I'm not too worried that DJack will sit many snaps out. The guy's got a great motor like that.
Brishen Matthews at free safety, though, does worry me. The guy is fast and has SEC playing experience, but aside from a concussion-inducing jaw rattler he laid down on Kentucky's Derrick Locke, he has yet to prove himself to me as a tackler consistent enough to be counted on in a free safety role. I don't at all doubt his athleticism; it's his experience that concerns me. I am, however, very willing to be proven wrong on this.
Backing up Matthews will be JUCO transfer Ivan Nichols. He's supposedly fast. I guess that helps.