Almost any good defensive scheme starts with a disrupting, chaos inducing defensive line.
The Rebels were looking to fill the shoes of two chaos wrecking balls in Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks who are off to the green pastures of the NFL.
Ole Miss went into signing day this year with Quentin Bivens, Hal Northern, K.D. Hill and James Williams already in the house from the early signing period in December. But, now that the class is complete, let’s see how the coaches did.
One player that defensive line coach Freddie Roach loved in this year’s class was Noah Jefferson (6’6, 330-pounds) out of Arizona Western College. Jefferson figures to be an immediate impact player on the defensive line as a former four-star recruit out of high school who played his freshman year at Southern Cal. You certainly can’t coach “experience” into a player, and Jefferson logged valuable snaps in Los Angeles against Pac-12 opponents. He’s back in the Power 5 with something to prove, and you should expect to see his name filling a box score this fall alongside fellow big fella, Benito Jones.
Another JUCO stud
Hal Northern (6’2, 290-pounds) stands out as the next most likely immediate impact player for the Rebels. I think he’s a little more of a project than Jefferson because he’s been in junior college ball for his entire college career, so there will be a learning curve there and a speed curve to adjust to. He earned JUCO All-American honors at Northwest Mississippi Community Collge in the insanely competitive Mississippi Junior College ranks. From the tape, it looks like he fires off the ball and looks to cause problems in the backfield more so than being a space eater.
Don’t forget about the high schoolers
Quentin Bivens was coached by good ole boy Todd Mangum at Wayne County, an Ole Miss stronghold. He is a prototypical defensive tackle at 6’3, 288-pounds. He racked up a ton of tackles (66 his senior year) while at Wayne County and forced four fumbles along the way. He’ll help to add depth to a defensive line that needs to be rotated constantly given the frenetic pace of the Ole Miss offense.
How quickly he can adapt to SEC speed will be the big question here for his output freshman year. The tape shows great burst off the line and pretty good hands clearly capable of getting off blocks at that level.
K.D. Hill hails from the Iron State and comes in at 6’2, 275-pounds. From the tape I’ve seen at the MS-AL All Star game, he looks a little undersized, so he is going to have to work his way into some playing time the next four years potentially. He has some ability to bull his way through a line at the high school level, so look for him to be a little big of a project for a couple years.
James Williams is the fourth-ranked player out of the Magnolia state, fans are going to remember him for a while as a player that was flipped from Mississippi State. There is some question, let’s get it out of the way, that he won’t be on campus this fall due to academic concerns. Maybe that happens and he ends up at Jones County, and maybe it all pulls together.
His mentor is Breeland Speaks, which to me is delightful. He’s got a slimmer build right now at 6’6, 265-pounds, so he could really go either route of interior or outside. Tape shows him as a sound tackler, able to get off blocks and someon who has a good motor.
Ultimately, replacing a Marquis Haynes or Breeland Speaks is very difficult, and it’s hard to say one of these guys will surpass what Haynes or Speaks did while in Oxford. I feel confident in saying none have the speed that Haynes possessed which was really elite in all honesty, but there may be a potential for a couple solid contributors in 2018 and beyond in this group.