2009 Ole Miss Preview - Defense
Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy
Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy
Posted May 19, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Ole Miss Rebel Defense

Ole Miss Rebels

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Ole Miss Preview | 2009 Ole Miss Offense
- 2009 Ole Miss Defense | 2009 Ole Miss Depth Chart
- 2008 Ole Miss Preview | 2007 Ole Miss Preview | 2006 Ole Miss Preview 

What you need to know: Eight starters are back on a defense that was among the best in the nation at getting into the backfield, finishing first in tackles for loss and fourth against the run, and despite the loss of star tackle Peria Jerry, there could be even more production. Once he's back from a foot problem, end Greg Hardy will be one of the nation's elite pass rushers, but he's hardly alone. The Rebels will generate pressure from all four spots on the line, while the ultra-athletic, veteran linebacking corps will be all over the place including in the backfield. The secondary was thrown to the wolves last year and was fine, helped by a schedule that didn't see many passing teams until the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech, and while it won't be great, it won't be a weakness.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Kendrick Lewis, 85
Sacks: Greg Hardy, 8.5
Interceptions: Kendrick Lewis, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DE Greg Hardy
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Lawon Scott
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Patrick Trahan
Best pro prospect: Hardy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hardy, 2) FS Kendrick Lewis, 3) DE Kentrell Lockett

Strength of the defense: Pass rush, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Backup linebacker, Pass defense against teams that can throw

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: With Greg Hardy trying to get healthy, junior Kentrell Lockett is back after starting every game last year at the Bandit, or right end. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, he's a big speed rusher who finally came up with the breakout season expected long ago with 36 tackles, two sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss. A top recruit who was athletic enough to see time on the Ole Miss basketball team, he was supposed to be the star that Hardy became, and while it took a bit of time, he's now playing up to his potential.

With the Lockett/Hardy combination drawing all the attention on one side, 6-4, 260-pound senior Marcus Tillman doesn't necessarily take advantage as a pass rusher, coming up with just one sack over the last two seasons and with 26 tackles and six tackles for loss last year, but he's a great worker, a great example for the rest of the line, and he's tough against the stronger blockers. While he's not a great athlete, the one-time super-recruit is able to play tackle, having started on the inside in the first two games of last year, and he could make some noise at the next level as a 3-4 end.

At the moment, junior Ted Laurent will
be the starter on the nose, but he'll end up splitting time with Jerrell Powe. Laurent started seven games and made 24 tackles with a sack and seven tackles for loss as a very strong, very physical anchor who at 6-0 and 303 pounds is a bowling ball of a defender. While he's not a pass rusher, he's great against the run and is good at taking up space.

Looking to take over  at tackle for all-star Peria Jerry, Atlanta's first round pick, is Lawon Scott, a 6-1, 322-pound junior who started on the nose in the first two games, the last three, and against Arkansas. He made 21 tackles with two sacks in his time, but he didn't bring the production game in and game out. He's not going to be Jerry as a pass rusher, but he'll be good against the run.

Projected Top Reserves:
Technically, senior Greg Hardy isn't a returning starter, he didn't get a start last season, but the 6-4, 265-pounder is one of the nation's best returning players and one of the best pass rushers. Formerly a part of the Rebel basketball team, he's a phenomenal athlete with tremendous speed off the edge and good toughness against the run. He didn't come up with the huge season expected after being in the doghouse early on and having injury problems. Even in his limited time, he made 8.5 sacks with five in the final three regular season games, an interception, and 18 tackles. He's trying to get over offseason foot surgery that kept him out of spring ball, but when he's right, he's a special playmaker who'll require constant double and triple teams.

After being the crown jewel of the 2005 Ole Miss recruiting class, it took a few years and a lot of academic tutoring before Jerrell Powe finally became eligible. The 6-2, 340-pound junior wasn't quite the star many were hoping for coming out of the box with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. He was a different player this spring playing harder than ever and looking like the player everyone was expecting. The future NFLer is listed as a backup nose tackle coming out of spring ball, but that could quickly change.

While Tillman is a good veteran, he's not an explosive pass rusher. 6-3, 235-pound senior Emmanuel Stephens is a big-time pass rusher. The former JUCO transfer has tremendous speed and tremendous upside, but he didn't do enough to be disruptive making just one sack with 5.5 tackles for loss with 18 tackles. He stepped up his game this offseason and ramped up his motor in practices.

Watch Out For ... Powe. He's one of the most interesting stories in recent recruiting history. From the controversy over whether or not he can read, to the academic issues, to the battles with the NCAA, to a recent problem with the police for playing his stereo too loud, there have been plenty of news items swirling around him. Now, can he actually play? He has all the tools, and with the way he looked this offseason, he could become a breakout superstar.
: Pass rush. The line brings it from all four spots and will consistently pressure quarterbacks and make big plays behind the line. The Rebels finished first in the nation in tackles for loss with 111, and was fourth in sacks with 38. There might be even more if Hardy plays a full season.
No Peria Jerry. While this might be the nation's best defensive line, or at least very close, losing a tackle like Jerry, who did everything for the interior of the line, will hurt. Even if Powe becomes the star he's supposed to be, he's not likely to do what Jerry did.
Outlook: The call went out to start getting into the backfield more, and Ole Miss answered in a huge way. New defensive line coach Terry Price has a loaded front four with depth, athleticism, options, and next level talent to play around with. Only injuries and bone-headedness off the field could keep this group from being fantastic.
Rating: 10


Projected Starters:
The big question mark going into the spring was the weakside linebacker spot, vacated by Ashlee Palmer. Up stepped Patrick Trahan, a superstar JUCO transfer who started out his career at Auburn, made 120 tackles and nine sacks for NW Mississippi CC, and ended up in Oxford. He got two starts in place of Palmer, including in the Cotton Bowl, and finished with 29 tackles, two sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss, but he was considered a disappointment. That all changed this spring when the 6-3, 225-pound senior came up with a monster series of practices showing leadership and consistency that was missing last year, and the athleticism that was there all along. He should be one of the team's most disruptive playmakers.

Back in the middle is Jonathan Cornell, an unsung rock on the inside who made 45 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. While he's not all that big at just 6-1 and 225 pounds, he's a smart leader, extremely quick, and still improving. The junior has had problems in the past with a shoulder injury, and he'll have to continue to prove he can take the pounding. If it all comes together and he can do a bit more to make big plays, he'll be an all-star.

6-1, 215-pound junior Allen Walker was an elite defensive back prospect when he signed on, but he's been more than just a beefed up safety making plays all over the field on the strongside. He made 41 tackles with two sacks and an interception in his first year as a starter, and now he's expected to be more consistent and even better.

Projected Top Reserves: Lamar Brumfield is the team's most versatile linebacker, able to play any of the three spots, and will be the fourth man in the mix. While he'll start out playing behind Walker on the strongside, he'll see time in the rotation everywhere. He got two started early on and finished with 21 tackles with two tackles for loss, but the 6-0, 224-pound senior will likely double the production this year.

Part safety, part linebacker, 6-0, 190-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Sanders will move back and fourth between the secondary and the linebacking corps where needed. Considered a corner when he was first recruited, he has tremendous speed for the weakside position and should be used in nickel and dime packages.

Extremely raw and needing more time and as many reps as possible, redshirt freshman Jason Jones is a promising middle linebacker with great range and excellent upside. The 6-2, 220-pounder will be brought along slowly, but he'll see plenty of action.

Watch Out For ... Brumfield. It's not a stretch to call him one of the team's most valuable players, and certainly one of the most important reserves, considering he can play anywhere in the linebacking corps. Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix has said that Brumfield will be the first backup in at all three linebacking spots, and he can produce wherever needed.
The starting three. With the emergence of Trahan this offseason, the linebacking corps goes from being along for the ride, with the defensive front the stars of the show, to playmakers who should shine on their own.
The non-Brumfield backups. While Ole Miss has four linebackers, it doesn't have a fifth. The redshirt freshmen, Jones and Sanders, need as many reps and as much time as possible to be ready to get into the flow. If they need to be counted on right away, there will be problems.
Outlook: This is a tremendously fast, tremendously athletic group of linebackers that has the experience and the upside to do far more. It's not like they were bad last year, and they held up well despite the lack of bulk, but now the coaching staff can turn everyone loose. There might not be any superstars to spotlight, but the top four defenders (Trahan, Cornell, Walker and Brumfield) are all solid.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Expected to be a backup to start last season, senior Kendrick Lewis started every game at free safety and led the team with 85 tackles with four interceptions and six broken up passes. A fantastic open-field tackler and a great hitter with unlimited range, the 5-11, 192-pound former wide receiver was all over the field all the time and he didn't miss many stops. After a shaky year against the pass in 2007, he stepped up in a big way and became a hawk when the ball was in the air. The leader in the secondary, he has no problem yelling when needed while setting a great example with his play.

It'll be up to 5-11, 207-pound junior Johnny Brown to take over for Jamarca Sanford at strong safety. He has always had the ability, but he was never able to put it all together and consistently play up to his talent. He made 28 tackles, but he didn't do anything against the pass. This spring he showed he could potentially become a top player in all phases.

The big move of last year in the secondary was Marshay Green going from receiver, where he made 31 catches in 2007, to a starting corner spot. The 5-9, 170-pound senior came through in a big way, considering he was thrown to the wolves and was hardly polished, making 32 tackles with two interceptions and six broken up passes. While he's not big and he's still trying to figure out what he's doing, he has the speed and quickness to keep up with any receiver.

Back on the other side is Cassius Vaughn, a 5-10, 185-pound senior who has the talent and he has the experience, but he has to focus. While he got burned a bit too often, he won his share of battles with a team-leading three picks and four broken up passes, and he was a decent tackler making 43 stops. A top running back when he first came to Ole Miss, he has learned how to be a good defensive back. But there's still room to improve.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the big surprises in last year's secondary was Marcus Temple, who came up with 22 tackles as a nickelback in his true freshman campaign. Extremely strong, the 5-9, 181-pound sophomore is a tough defender who plays bigger than his size, and while he'll start out as a corner, he'll see plenty of time again in nickel and dime situations once he returns from a dislocated shoulder.

Former UCLA running back Jeremy McGee has worked on becoming a corner, and he still needs to learn the finer points, but he has elite speed and good upside. The 5-10, 178-pound junior was a star high school sprinter and is starting to show off his wheels a bit more to go along with the improved play as a defensive back.

The No. 3 safety in the rotation will be Fon Ingram, a decent reserve who made 16 tackles and an interception in his limited action. He saw time in every game and can play either safety spot, but he'll start out behind Kendrick Lewis at free safety to best utilize his range and speed. The 5-11, 190-pound junior will likely double his playing time.

Watch Out For ... more consistency. The Ole Miss defensive backs were extremely green and needed time to figure out what they were doing. They got it. Now the secondary should be tighter, smarter, and better now that most of the key parts are veterans.
Speed. The Rebels have patched together a secondary with several players who started out their careers at different positions. However, everyone can run extremely well and everyone can fly around. While this isn't a big group, everyone can hit.
Reliable backups. While there has been a major improvement all across the board, with the defensive backs looking like veterans this spring, the reserves could still use a bit more work. McGee and Temple are better, but can they do it in a real game?
Outlook: The secondary didn't play many teams that could throw throughout the regular season, and the stats looked better than the actual performance. But everyone grew up just in time to come up with a good game against the Texas Tech passing machine, despite allowing 364 yards and four scores. This year, the raw prospects of last year are strong veterans, and helped by one of the nation's best pass rushes, there should be a major overall improvement. There were too many big plays allowed against bad passers, but those should be slowed down now. This won't be an elite secondary, but it won't be the weakness it was expected to be going into last year.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Joshua Shene went from good to special. The first-team All-SEC performer nailed 24-of-34 kicks in his first two seasons, and last year connected on 17-of-21 attempts. While he has good range and a strong leg, he topped out at 47 yards last season and missed three of his kicks from beyond 40 yards.

Senior Justin Sparks lost the battle for the starting punting job last year and was used only on kickoffs. It's his gig this year, taking over for the solid Rob Park who averaged 38.9 yards per kick and forced 20 fair catches. He was the starter in 2007 averaging 39.7 yards per kick while putting 15 inside the 20.

Corner Marshay Green is a solid punt returner averaging 10.9 yards per try with a 77-yard return for a score. Extremely quick, he's always making something positive happen. Running back Brandon Bolden will take over for Mike Wallace as the team's top kickoff returner. Wallace averaged 24.6 yards per try, while Bolden, on just seven attempts, averaged a paltry 15.4 yards per attempt.

Watch Out For ... Green to be an all-star punt returner. He turned into a solid return man last year after struggling in 2007. Now that he has two years of experience, he should come up with a few more big returns and he should change around a few games.
Shene. He's the SEC's current leader in field goals with 42 and has been a steady rock for the last three years. An All-America candidate, he should be a difference maker and can be relied on in tight battles.
Sure-thing kickoff returns. Wallace was the kickoff return game, and while Bolden has the speed to do far more, he didn't show off anything last year when he got his chances.
Outlook: There aren't any major problems, but outside of Shene and the punt coverage team, there isn't any one area that's fantastic. The special teams are solid across the board and won't be outplayed by many teams.
Rating: 7.5