The injury bug has taken its toll on the Ole Miss football team, as the Rebels have been without around seven defensive starters in their past two games against LSU and Idaho, which were both Ole Miss wins. However, with so many players out, the Rebels have relied heavily on many young players, and therefore forcing those guys to take on a larger role than they typically would. Redshirt freshman defensive end John Youngblood has done just that.
Youngblood, a Trussville, Ala., native, began his career as a Rebel at tight end before moving to defensive end this spring. It’s been a big adjustment for the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Youngblood, but both Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack have said the move has been good for him.
Youngblood has played in all eight games this season for Ole Miss with most of that action coming on special teams, but his first significant amount of time on the defensive side of the ball came against Texas A&M.
“It was something,” Youngblood said of being thrown into action against Texas A&M. “Coach looked at me and threw me out there. I think he was a little more nervous than I was. He kept running over everything and all the plays with me, but I went out there and did what I was doing in practice and coach was pretty pleased with it.”
Youngblood said that it was a dream to be able to get that many snaps in the recent weeks.
“I love it,” Youngblood said. “Definitely, a dream to live. Fortunately, I’ve been able to play, but unfortunately, some guys are hurt, but I’m taking advantage of what I’ve gotten.”
Youngblood has opened some eyes on the coaching staff and earned much more playing time these past few weeks. On the season, he has three tackles with one going for a loss, but those numbers could easily increase along with his snaps. Youngblood said things have been a bit different now, knowing that he will see the field for an extended period of time on Saturdays.
“I definitely prepared a bit more,” Youngblood said. “I watched a little more film, and I really practiced harder and tried to focus on what I can do well to be successful against those guys.”
Youngblood had seen the field before on special teams, but hadn’t really gotten the full taste of the action in the trenches before. He said things were a bit faster than he anticipated.
“It was definitely faster,” he said. “With those guys, nothing is slow out there no matter who you play. It’s been a great experience, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I’m glad to see my hard work is paying off.”
Now that Youngblood has gotten some experience on the defensive line under his belt, he feels that he knows now what he needs to work on.
“I think just my footwork, coming off the ball faster, and playing more physical,” Youngblood said. “I have the athleticism for it and have the moves, but I just have to put it all together. I have to come off the ball fast and be physical at the line of scrimmage.”
With several injured guys likely to return to their roles after having two weeks to get healthy before Ole Miss’ showdown with Arkansas on Nov. 9, it remains to be seen how much time at defensive end Youngblood will see the rest of the season.
However, Youngblood’s play the past three weeks has shown that if needed, he’s a guy the coaching staff can trust.
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