If Ole Miss is to slow down superstar running back Dalvin Cook in the season opener against Florida State, it will do so by relying on the sturdy interior of its defensive line. Perhaps the most important player of that group is nose tackle D.J. Jones, a 320-pound boulder with a 350-pound power clean and aspirations to be one of the SEC’s breakout stars during his senior season.
Which is why it’s concerning for Rebel fans to hear that Jones sat out Saturday’s practice for what Chuck Rounsaville of Scout.com reports is a concussion. There’s been no word on how soon Jones is expected to return or if he’s in danger of missing the Sept. 5 opener in Orlando.
Jones wasn’t the only run-stuffing D-lineman to sit out of Saturday’s media-accessible session: strong-side defensive end Fadol Brown, whose experience and 6’4, 273-pound frame could be the key to keeping the speedy Cook from reaching the edge, still isn’t practicing on his surgically repaired foot.
The absurd depth on Ole Miss’ D-line means the loss of either player—or both—won’t cripple the unit—in fact, veteran playmaker Issac Gross is technically listed as a co-starter at nose tackle and is more than capable of filling in for Jones. But losing Jones and/or Brown would make the defensive front considerably lighter and more vulnerable to frontal assault. The 263-pound Gross isn’t nearly the space-eater that Jones is, and Brown weighs in at nearly 20 pounds heavier than his backup, John Youngblood.
And for as deep as the Rebels’ D-line is, the loss of two starters would put a lot of stress on the rest of the rotation. A no-huddle, pass-happy Ole Miss offense who’s 2015 adjusted pace was 5.4 percent higher than the national average won’t likely possess the ball as much as Florida State, which will take pressure off its redshirt freshman quarterback by feeding the ball to Cook. That could mean a lot of defensive snaps for a depleted group of linemen.
Of course, all of this hand-wringing is presently premature—nothing from within the Ole Miss camp has yet suggested that either D-lineman will in fact be limited against the Noles—but the health of Jones and Brown is certainly something to pay close attention to over the next two weeks.
While we’re at it, let’s take a look at a few other Rebels who have been banged up during fall camp.
Little hurt his shoulder last week and early reports of a scheduled MRI had the alarm bells ringing. That MRI never happened, however, and the superstar freshman was a full participate on Saturday, taking second-team reps at left tackle behind Rod Taylor.
The junior receiver wasn’t on the field Saturday, but it sounds like the ligament injury in his hand isn’t as serious as initially feared. Hugh Freeze said last week that Pack had a pin inserted into his thumb and is expected to be back by the end of this week.
Nothing new has been reported since Hugh Freeze confirmed the junior safety has a torn pectoral, but sources told The Clarion-Ledger last week that the injury is likely season-ending. That increases the pressure on Ole Miss’ young defensive backs to hit the ground running.