Preview 2009 - Defense
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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.
Kendrick Lewis, 85
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
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
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
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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
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.