2011 Ole Miss Preview – Defense
Ole Miss DE Kentrell Lockett
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Ole Miss Rebel Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense was stunningly mediocre from the start in the loss to Jacksonville State, and things didn't get that much better with too many problems against the better running teams and not enough production against the pass. The pass rush was good as the defense finished 20th in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, but there weren't enough takeaways and there weren't enough big stops. The line is going to be a bit of a concern, but the ends should be strong with Kentrell Lockett getting a sixth year of eligibility and with Wayne Dorsey back. The linebackers should be solid and will get into the backfield on a regular basis, while the secondary should be better with three starters back. There's good athleticism across the board, but it won't matter unless there's more production.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Kentrell Lockett
Tackles: Damien Jackson, 68
Sacks: D.T. Shackelford, 5 (Inj.)
Interceptions: Charles Sawyer, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior NT Justin Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mike Marry
Best pro prospect: Sawyer
Top three all-star candidates: 1) CB Charles Sawyer, 2) FS Damien Jackson, 3) DE Kentrell Lockett
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Back Seven Experience
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, Tackle Experience
State of the Unit: The defensive front was supposed to be among the best in America, if not the best, but Kentrell Lockett tore his ACL early on, Jerrell Powe was very good, but not special, and there wasn't enough production against the run. The pass rush was fine, but it didn't blow teams away without Lockett. Now there's several big replacements needing to be made, most notably with the loss of Powe, but there are plenty of good pass rushers at all four spots to expect another strong year.
Just how healthy will Lockett be? He got a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing up his knee, but that was hardly his only issue. He was checked out for a heart problem, and while everything is fine, it'll be hard to count on him for a full season with all his issues. When he's right, the 6-5, 248-pound senior is one of the SEC's better pass rushers coming up with five sacks and 13 quarterback hurries two year ago, but he only registered six tackles with a sack and two hurries before getting hurt in the third game of the season.
Until Lockett is ready, 6-6, 262-pound senior Wayne Dorsey will be the team's top end after making 12 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss in a disappointing 2010. Scout.com's No. 1 JUCO transfer has size, quickness, and extreme athleticism who can come up with game-changing big plays at any time, and he has the motor and the burst to do far more if he gets help from the rest of the line. Sophomores Cameron Whigham and Carlos Thompson will combine forces to back up Dorsey. The 6-2, 256-pound Whigham made five tackles with a little bit of time in his first year, while the 6-4, 240-pound Thompson is a speed rusher who should make an impact when he gets his chances in the rotation.
On the other side, at least until Lockett is ready, will be the combination of juniors Gerald Rivers and Jason Jones. The 6-5, 245-pound Rivers a dangerous playmaker who started five games and finished with 14 tackles with 2.5 sacks, but it was the 6-2, 252-pound Jones who showed the most promise with 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries during his time in the mix. Always working and always moving, Rivers is a high-motor end who gets into the backfield on want-to, and both he and Jones are decent against the run.
Trying to take over for Powe on the nose is Bryon Bennett, a 6-2, 280-pound redshirt freshman who's built for the position and has just enough strength to be ready to roll right away. He'll be pushed by a slew of very big, very promising backups who have been waiting their turn, but he's a quick option who should be more than just a block of granite against the run; he'll get into the backfield from time to time. He'll work with 6-3, 298-pound junior Justin Smith, a career backup who doesn't have the raw bulk for the position, but is strong. He saw a little bit of time and made eight tackles with a half a sack, but he's quicker than Powe and should be able to get into the backfield. At 6-2 and 336 pounds, JUCO transfer Gilbert Pena will bring more size to the mix. The big prospect has the bulk needed to work on the nose, and he's surprisingly quick enough to be a key back up at the other tackle spot.
6-1, 302-pound sophomore Corey Gaines is a short, squatty tackle with good quickness and a nice burst for his size. Can he get into the backfield on a regular basis? That's the hope for him as he takes over in the interior as one of the top options at tackle, while Pena and 6-1, 288-pound redshirt freshman Carlton Martin will bring even more speed to the rotation. Gaines, a Tallahassee native, got away from Florida State, and while he's not considered a superstar prospect, he has the talent to hold his own with a little bit of time.
Watch Out For … Lockett's health. If he's close to 100% again, which is asking a lot considering he'll be less than a year removed from his knee injury, then he's the star the rebuilding line desperately needs. If he's able to come through as a situational pass rusher here and there, that might be good enough.
Strength: Quickness. All four spots will be manned by someone who can get into the backfield on a regular basis, but it'll take someone like Lockett to shine from the start to take the pressure off the rest of the line. If it's Dorsey who turns into a star, even better.
Weakness: Tackle. Losing Powe leaves a big hole, and Smith and Gaines need to show right away that they can hold their own against the better power running teams. The Rebels struggled against the run throughout last year, and it's likely to be an issue again.
Outlook: After years of building up the NFL talent throughout the years, the Ole Miss line is now undergoing a big change needing several young, untested players to step up their play while hoping for Dorsey can play up to his potential. This is a decent line that should get into the backfield, but it's not going to be the killer that last year's was supposed to be.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: The linebacking corps had to undergo a few minor changes last year, and while there wasn't a Patrick Willis in the bunch, Jonathan Cornell had a strong season leading the way with 80 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 14 tackles for loss. Now he's gone, but it was still supposed to be active group that would be among the team's biggest strengths. A major knee injury and an off-the-field issue depleted the corps, and now there's work to do.
Junior D.T. Shackelford started half the season and was a key part of the mix the entire year, finishing with 48 tackles, but his real worth was as a pass rusher from the outside making a team-leading five sacks with nine tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 244 pounds, he's a big, strong weakside defender who packed on weight over the last few years, but now he's out after suffering a knee injury in spring ball. On the plus side, it happened early enough that he should be ready for next year, but this is a huge hit. Wanted by everyone in the SEC, he was a terrific recruit who's built to play in the middle, but he was thriving on the outside.
Back on the other side is junior Joel Kight, a smallish 5-9, 226-pound run stopper who made 35 tackles with two sacks. While he'll start on the strongside, he's built more for the weakside and can play either spot with great energy and the ability to get into the backfield. He flied all over the field, and now with more responsibility and more time, he should be a statistical star.
The big key to the linebacking corps is the middle where 6-2, 248-pound sophomore Mike Marry will take over after making 22 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss as a key backup. Built like a safety when he arrived at Ole Miss, he hit the weights big time and is a rock with limitless range and great moves for his size. He could be used as a pass rusher from the outside if needed, but he'll shine in the middle.
6-1, 235-pound sophomore Clarence Jackson was a great high school running back tearing off 1,954 yards as a senior and with 63 touchdowns in his final two years, and he was going to be a factor on the outside. Unfortunately, he was booted off the team after getting charged with public drunkenness, and now the main men will be junior Rudy Wilson and sophomore Will Martin, undersized speedsters who'll be used to get into the backfield. The 6-0, 217-pound Martin started off his career at Southern Miss before transferring, while Wilson is a smart, fast 5-11, 216-pounder who has a little bit of experience and the athleticism to be a factor on the weakside.
Also in the hunt for a starting job will be C.J. Johnson, a ready-made middle linebacker who could've gone anywhere and is built to be a star. At 6-2 and 235 pounds he's big, but he's extremely fast with the ability to work on the weakside if needed. With the problems in the linebacking corps, he goes from being a luxury to a need.
Watch Out For … Marry. Kight is solid on the outside, but if Marry doesn't make a ton of tackles on the inside, the run defense will have problems. With the size and the strength needed, watch out for Marry to be the team's leading tackler.
Strength: Pass rush. The line was shockingly mediocre at getting into the backfield last year, and it should be more of the same this season. Turned loose, the outside defenders should combine for ten sacks and plenty of pressures.
Weakness: Run defense. The line wasn't a plus last year, and it should be a bit of a problem again, but the linebackers didn't do enough against the better ground games. There will be plays made in the backfield to make the stats look better, but the linebackers have to prove that they won't get powered over by the more physical teams.
Outlook: The linebackers will be fine, but it would've been nice to have had Shacklelford and Jackson. The more Kight will produce from the outside, and the more he can funnel into the middle, the better. There are several good, quick defenders who'll be far, far better if they can be clean with help from the front line, but they can get to the ball and take care of coming up with stops when needed. However, too many tackles will be made down the field.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: A complete and utter disaster last season, the Rebel secondary didn't take advantage of the strong pass rush from the front seven and gave up way too many big plays. The defensive backs couldn't come up with picks, making just six on the year, and they were toasted game after game allowing 250 yards or more seven times and giving up 24 touchdown passes. On the plus side, most of the key parts are back. Now they have to be better.
Senior Marcus Temple made 48 tackles with two tackles for loss and three broken up passes, but he didn't pick off any passes and he didn't do nearly enough against the top receivers. A veteran nickel and dime defender who easily made the transition to be a full-time corner, but he hasn't made enough plays when the ball was in the air. At 5-10 and 196 pounds, he's a decent tackler for his size, but the big plays have to start coming.
Back on the other side is 5-11, 174-pound sophomore Charles Sawyer, who showed off plenty of promise and plenty of skill last season making 49 tackles while tying for the team lead with two picks. He's a tall, thin player who proved to be too good to keep off the field and will likely be the team's best defensive back now that he'll be a full season starter. Hiccup quick, he cuts well and has the needed athleticism, but he has to show he can consistently hang with the No. 1 SEC targets.
Senior free safety Damien Jackson is the team's leading returning tackler after making 68 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss with four broken up passes and a forced fumble. At 6-2 and 210 pounds he's a big hitter who stepped in from the JUCO ranks and got the job done right away. A star pickup from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, he has the range and the talent to be an All-SEC playmaker if he can pick up more passes.
Stepping in at strong safety is 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Brishen Mathews, a big hitter who isn't afraid to throw his body all over the field to make a play. A key backup last year, he made 15 tackles with a broken up pass, and while he isn't all that big for the position, he should hold up well as a top tackler against the run now that he'll get more time.
A pair of JUCO transfers will make the biggest immediate impact on the defensive back rotation. 5-10, 204-pound safety Ivan Nicholas comes in from ASA College where he made 50 tackles with two sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. A big-hitting strong safety, he'll work in a rotation with Mathews and will push for the starting job right away. Looking to make an impact at corner is 5-11, 180-poud junior Wesley Pendleton from Copiah-Lincoln CC where he earned all-star honors. A former Mississippi high school track star, he's very, VERY fast and won't have any problem hanging with any receiver. He could be the playmaker the secondary has been looking for.
Watch Out For … The JUCO transfers. The Rebels wouldn't have gone so hard after Pendleton and Nicholas if they didn't have holes to fill, and Nicholas, particularly, will be counted on to become one of the team's most important backups.
Strength: Corners. Temple missed spring ball banged up, but he should be ready to roll for the start of the season to combine with Sawyer to give Ole Miss a pair of experienced, athletic defenders on the outside. They know what they're doing.
Weakness: Interceptions. After coming up with 13 picks two years ago, the six the defense made last year were paltry. The secondary didn't do nearly enough to come up with the big play to turn the momentum of games, and it failed time and again to put a halt on key drives.
Outlook: The secondary was last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and was 103rd in the nation in yards allowed. With more experience compared to last year, there's reasonable hope for a big turnaround, but that might only come with more help from the backups and even more from a pass rush that was among the best in the SEC last year.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: Junior Bryson Rose replaced Joshua Shene and was fantastic hitting 16-of-18 field goal tries. While he only hit two kicks from beyond 40 yards, he has a good enough leg to be tried out from deep if needed. As long as he's consistent from midrange, the coaching staff will take it.
Punter Tyler Campbell followed up a whale of a freshman season, when he averaged 44 yards per kick, but bombing away for 46.4 yards per kick with 13 put inside the 20. While he put too many kicks (8) in the end zone, he once again showed off a huge leg and got the inconsistent offense out of several big jams. In a conference full of all-star punters, he hasn't received the credit he deserves even though he led the nation in average. That should change this year.
Running back Jeff Scott should be one of the SEC's premier returners replacing Jesse Grandy, who averaged 14.7 yards per punt return with a 73-yard touchdown. Grandy also averaged 20.9 yards per kickoff return. Scott averaged 27.7 yards per pop on 15 kickoff return attempts, but with his tremendous speed and quickness he should be even stronger as a punt returner.
Watch Out For … Scott. Electric as a kickoff returner, the expectations are sky-high to see what he can do on punts. It's asking a lot to replace 14.7 yards per try, but he should be close.
Strength: Kicking game. It's not a stretch to suggest that the Rebels have the best kicker-punter combination in college football. Campbell is a weapon who can blast the ball 60 yards without a problem, while Rose could be a star if he hits a few bombs.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Rebels were awful in coverage allowing a whopping 23.4 yards per kickoff return and 13.4 yards per punt return. Considering the defense isn't going to be a rock, good field position will be a must.
Outlook: The kicking game will be phenomenal and the return game, thanks to Scott, will be strong. If the coverage teams can be merely adequate, the Rebel special teams will be among the best in the nation.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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