The Ole Miss football team lost 22 upperclassmen to graduation or the NFL this offseason. Around 13 of these players were key contributors. Matt Luke and company will have a hard time bolstering an already lacking defense trying to install the 3-4, but an important factor in competing in the grindhouse that is the SEC is depth.
“We’ve gotten better. I feel like they’ve started to learn it, we’ve still got a long way to go,” new defensive coordinator Mike McIntyre said after this year’s Grove Bowl. “It’s going to be important how their summer goes, our walkthroughs in the summer and then when we get back in fall camp. We’ve got a lot installed but we’ve still got more to do.”
We’ll take an early look at each position group on the defensive depth chart and grade it based on skill, experience and depth.
DL: Benito Jones, Josiah Coatney, Austrian Robinson, Hal Northern, Ryder Anderson, Ty Reyes
This grade was going to be a B, but then I sat back to reminisce about last year’s defensive front. The Rebels return their starters with Benito Jones, Josiah Coatney and company, but those players were part of a defense that allowed over 200 yards rushing in seven of their 12 games, including 309 in the Egg Bowl.
Benito Jones needs to anchor down and return to his early form before his injury two years ago, when he looked like an all-SEC defensive tackle. Players like Ryder Anderson and Chucky Mullins Courage Award winner Austrian Robinson have to play out of their mind on the interior in the new defense for the run defense to improve this year.
OLB: Charles Wiley, Qaadir Sheppard, Kevontae’ Ruggs, Sam WIlliams,
Mike McIntyre’s 3-4 defense calls for the use of the standup outside linebacker, which has been an adjustment for the Landshark defense. The position asks players to do things a little bit differently on the edge. Linebackers have had to move down to the line of scrimmage while defensive ends take their hand out of the dirt for the first time.
“They have improved. I think at first they were like a fish out of water, and now they can swim in the water, but not very long,” McIntyre said. “I’ve felt good about it. I’ve seen steady improvement everyday and I definitely think they can do it.”
It looks like Charles Wiley and Qaadir Sheppard will take on the role as the go-to pass-rushers in the defense, backed up by Kevontae Ruggs and four-star transfer Sam Williams.
ILB: Mohamed Sanogo, Willie Hibbler, Jacquez Jones, Donta Evans, Josh Clarke
Again, this squad returns their starters, but that doesn’t mean much considering what happened last season. Mohamed Sanogo was No. 4 in the conference in tackles last year with 112, behind De’Jon Harris, Jordan Griffin and first-round draft pick Devin White. Momo will be Mike MacIntyre’s eyes and ears on the field in 2019.
“It’s going well, we have the personnel for it. We didn’t have the personnel for it last year,” Sanogo said. “Now we are at the minimum, it’s beginning to feel right and is coming together. Everybody is just learning what to do as far as what our responsibilities are.”
DB: Myles Hartsfield, Armani Linton, Jalen Julius, Jaylon Jones, Vernon Dasher, Montrell Custis, Kam’ron White
The defensive backfield lost Zedrick Woods and Ken Webster, who they leaned on for solid contribution, to the NFL. What they have left is Myles Hartsfield and a bunch of unproven guys.
There’s plenty of room for guys to step up and claim their spot in the rotation. The Rebels can really only improve with the departure of Crime Dawg McGriff and the upgrading arrival of Mike McIntyre.
Defensive GPA: 2.00
This is so much higher than expected. This Landshark defense pulled out the 2.00, just like the offense when everyone thought they would fail, but they’ve got a long way to go. The outside linebacker position is a make-or-break grade, and the Rebels will need the ball to roll their way at times. In the end, it’s hard to predict if they can bring this GPA up or take a catastrophic dip as expected, because they are so young at every level. However, if a few underclassmen take a step, stranger things have happened.