DL Could Surprise

After DL Coach Chris Kiffin and his players came to an understanding of how things were going to be done on the defensive line, the defensive forward wall had a productive spring. Read about it inside.

For Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin, it was first things first this spring training for his troops.

"They are understanding what I demand in terms of attitude, effort and practice habits," said Kiffin as spring practice wound down. "Obviously, it's going to take more time. They are learning so much new stuff, so we started from scratch. We work the fundamentals of defensive line play every day and that will be the case always.

"They are responding. We are getting to know each other the guys know what I want and are trying to give that to me. Every guy is different, they all have things they have to continue to work on, but the overall progress has been good. Slowly but surely, we are heading in the right direction. We are looking forward to the offseason, the summer and the next steps."

At defensive end, Cameron Whigham, after starting out number two, has moved to the front of the class for now in front of Jason Jones, who started spring as the number one DE.

"Cameron was our most productive guy at DE after about a week. He is showing he can be a good pass rusher and at 260 pounds, he can hold up against the run," said Kiffin. "He's just got to keep working on being consistent every day, like most of them, but his effort has been great.

"Jason started out with the ones, but Cameron edged him out. Jason is a guy who is going to do everything correctly. He's a low rep guy – he gets it in the film room and then takes it to the practice field effectively. He is a technician, which is good, but I need to see him turn loose and play ball. He wants to do everything right, but I have to get him playing more freely. Go make plays. He's capable of that."

Greyshirt freshman Kameron Wood is number three, with an asterisk.

Cameron Whigham
File Photo

"Kameron is young, but he's got a lot of talent. I think he's going to be outstanding before all is said and done. He's just swimming right now. As much as we put on our defensive ends, to do all kinds of different techniques and even drop in coverage at times, he's in the learning phase, but he's got the talent and I look forward to his future," Kiffin noted.

At Bandit, the rush defensive end, Gerald Rivers ran with the number one defense until some academic issues derailed him a little over halfway through spring. With Rivers on the shelf for the remainder of spring, C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson are one and two, respectively, on the depth chart at the end of spring.

"C.J. is a very talented kid. He had a hand issue most of spring and has not been able to play with his hands like I want him to eventually, but as far as talent, he is very gifted," Chris explained. "He's around 230-235 pounds right now, so we have to hide that a bit right now and he has to play as fast as a linebacker. He has to play fast to hold up in there at his weight. He understands that now. He's been kind of a thinker and we need him to react quicker, but when he sees an opening quickly to go make a play, he makes it right now. That's why we are fired up about him – when he gets something and just reacts, he can be special. He's got to be a pass rush specialist for us and apply pressure on the QB all season long. C.J. has the body type where he's only going to gain 5-6 pounds a year and he will probably max out at 248-250. He'll gradually get bigger. He's very raw in the weight room right now and that is why (S&C) Coach (Paul) Jackson is excited to be working with him. He will get a lot stronger in the next year or two and needs a great offseason and summer session.

"Carlos is also a guy who has trouble gaining and keeping on weight. He's a long, rangy guy who has a motor and plays hard. He's swimming with his assignments a little and doesn't do things right all the time, which is what he has to work on most right now. He's obviously talented and I expect big things from him. He will give us another pass rusher out there. He's got good explosiveness."

Rivers will be counted on in fall.

"He's a senior guy who will be a leader for us, but he has to get his head on straight and do the right things academically," Kiffin continued. "He's got a lot of ability and for us to be good in the fall, we will need his skill set and his senior leadership. He plays hard, he's smart, he understands the defense and he doesn't make many mistakes. He's got to be a great guy for us and I am counting on him."

At Nose Tackle, Carlton Martin emerged as the top guy with Gilbert Pena, even with his hand in a cast all spring, pushing him.

"Carlton is another young guy who has not tapped into his potential yet and he has a lot," Kiffin stated. "He's very strong, one of the strongest on the team. He's learning the position. We read and attack and that part is new to him. He has talent, he's a great kid and wants to do things right.

"Gilbert has really not had a fair chance to show us everything he can do with his hand in a cast. I think he will really help us in the fall. He will be in our two-deep when healthy. If he gets his weight down some, he will be an SEC nose. He's big, strong and he can hold up in there. He also has some want-to. Health and weight are his issues."

Uriah Grant
File Photo

Two walkons, Walker Sturgeon and former baseball player Jimel Judon, round out the position.

"Walker is getting minimal reps, but he is doing everything he can. He loves the game of football and he brings his best every day. He has a great attitude. He is my scout team guy every day and never complains. He's what you want in your program," Kiffin added. "Jimel came to us from baseball and is a very athletic big man for someone over 300 pounds. I can't wait to spend the next few years with him. He's just really raw right now, but he comes along every day. He's got a great attitude and work ethic. He will help us down the road."

At defensive tackle, which is more of an attack position in this system, Woodrow Hamilton ended spring number one. Uriah Grant ran number one most of spring, but a shoulder injury ended his spring bid.

"Woody is one of my favorite guys. He has more potential than even he realizes. He could be an all-league type guy in a couple of years," Kiffin said. "He's raw, but he's making plays even as raw as he is, which is exciting. Once he polishes his game, he may be unstoppable. He's not there yet, but he's getting there. He's big and powerful. He has a lot of talent and a very bright future.

"Bryon Bennett, who can play nose or DT, as can Hamilton and Grant, is number two because he has had an ankle injury most of spring. He is, though, one of our best defensive linemen. He understands the game of football and will probably be one of our starters when healthy. What I have liked about him is how he has encouraged and helped even while he was sidelined. I am really excited about him."

Walkon Josh Price is backing them.

"Josh is another excellent walkon for us. He's a pretty darn good player, but he's just really raw. He's pretty explosive and I think he can help us in the future, and will be an important part of our scout team immediately," Kiffin allowed. "He has a great work ethic and does everything the right way. He's been awesome."

Grant won't play in the Grove Bowl, but he was having a good spring prior to his shoulder injury and subsequent labrum surgery.

"He was having a good spring. He really flashed at times and was with the first team. He has excellent explosiveness, he plays with good pad level and he's a smart football player," Kiffin ended. "I'd have to get him going sometimes, but he was doing fine. He will be a big part of what we do up front in the fall."

Analysis: This group gets an A for effort and progress, but a C for overall performance. There are too many players who are too raw for this to be considered a stellar group – yet, but they are coming. By the end of August practice, they could be a surprise unit if they stay on the path Kiffin has them on now and they have a productive offseason with Jackson. Overall, more work to do, but promising.

This is the fifth in a series of articles printed in the Grove Bowl issue of The Ole Miss Spirit. We will reprint them all here.

OM Spirit Top Stories