Ole Miss is coming off a “most improved” defense in 2021 after earning the title of “worst defense in the SEC and it isn’t even close” in 2020. There were a lot of factors that went into this dramatic change, but switching to a 3-2-6 base defense was the most important. This style of defense requires six defensive backs on the field, two linebackers, and only three defensive linemen. Rushing only three can be a bit of a red flag when going up against high-powered offenses, but for Ole Miss, it was their greatest strength. The Rebels had 40 sacks last season, the third most in the SEC, and when you factor in that this was essentially with only three pash rushers, it makes it even more impressive.
Recreating this success with the loss of Sam Williams this season will be very hard. Williams finished out his season last year and was selected in the second round of the NFL draft to the Dallas Cowboys. In 2021, he had 13 sacks, second in the SEC, and was explosive off the line for every play.
There is plenty of depth and talent at the position which is always a good sign in order to keep players fresh for rotations, but in order to replicate their success from last year, there needs to be a stand out playmaker. Lucky for us, there are quite a few contenders.
The Rebels are bringing back plenty of older guys who have enough playing experience in this defense to make them veterans. Most notably is Cedric Johnson, who is set to have a breakout season. Johnson had 6.5 sacks in his true sophomore season, showing glimpses that he can be the next explosive guy to lead the team in tackles.
Ole Miss Cedric Johnson is that dude! pic.twitter.com/BaFNyNUnxm— Robert Cardona (@CARDONAFAM29) April 6, 2022
Around him, you have Isaiah Iton and Jamond Gordon who both have opportunities to really be difference makers for this team. Brandon Mack suffered an injury last season but is good to go in fall camp along with Demon Clowney. They both need to make that slight jump in order to be starters on this team.
Tywone Malone, the dual-sport athlete, is one of the biggest question marks this season. He missed a lot of the spring playing baseball, but will be heading into a spring season where he will have a massive opportunity to live up to the hype he had as a freshman. There were glimpses last season, especially due to his speed and size, but staying healthy will be the biggest test.
Like every other position group on the team, head coach Lane Kiffin and company reloaded at defensive line in the transfer portal. Jared Ivey is coming from Georgia Tech where in his sophomore season he recorded 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 20 solo tackles. It will be key that he replicates and improves this next season. JJ Pegues, an Oxford native, transferred from Auburn. It will be exciting to see what he does on the line for Ole Miss.