With spring’s first football game just three days away, the Ole Miss Rebels still have plenty of kinks to iron out. Perhaps the biggest question mark going into next season is how newly hired defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff plans to turn around a defense ranked 111th nationally in 2016.
The most glaring issue McGriff needs to mend before fall rolls around is Ole Miss’ dreadful run defense from last year.
Ranked 120th out of 128 college teams, the Rebels conceded a thoroughly unimpressive 246.3 yards per game. To put that in perspective, only 37 quarterbacks in all of Division 1 football threw that many passing yards per game. McGriff and his defense have their work cut out for them.
Learning a new coach’s system relies heavily on proper communication. According to sophomore defensive tackle Benito Jones, assistant defensive line coach Freddie Roach’s new signals are much simpler than last year’s and allow the players to line up faster and have a better understanding of their roles on the field.
“[Roach] is very strict on us using our hands. He’s going to have us very prepared for next season,” Jones said.
Beyond audio and visual adjustments, Roach has also forced Jones and his teammates to rethink their technique, even requiring his players to watch NFL players of the same position in order to pick up tricks and skills.
“[The technique] is way different,” Jones said. “We transition the same techniques of the NFL players to us, and it’s been very useful.”
While simplified communication and improved technique may help move the Rebels from 120th on the rushing yards allowed list to a more respectable position in 2017, the defense will only be as effective as the secondary allows.
Ole Miss ranked 48th in passing defense, neither great nor awful, but had trouble getting off the field at times. The solution, again, points to simplicity.
“What Coach McGriff does a little bit better is that the defense is a little bit simpler,” defensive back Jaylon Jones said. “We don’t have to think as much. We already have the defensive schemes and now we’re just playing and not thinking [as much].”
This year’s team motto looks to be “the simpler, the better.” By limiting the number of plays to memorize, the defense will spend more time perfecting a small playbook, rather than remembering bits and pieces of a larger one.
As McGriff takes a step back in terms of complexity, he is allowed to crank the intensity at practice up past 10. A defense that knows what it’s doing can spend more time fine-tuning instead of constantly learning new material.
If the defensive line and secondary can put their disappointing season last year behind them and learn a few simple, time-tested techniques and schemes, then 2017 could be the year of the Landshark.