The Ole Miss defense has been the subject of much criticism over the last two seasons, but the “Landshark D” hopes to turn its fortunes around in 2018.
The Rebels are inexperienced at the linebacker position but plan to rely on their secondary to stop opposing offenses this season. Head coach Matt Luke believes that the Rebels can rely on their defensive backs to lock up downfield and be able to commit more bodies to stopping the run this season.
“I think having an experienced secondary — being able to load the box on (opponents) — should help us,” Luke said. “We’ve just got to find a way to continue to build and get better in our second year.”
A key part of this experienced secondary is senior Ken Webster, who has fought through various stages of adversity to be able to play on Saturdays. Webster was injured in the first game of the Rebels’ 2016 season but believes that he can return to his former self this year.
“Coming back (last season), I was very nervous but very excited, at the same time,” Webster said. “With me coming in the summer and actually grinding and all that, I think I’m ready to take another step (toward) being the person I was before I got hurt.”
Webster also believes that having a year of experience in defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff’s system will help this secondary reach new heights in 2018.
“This is our second year in the defense, so we know it a lot better and are a lot more comfortable with it now,” Webster said. “We’ve got a lot (of players) returning on the defense, on the secondary and in the defensive line position, also.”
Along with Webster, the Rebels return three other upperclassman corners in Javien Hamilton, Myles Hartsfield and Jaylon Jones as well as upperclassman safeties Zedrick Woods and C.J. Moore.
Although the secondary is experienced, McGriff has seen promise from some young defensive backs who he expects will get some playing time in 2018.
“You look at (sophomore) C.J. Miller — he’s probably the most improved guy in the secondary,” McGriff said. “He’s done a tremendous job. His confidence has improved, (and) his communication has improved.”
The Rebels also return names like Montrell Custis, Cam Ordway and Armani Linton to their defensive backfield. Redshirt freshman Kam White and junior college transfer Vernon Dasher could also see some playing time this season, along with some true freshmen that have joined the unit. With all of these young and veteran names coming together, the Rebels’ secondary looks to be among the deepest in the SEC.
Though it’s deep, this secondary will be put to the test early this season as they take on the air raid offense of Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders’ head coach Kliff Kingsbury is known for his passing philosophy in the Big 12 but could try to utilize the running game, in an effort to take advantage of a weakness from Ole Miss’ 2017 defense.