Despite the off-season, spring, AND fall camps being affected by COVID-19, college football is back, and the Ole Miss Rebels kick things off September 26th against the Florida Gators. Until then, we are going to dive into the position groups and what we expect from them during this 10-game abbreviated schedule.
Benito Jones, Josiah Coatney, Qaadir Sheppard and Charles Wiley are gone and Ole Miss’ defensive front is going to look entirely different under co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge. Durkin’s defense uses a lot of different looks, running primarily out of base 4-3 and 3-4 formations. He uses a buck linebacker, who plays as an outside linebacker in 3-4 sets and as an edge rusher in 4-3 sets, as well as rover linebacker/defensive back hybrids and a nickelback in coverage or as a pass rusher on downs with distance. He also uses a spur, which is a combination of all three and is basically just a guy being a dude. This ever-changing scheme makes it difficult to pinpoint exact positions, requires versatile athletes and calls for constant shuffling of personnel.
Let’s take a look at the trench warriors who will provide the first line of defense in 2020:
Defensive ends — Sam Williams, Tariqious Tisdale, Ryder Anderson
Sam Williams is back. He was suspended and missed much of the offseason and fall camp, but was reinstated earlier this month and will anchor the defensive line. At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Williams is a monster. He deadlifting nearly three times his own weight and has been clocked near a 4.5 second 40-yard dash.
The Montgomery, Ala. native tallied 37 total tackles in 2019 and led the team with six sacks. His massive size and shocking quickness is going to make on the edge and Williams will be used in a variety of different ways and packages depending on the look that the offense gives Durkin and Partridge. If there is one thing to be certain on the Ole Miss defensive line in 2020, it’s that Williams is going to be a nightmare for opposing tackles and will finish as of the SEC’s statistical leaders.
On the other side, his defensive end counterpart Tariqious Tisdale carries similar size and weight at 6-foot-5, 295-pounds and also runs freakishly fast.
As a Northwest Mississippi JUCO transfer, Tisdale has found himself toward the end of the defensive line rotation in his first two years, but brings enough experience to take the next step. He started two games as a sophomore and made 33 total tackles in 12 games and followed it up with 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2019.
Tisdale spent the offseason and fall camp working on his ball-get off and pass rush, as well as his block-striking and basic technique. As one of a handful of seniors on a young defensive line, he is stepping into a leadership role and must see a production jump on the field for Ole Miss’ defense to succeed.
“The more we do up front, we help out better on the back end,” Tisdale said. “The more we can pass rush and get to the quarterback, the less pressure we can take off our corners and safeties and linebackers in coverage.”
Ryder Anderson will also be in the mix. The 6-foot-6 senior has played defensive end, outside linebacker and buck in his first three seasons. It can be expected that he will slide over and play as much on the end as he will line up across from a guard in a 4-3 set.
Interior linemen — Quinten Bevins, Ryder Anderson, Tariquious Tisdale
The biggest unknown on either side of the ball for Ole Miss comes at defensive tackle and 1-3 techniques. Jones and Coatney are in the NFL and the position will see a lot of inexperience and rotation.
Reports from fall camp suggest that Tisdale will primarily line up outside, but that he has been pushing in as a three-technique on pass rush downs. He is dynamic enough to beat a guard or come across the center with explosive physicality.
When Tisdale is pushed out, Quinten Bevins and Anderson will split the duties. Bevins is the more tradition nose tackle of the group at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds and tallied 18 total tackles, including 2.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman last season. He played really well in a limited role. He will try to follow in the steps of fellow Waynesboro, Miss. product Jones and become a dominant run stopper in the middle.
Anderson, who is not a traditional three-technique, made four starts in the first five games of 2019 before a lower-leg injury took his season. He is a true senior this fall and has embraced a leadership role during the offseason and fall camp. His athleticism is legit and
Reserves — Hal Northern, Patrick Lucas Jr., K.D. Hill, Demon Clowney, Tavius Robinson, Sincere David
Hal Northern is transferred in from Northwest Mississippi CC in 2018 and redshirted that year. He played an extremely limited role last fall, but will see an increased amount of snaps this year. At 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, he will be used in the one technique position.
Patrick Lucas Jr., Sincere David and K.D. Hill also fit the traditional defensive tackle mold. All three were three-star recruits and will see greater roles in the rotation this fall. Don’t sleep on David.
Demon Clowney, the cousin of Jadeveon, was part of Lane Kiffin’s first signing class in February. He will need to put some weight on his frame before he can consistently compete in the SEC, and has been playing more outside linebacker than defensive end in camp. He will factor into the snap distribution at the BUCK position in some capacity.
Tavius Robinson is the biggest surprise of fall camp. The 6-foot-7 defensive end transferred to Ole Miss from Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute in Ontario, Canada during the offseason. When he first signed, the assumption was that he would be a project guy that develops into an important reserve role next year. However, with the blanket waiver granted to all fall athletes, he will not lose a year of eligibility if the staff chooses not to redshirt him. Robinson is not only tall, but has made serious improvements very fast. He may not be a big component of the line initially, but he could quietly work his way into a significant role by the end of the year. There isn’t a true indication of how good he will be right away, but the wheels are in motion for his success.