The buzz for the consensus top five signing class starts here with the nation’s top recruit, Robert Nkemdiche.
The brother of Denzel Nkemdiche is listed at 6-5 and 270 and has been compared to South Carolina start Jadeveon Clowney, who many believe will be a Heisman frontrunner in 2013 and the first pick in the 2014 draft.
Nkemdiche will be counted on to play early as the Rebels try to find more explosion off the edge. The Rebels got 6.5 sacks from C.J. Johnson last year, tops on the team. Cameron Whigham, though, produced just 1.5 sacks. Jason Jones was a little better with 3.5 sacks, but Jones is gone, and the Rebels need more pressure from the end spot.
Nkemdiche is a big pick-up, but he’s the only defensive end in the class, and that’s not because there wasn’t an effort to sign more. Hugh Freeze went hard after other highly-rated high school players, most notably Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson.
The wild card among the ends is Channing Ward. He could really help with that rush off the edge if he continues to grow and begins to play at the level of his recruiting coverage. Dave Wommack felt like Ward took a big step the last week of spring. Before then Wommack and Freeze were calling on Ward to “turn it loose” more on the field. Wommack referenced a personal issue that Ward was working through. His play seemed to get better after he visited Wommack, Wommack said.
Ward (6-4, 256) didn’t make many dynamic plays in the spring but wasn’t out of position. He found his way to the backfield a few times but also did a good job of using his big body to stop the run. He did one thing in the spring that no one else seemed to do, and that was tackle Maikhail Miller one-on-one.
Program veteran Carlos Thompson, who was recruited as a speed rusher but has struggled to get on the field, ran first team ahead of Ward in spring.
Thompson had been mentioned as a possible move to tight end, but that didn’t come about in the spring.
Johnson sustained a broken leg early in spring drills but is going through rehab now and is expected to be full go for August.