A position by position look at the Rebels after signing day …
There are intriguing pick-ups at the ends and just as much intrigue by who is returning.
I thought we might see improved sack numbers off the edge with the arrival of Robert Nkemdiche.
That didn’t happen immediately, and Nkemdiche was soon moved inside.
CJ Johnson led the team with 6.5 sacks in 2012. Through his injury-plagued 2013 he appeared in only four games but was on pace for 13 tackles for loss.
Johnson is pursuing a medical redshirt that would give him two more years of eligibility. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack calls Johnson, when healthy, the team’s best defensive player.
When he was out it changed the pass rush for everyone, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
In 2012 Ole Miss got more push from its defensive interior than it did in 2013. Without Johnson, the Rebels went from second in the SEC and 11th in the nation with 2.92 sacks a game to 12th in the SEC and 96th in the nation with 1.54 per game.
This is an area that needs to improve across the board, not just with defensive ends, but a healthy Johnson is a great place to start.
A healthy Carlos Thompson can help too. Houston Nutt signed him out of Hollandale as an edge rusher. He hadn’t made much of an impact but seemed to be coming into his own when an injury cut short his 2013 season.
By season’s end, Bryon Bennett had moved out to end to provide depth, and D.T. Shackelford, who received a medical redshirt to return, was playing his best ball at the end.
Then there’s Channing Ward, the Aberdeen All-American who has had some memorable hits but hasn’t been able to stick with playing time.
Bennett could go either way. He seemed to enjoy playing end. Whatever the case, there are more bodies here provided the health remains in tact.
The Rebels will miss the stead run play of Cameron Whigham, but pass rushing was not his forte.
The newcomers are Victor Evans, a 6-4, 225-pound addition from Dallas who led Texas Class 5A as a senior with 16 sacks and routinely hurried quarterbacks even if he didn’t catch them. He added 24 tackles for loss.
Marquis Haynes is a prep school signee who has enrolled and will go through spring drills.
He was credited with nine forced fumbles at Fork Union Military Academy last season.
Freeze says Jeremy Liggins will start his career on offense splitting time at quarterback and tight end. Defensive end is a possibility.
I don’t put too much stock in statistics from previous competition levels, but they do make interesting talking points.
Pass rush and forced turnovers are a welcome sight from any position on defense, but they lend themselves more easily to defensive end.
Injuries are always the X factor, but it does appear the Rebels have a good jumping off point for their ends for 2014. That’s especially true if Robert Nkemdiche develops as expected and demands the attention of multiple blockers from his tackle spot.