Fifteen of Rebel football’s new recruits will look to make an immediate impact on a depleted defense in the 2019 season. Last year, the Rebels ranked No. 121 in total defense, worst in the SEC by far. The Landshark defense was not able live up to its name, allowing 483.4 yards per game.
The poor showing from the Rebel defense in 2018 preceded in the firing of defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff after the season.
Ole Miss hired former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre to try and revive the once dominant defense in early December. The hire allowed Ole Miss to finish the recruiting period strong.
“I was confident because of the positive momentum we had. We had a very, very good offseason,” head coach Matt Luke said in a press conference on National Signing Day. “First of all, there’s a commitment to winning from our administration. We went out and signed Mike MacIntyre and Rich Rodriguez. Those are two big signees.”
The most highly touted recruit to join the Rebels yesterday was Dodge City Community College linebacker Lakia Henry. The No. 1 junior college inside linebacker was the last recruit to sign in the class and is expected to make an instant impact.
“Signing the No. 1 junior college linebacker in the country was a big deal for us,” Luke said. “We’ve struggled at that position, and to get a guy that can come in and give us immediate help, I think, is a big deal.”
Alongside Henry, the Rebels will bring in a few three-star linebackers in Ashanti Cistrunk (Louisville), Tavario Standifer (Tupelo) and Eric Jeffries from Lafayette High School.
Also along the defensive line, Ole Miss added three-stars LeDarrius Cox and Brandon Mack early on Signing Day. The big men joined fellow Alabama natives Sam Williams of Northeast Mississippi Community College and Patrick Lucas of Wetumpka, Alabama.
The host of defensive backs includes A.J. Finley, Jalen Jordan, Jamar Richardson, Jonathan Haynes, Jay Stanley and Deantre Prince, all of whom are three-star prospects.
“I think that, going into this second signing period, it was important that we get a pass rusher, a defensive tackle and a linebacker.” Luke said. “We were able to hit on all three of those, so I was very, very pleased with that.”
One thing to watch during spring football this year will be the transition from a 4-3 defense to MacIntyre’s 3-4 scheme.
“Some of our defensive ends are now playing outside linebacker, so it does change a little bit as far as numbers and who you’re wanting to sign,” Luke said. “We wanted to sign an outside linebacker with Brandon Mack, LeDarrius Cox — who gives us some size and girth — and an inside linebacker with Lakia (Henry), so we filled all those needs.”
Spring practice is set to begin later this month, and the annual Grove Bowl scrimmage is scheduled for April 7. Both new and old players will be vying for a starting position on the new Landshark defense.
“Top to bottom, I feel like this class can be the foundation of where we want to go as a program,” Luke said.