It will be hard for the Rebels to be able to match the production of the defensive line without star contributor and eventual first round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche. While Nkemdiche leaves a hole at the defensive tackle spot, the defensive line looks to have much more depth this season.
As tough as it is to accept losing a former No. 1 recruit on the defensive line, the defensive tackle position looks like it will be loaded next season. Redshirt sophomore Breeland Speaks played excellently when filling in for Nkemdiche last season and could break out as a star this season when he sees an increase in playing time. Senior Issac Gross is also slated to return after missing last season with a neck injury. Gross is undersized but has great power in his frame and the speed to make a big impact next to a larger defensive tackle.
Senior D.J. Jones returns for his final season and should be able to build on an impressive debut with the Rebels last season. Jones had 40 tackles and four sacks and should have a chance to start at nose tackle in the fall. Also in the defensive tackle rotation will be Austrian Robinson, Ross Donelly and Herbert Moore.
New defensive tackle Benito Jones could also factor into the equation, as the former five-star recruit has NFL size at 6 feet 2 inches and 308 pounds, but also has the speed that led to him making 83 tackles and 14 sacks in his final year of high school.
At defensive end, the Rebels return their top pass rusher in the undersized but speedy Marquis Haynes, who is going into his junior year. On the other side will be Fadol Brown, who has NFL size at 6 foot 4 inches and 273 pounds. Brown’s strength at the defensive end position is a perfect complement to Haynes’ quickness.
Senior John Youngblood was awarded the Chucky Mullins Courage Award and brings plenty of experience and consistency to the group. Youngblood had 19 tackles last season and will be key for the Rebels’ depth. Redshirt sophomores Victor Evans and Garrald McDowell played sparingly last season but could see a big uptick in playing time as they continue to develop.
In the freshman class, Charles Wiley is a rangy pass rusher who could see time as a freshman but could also be redshirted. Either way, the Rebels look to have improved depth in the trenches and could possibly be even better this season.