Work In Progress

Ole Miss Defenisve Line Coach Chris Kiffin keeps most things close to the vest, but he gave us some insight after Monday's practice about his group.

Ole Miss Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin would make a pretty good poker player.

He doesn't have too many tells. His expressions don't change much when discussing his troops. It's all business.

Kiffin has a big job on his hands - molding the 2012 Rebel defensive linemen into a competent SEC unit and he's not showing his cards too much yet.

For some reason Monday, after practice, he obliged the media with some rare insight.

According to Kiff, the retention from last spring has been good.

"The guys who have some experience and football awareness are doing OK because most of it is common sense - if they go this way I have to go there, but with our defense, we are constantly adding new stuff so they will have to always learn new wrinkles. For the most part, we are OK with our learning curve," said Kiffin.

The early buzz during camp on the DL has centered around senior NT Gilbert Pena, who is now in the 320-325 range after shedding 30 pounds during the offseason.

"I can absolutely tell the difference in his play. He's in better shape and the weight loss has helped his quickness a lot," noted Chris. "We know what he's going to be - an A-gap player on the center and so far his quickness has helped him gain an advantage.

Gilbert Pena
Chuck Rounsaville

"I'm not hung up on size, but the bigger a guy with quickness is, that's a bonus. He's added to our defense. Can he go 30 plays a game? I don't know that yet, but for 15 plays a game, I know we will get great effort and some results."

Kiffin also has a new face on the defensive front - Defensive End E.J. Epperson, who has moved over from offense.

"E.J. is picking it up fast. He's physically mature and he can run. That gives me something to work with," said Kiffin. "The first day, he was all over the place, but we are working his techniques hard and he's catching on. Day three and he's learning to do some things. We'll see how much he can help, but I am encouraged so far."

The backup DTs right now are Carlton Martin and Woodrow Hamilton.

"Carlton is doing really well. He's playing with some explosiveness now and is pressing Bryon (Bennett). The competition there is helping both," Kiffin assessed. "Woody is swimming some and it's my job to get him ready mentally. His deal right now is learning the playbook and getting him caught up mentally. He's going to be a great player in time."

Kiffin wants to get DT Uriah Grant, who is sitting out the first two weeks of August to make sure his shoulder that was surgically repaired in the offseason is ready to go, back out at practice in a full-speed capacity.

"He will add a lot to our group. Uriah gives us depth and will press for a starting job once he is full go. He will allow me to move pieces around and just gives us another mature, strong body in there," Kiffin added. "We can't wait to get him back."

C.J. Johnson is also making a mark in early practices.

"We moved him from Bandit to end. We are standing him up some, putting his hand on the ground some - moving him around. Any additional looks we can give the opposing offense will benefit us and C.J. can do those different things," Kiffin said.

E.J. Epperson
Chuck Rounsaville

Freshman NT Isaac Gross has turned Kiffin's head in the early going as well.

"He looks really sharp. We know what he is - a 255-pound nose tackle, but he's got great technique and was coached well in high school. He's got a motor and he understands football," said Kiffin. "I can't tell right now when he'll be ready because there are so many factors involved, but when he's ready, we will throw him in the fire. There are still a lot of moving parts and we are still trying to figure it all out, but we like what we have seen of him to this point a lot. His first step and explosiveness are really, really good."

Kiffin is anxious to get Channing Ward on campus, assuming the word from the NCAA Clearinghouse is positive.

"We had him here in the summer and really look forward to getting him back," Kiffin noted. "We are going to have to spend extra time when he gets here. He knows that and is all for it. We will get him caught up fast. The main thing we are concerned with is him staying in shape while he is missing this work. He is already 272 pounds. We will have to press him when he gets here."

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