What you need to know ...
The defense had its moments in head coach/defensive
coordinator Ed Orgeron's first season and should be even better
now with all-everything linebacker Patrick Willis back along
with one of the SEC's best unsung secondaries. The entire front
four needs to be replaced, but that's not the end of the world
with the likely emergence of pass rusher Paria Jerry along with
several promising prospects. There could stand to be more
interceptions and more sacks; the two will likely go hand in
Garry Pack, Patrick Willis, 3
Interceptions: Several with 1
Star of the defense: Senior LB Patrick Willis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
LB Quentin Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Nate Banks
Best pro prospect: Willis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Willis, 2) SS Jamarca Sanford, 3)
CB Trumaine McBride
Strength of the defense: Safety, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Defensive line experience
Ed Orgeron is coaching this team; the
defensive line is eventually going to be a strength. There's little to
no experience with all four starters being replaced, but the potential
is there for this to be a far better group if Peria Jerry turns into the dominant end
he was throughout spring ball. Heyward Howard and Brandon Jenkins are
going to be nice tackles to build around. The number two line could use
some more work, but the focus will be squarely on the starting four and
getting them as much time as possible to jell.
The key to the unit: Getting to the quarterback more
than last year's line is a must. It'll be a far better front four by the
end of the year than it is going into the summer. Getting from point A
to point B in a hurry will be critical.
Defensive Line Rating: 7
- DE Peria Jerry, Soph. - 3 tackles
The light appeared to go on for Terry this spring as he blossomed after
moving from tackle to end. He's huge for the outside at 6-2 and 290
pounds with tremendous quickness and natural pass rushing skills. Good
enough to play anywhere on the line, he'll flourish in time if he can
develop on the end.
- DT Heyward Howard, Soph.
A strong interior pass rusher, the 6-4, 300-pound JUCO transfer
struggled out of the gate this spring and then was unblockable at times
as the practices wore on. After originally signing with Michigan State,
Howard turned into as star at Eastern Arizona CC where he made 27
tackles for loss.
- NT Brandon Jenkins, Jr. - 3 tackles
While not massive at 6-5 and 280 pounds, Jenkins is tremendously strong
and should grow into a good anchor on the nose with the potential to
hold at the point of attack and let everyone around him shine. He saw a
little bit of time over the first two seasons at tackle as well as
guard, and now he appears to have found a home.
- DE Chris Bowers, Soph. - 12 tackles
Bowers has the most experience on the line getting two starts and plenty
of backup work before getting knocked out for the final month of the
season. He's 231 pounds and isn't a rock against the run, so if he's not
consistently getting into the backfield, he's not helping out the line.
- DT Jerrell Powe, Fr.
And with the 19th pick of the 2008 NFL Draft ... he's really that good.
The prize jewel of last year's recruiting class spent last year at the Hargrave
Military Academy getting his grades in order, but it didn't work out and
he'll be academically ineligible. He's 6-2 and 330 pounds
with next-level quickness and pass rushing ability from the inside.
- NT Jeremy Garrett, Jr. - 10 tackles, 1 TFL
The 275-pound junior saw a little bit of time last year and is versatile
enough to play either tackle position. He's the team's most experienced
tackle and will see plenty of time in the rotation early on.
- DE Vincent DeLoach, Jr. - 3 tackles
He has the size and he has the quickness. Now he has to put is all
together and become a playmaker behind Peria Jerry at end. He saw a
little bit of time last season and showed flashes this spring of
becoming a reliable number three end in the rotation.
The surprising return of Patrick Willis for his senior
season makes a potentially decent corps special. One of the nation's
best defenders, Willis will be the rock of the Ole Miss defense and
should allow veteran Garry Pack and rising sophomore Quentin Taylor to
make big plays on the outside. The depth needs time to develop, and will
get it this fall.
The key to the unit: Quentin Taylor needs to shine on
the weakside right away and Patrick Willis has to be Patrick Willis
Linebacker Rating: 8
- Quentin Taylor. Soph. - 13 tackles, 2 TFL
Taylor saw a little bit of work last season as a true freshman and now
takes over for Kelvin Robinson as a big, 235-pound weakside defender.
It'll be a work in progress for him to become an all-around playmaker
needing to take advantage of several plays being pushed his way from
Patrick Willis in the middle, and he needs to prove he can get into the
backfield and be consistent in pass coverage.
- Patrick Willis, Sr. - 128 tackles, 3 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 4 broken
up passes, 1 interception
One of the nation's best defensive players, Willis will no longer be the
hidden gem that only SEC fans know about. He's a fast 6-2 and 230 pounds
who was good enough to have been no worse than a second round NFL draft
pick had he decided to leave early after dominating last season with
five games of double-digit solo tackles (leading the nation in solo
stops) and with double-digit stops in every game he was healthy except
one; he made nine stops against Arkansas. Not just a run stopper, he has
the range to be adequate in pass coverage to go along with the timing to
be a solid pass rusher. He was out this spring recovering from surgery
on his foot, but he's expected to be more than fine by the time fall
- Garry Pack, Jr. - 61 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 TFL, 1 interception
Overshadowed by Patrick Willis, Pack turned in a strong season finishing
third on the team in tackles and tied for the team lead in sacks. He was
a bit inconsistent as a sophomore on the strongside but showed a good
flair for getting into the backfield and made several big plays against
the run. He should flourish now that he knows what he's doing and with
Willis to help clean up any mistakes.
- Robert Russell, Soph. - 15 tackles
Russell will find time as the first man in the rotation in the middle
and on the strongside. At 235 pounds, he's a much bigger option than
Garry Pack and even adds a bit more bulk than Patrick Willis. He's a
rock against the run, but he hasn't shown much yet in other areas.
- Rogers Loche, RFr.
Loche will be groomed behind Patrick Willis to be the main man in the
middle next season. He got plenty of chances this spring with Willis
out, and he made the most of the opportunity making plays all over the
field as the sessions went on. He's only 6-0 and 225 pounds with room to
get bigger and stronger.
The secondary finished 14th in the nation allowing 179 yards
per game and gave up just 12 touchdown passes. While the Rebels didn't
exactly face a who's who pass passing attack, this was enough of a
strength to be excited about the possibilities this season with three
starters returning. The new face in the starting four, cornerback Nate
Banks, might turn out to be the best of the bunch coming off a
tremendous spring. Charles Clark and Jamarca Sanford are solid safeties
who have to make more big plays against the pass, while Trumaine McBride
is good enough to be considered one of the SEC's better shutdown
The key to the unit: Pick off more passes. The Rebels
only came up with six interceptions last season.
Secondary Rating: 7.5
- CB Nate Banks, Jr. - 15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL
Banks went from being a lightning fast back up to a potentially top
shutdown corner this spring. He'll get the start on the left side as the
only new starter in the secondary taking over for Travis Johnson, and he
could become the best of the bunch. He has decent size at 5-11 and 180
pounds with the wheels to hang with any receiver in the SEC.
- FS Charles Clark, Sr. - 40 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up
Clark saw his production dip a bit last season but still was solid. With
133 career tackles, he has been a good hitter and is the leader of the
veteran secondary. He always seems to be in the right spot, but now he
has to make more plays when the ball is in the air; he only has one
career interception and nine broken up passes..
- SS Jamarca Sanford, Soph. - 58 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 broken up
passes, 2 fumble recoveries
Sanford missed all of spring ball but will be back this fall after
recovering from off-season surgery. He had a great freshman season
finishing fourth on the team in tackles showing great skills in the open
field. he's a tone-setting hitter who should start to get a little bit
of All-SEC recognition if he can build on what he did last year.
- CB Trumaine McBride, Sr. - 34 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 interception, 8
broken up passes
A top all-around corner over the last two seasons with 24 broken up
passes, McBride is a speedy ball-hawker who'll be the team's number one
corner as well as a top punt returner. He won't have to carry the entire
load with the emergence of Nate Banks on the other side.
- SS Bryan Brown, Sr. - 19 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2
broken up passes
Brown stepped in this spring with Jamerca Sanford was out and was so
good that strong safety should now be a major strength. He has seen time
as a kick and punt returner and will likely see time as the first safety
in the mix if he doesn't go nuts this fall and upset Sanford for the
- CB Dustin Mouzon, Soph. - 14 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The team's top backup corner will also see time as the nickel back. He
had problems this spring with a groin injury that isn't expected to be
anything to worry about by fall. He's a reliable number two man behind
Trumaine McBride on the right side with good speed and surprising pop on
his tackles considering he's only 170 pounds.
The kicking game should be fine with several options to
work with. Will Moseley can do a little of everything and will start out
as the placekicker with Matt Hinkle in the mix. Rob Park will start out
at punter with Moseley also getting a shot this fall. The return game is
the biggest issue after finishing dead last in the nation in kickoff
returns averaging 15.41 yards per try. Freshman Marshay Green will start
out handling the kickoff and punt return duties.
The key to the unit: Get more consistency from the
kicking game and find some sort of production from the return game.
Special teams rating: 6
- PK Will Moseley, Sr. - 3-6 FGs, 3-4 extra points, 21
punts, 858 yds, 40.9 yards per kick, 4 inside the 20
Moseley has the biggest leg on the team and is a strong kickoff artist,
long range bomber, and occasional punter. Now he'll get the first look
to be the full-time kicker battling with last year's starter Matt
Hinkle. If he isn't consistent, it'll be Hinkle's job again.
- P Rob Park, Soph. - 43 punts, 1,641 yds, 36.2 yards per kick, 8
inside the 20
Park had a good, but not great true freshman
season splitting the work with Will Moseley. He doesn't have Moseley's
leg and will have to show more consistent pop. He's solid at forcing