2007 Ole Miss Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Ole Miss Rebel Defense

Ole Miss Rebels

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Ole Miss Preview | 2007 Ole Miss Offense Preview
2007 Ole Miss Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Ole Miss Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jamarca Sanford, 64
Sacks: 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 Lockett
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:
Linebacker experience

Defensive Line

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 tremendous athlete.

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.
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. 
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.
Rating: 7.5


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 consistent.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Allen Walker is a safety-sized 6-1 and 200 pounds, but he can move on the weakside.
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 for JUCO transfer 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.
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.
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.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

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.

On the 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 prospec
ts. 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.
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 few years.
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.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

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.
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.
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.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Ole Miss Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Ole Miss Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Ole Miss Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007

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