Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know: This
should've been the year when everything started to come together
for the Rebel defense, but the loss of all three starting
linebackers, along with some major uncertainty in the secondary,
will make this an inconsistent year, at least early on. The
defensive line will be the strength with end Marcus Tillman on
the verge of stardom, and the tackle combination of Peria Jerry
and Jeremy Garrett to be among the best in the league ... if
they stay healthy. The secondary lost some of its top safety
prospects to the depleted linebacking corps, and the corners
have to be far better. Ole Miss only picked off three passes
last year. That can't happen again.
Greg Hardy, 3
Interceptions: Dustin Mouzon, 1
Star of the defense: Sophomore DE Marcus Tillman
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore
LB Jonathan Cornell
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Kentrell
Best pro prospect: Tillman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Tillman, 2) SS Jamarca Sanford, 3)
NT Jeremy Garrett
Strength of the defense: Tackles, speed and athleticism
in the back seven
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: Ready to rise up and be one of
the stars of the defense, 6-4, 260-pound sophomore Marcus Tillman
should blow up after making 22 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for
loss. He was a superstar recruit who has the size to be a solid run
stopper and the athleticism to be a regular in the backfield.
In the middle will once again be 6-2, 300-pound junior Peria Jerry,
who made 22 tackles and a sack despite fighting through injuries and
missing almost half the season. Good enough to play anywhere on the line
with the quickness to play end if needed, he should grow into a good
interior pass rusher if he can stay healthy.
Next to him on the nose will be 290-pound senior Jeremy Garrett
after a great half a year making 26 tackles and three tackles for loss.
One of the team's toughest players, he has a non-stop motor and finds
ways to make plays, but he has to stay healthy after missing time
throughout the middle of the season.
Benefiting from the attention being paid to Tillman on the other side
will be 6-5, 225-pound redshirt freshman Kentrell Lockett, a pure
pass rusher who should be able to pin his ears back and get into the
backfield on a regular basis. A forward on the basketball team, he's a
Projected Top Reserves: While Lockett should hold
down the starting job, he'll still have to improve to fend off 255-pound
sophomore Greg Hardy. While he doesn't have the same upside as
Lockett, he's a good playmaker with 49 tackles last season with three
sacks and five tackles for loss. Like Lockett, he's also part of the
Rebel basketball team.
300-pound senior tackle Brandon Jenkins is a luxury to have in
the rotation behind Jerry. Coming off a good 21 tackle, one sack season
with two recovered fumbles, he could step in and start, like he did for
Garrett for seven games. Also back in the mix is 260-pound senior
Viciente DeLoach, who made 11 tackles last year and will backup
Tillman. He has the size and the quickness, but he hasn't been able to
put it all together.
Watch Out For ... the emergence of Tillman as an
all-star caliber performer. He has the talent, and he has the tackles
next to him to take the pressure off.
Strength: Potential. Good recruiting classes, and lumps
taken to get everyone's feet wet, should pay off with a good starting
four that will be able to hold its own against anyone in the league.
There's size, quickness, and experience.
Weakness: Proven production. While the Rebels have a
slew of players who look the part, they don't have anyone who's actually
dominated at an SEC level yet. The line struggled way too much in all
phases last year.
Outlook: With seniors at tackle and big-time
promise on the ends, the Rebels have to be better than 106th in the
nation in sacks, 103rd in tackles for loss and 94th in run defense.
However, not all the pieces were in place. Expect a night-and-day
difference as the starting foursome should be fantastic if everyone can
stay healthy. The plus side from last year's injuries was the experience
gained by the backups. That'll pay off this season.
Projected Starters: All sophomore Jonathan
Cornell has to do is replace the best defensive player in America,
Patrick Willis, who made 265 tackles in the last two seasons in the
middle. Cornell got a start on the weakside late in the year against LSU
and finished the season with six tackles in seven games, and now he'll
have to use his speed to make plays sideline to sideline. He's
undersized at 220 pounds, so he'll have to prove he can hold up.
Losing Willis hurts, but the early departure of Rory Johnson, who made
94 tackles last year, also stings. 220-pound UCO transfer Jamie
Phillips isn't as big as Johnson, but he has big-time potential with
big hitting ability and the quickness to become a disruptive force in
the backfield and against the pass. He should be a stat-sheet filler.
To add to the troubles of the corps, the loss of Garry Pack means
someone has to step up on the strongside, and that'll likely be
235-pound junior Antonio Turner, a former running back who made
the switch this spring. He ran for 79 yards as a power runner, and now
he'll have to fight through the inevitable growing pains to be
Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Allen
Walker is a safety-sized 6-1 and 200 pounds, but he can move on the
He's a good open field
tackler who came to Ole Miss as an elite safety prospect, but he'll
start out behind Phillips just to get him on the field. The same goes
Ashlee Palmer on the other side, who's too good an athlete not to
find a spot somewhere. He was a top safety prospect
who'll move to the strongside to provide some depth. He's only 214
pounds, didn't play last year, and hasn't stayed healthy throughout
his career, but the former high school quarterback has the speed
to make an impact.
245-pound junior Brandon Thomas is the team's biggest running
back option and was tremendous in the spring game, and now he'll have to
bring some toughness to the middle behind Cornell. While he'll be a key
defender in the rotation inside, he has the quickness to play on the
weakside if needed.
Everything might change this fall when top recruits Tony Fein and
Chris Strong hit campus. The 245-pound Strong could end up moving
to defensive end with his strength and size, but he might be needed
right away in the linebacking corps. Fein is also 245 pounds and is more
ready to make an impact immediately coming over from the JUCO ranks. He
spent close to four years serving in Iraq before making 136 tackles and
12 tackles for loss at Scottsdale CC. Toughness isn't an issue.
Watch Out For ... the depth chart to be written in
pencil. Not only will there be a good rotation, there will be a lot of
movement with every linebacker able to play any spot. The coaching staff
will work throughout the fall to find the right combination.
Strength: Athleticism. There are negatives to using a
slew of safeties as linebackers, but on the plus side, everyone
can move. Look for a ton of assisted tackles.
Weakness: Size. Beyond the experience issue, this group
isn't all that big. Teams like Auburn have shown you can get away with
smallish, fast linebackers, but there could be problems early on against
power running teams.
Outlook: The Rebels knew they were going to lose
Willis, but to lose Johnson and Pack takes a potential strength and
makes it a glaring weakness ... for the moment. There's plenty of speed
and quickness for all three spots, and while there might not be the
great individual playmakers like last year's corps had, everyone will be
flying to the ball and swarming to make plays. It'll take a while, but
don't expect the mega-dropoff you might think there'd be.
Projected Starters: Leading the way for a
secondary that has to be far better will be junior Jamarca Sanford.
He's not huge at 5-10 and 200 pounds, but the starting strong safety
filled in at linebacker starting on the strongside over the last four
games of last year and finished with 64 tackles. A huge hitter, he can
be a tone-setter for the secondary, while sophomore Kendrick Lewis
has to be solid against the run taking over for third leading
tackler Charles Clark. Lewis is a former wide receiver who caught five
passes for 31 yards before getting hurt. Getting around won't be a
problem, but being consistently physical will be.
Junior Dustin Mouzon will gets the start at left corner after
starting the final two games of last year. While he's a good tackler, he
hasn't shown much yet when the ball is in the air. One of the teams
faster players, he has to use his speed to break up more plays.
other side will be sophomore Cassius Vaughn after making five
tackles and a tackle for loss. He came to Oxford as a top recruit as
both a running back and a defensive back, and just now he's learning
what it takes to be a full-time defensive back.
Projected Top Reserves: In the fight for starting
spots, senior Nate Banks, at the very least, will be a great
reserve after starting for most of last year. With 43 tackles and six
broken up passes, he has been productive, but he hasn't used his elite
speed to become a shutdown corner. He might end up taking over on the
right side by the start of the season.
While Banks is a sure-thing
backup, the Rebels will have to deal with a vast array of unknowns.
One of the team's most interesting prospects is redshirt freshman
Markeith Summers, a 6-2, 190-pound pure athlete who was recruited as
one of the nation's top wide receiver
prospects. He'll make plenty of mistakes at strong safety, but the
upside is limitless.
Watch Out For ... more from the corners. Mouzon
and Vaughn might not be elite talents quite yet, but they have upgraded
the overall athleticism and speed at the position.
Strength: Safety prospects. Sanford is a sure-thing and
Lewis is promising, but the real excitement this fall will be over
Summers, junior Terrell Jackson, and current linebackers Ashlee Palmer
and Allen Walker. This will be one of the team's strengths over the next
Weakness: Interceptions. How many current Rebels picked
off a pass last year? One. Mouzon came up with one interception, the
other two (that's right, there were only three picks on the year) were
made by Charles Clark, who isn't on the team anymore.
Outlook: This could be a big problem. The
secondary struggled last season hurt by not pass rush to hurry
quarterbacks. There weren't any game-changing plays, not nearly enough
stops on third downs, and too much inconsistency. With some of the best
safeties playing linebacker, it'll take a while to find the right
combination to improve the overall production.
Projected Starters: The kicking game should be
solid with the return of sophomore placekicker Joshua Shene and
junior punter Rob Park. Shene connected on 14 of 17 field goals
last year with one of the misses coming from beyond 50 yards. He has
nice range and could become one of the SEC's best as the year goes on.
Park only averaged 38.9 yards per kick, but he put 16 inside the 20 and
forced ten fair catches.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be one of
the team's most consistent areas. With issues all across the board, the
coaching staff should be able to rely on Shene and Park.
Strength: The return game. Marshay Green averaged 11.2
yard per punt return and 25.2 yards per kickoff return. Dexter McCluster
will help out after averaging 21.1 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: Park's leg. It's good, but it's not the type
that'll bail the offense out of jams.
Outlook: The special teams will be among the best
in the SEC is Shene has a year like he did last year and if the return
game can shine again. The coaching staff has done a good job of
improving all areas, and it should pay off with another big season.