Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack believes some standards were set and the foundation laid for a solid defense in 2012, but a lot more can be accomplished in the years to come on his side of the ball.

When Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Wommack assesses the Rebs' defensive performance in 2012, he starts with the effort the players on that side of the ball gave him.

"From start to finish, our effort was really good," he said. "That was one of the main things we wanted this year – to get the guys to chase and pursue the football relentlessly. They were willing to do that.

"The other thing I was pleased with was how physical we played. We were a smallish defense and yet we played very physical. We played more physical, I believe, than our size should have allowed, but we have some real tough guys who fly to the football. As the kids became more confident in what they were supposed to do and started using their eyes better, they also became a faster defense. They started playing faster as the year progressed."

Wommack was pleased with the way the Rebels defended the run, for the most part.

"Other than the Texas game and parts of the Arkansas game, we played pretty good run defense," he continued. "Overall, we made good fits and played better each week with our eyes."

An area that did not reach Wommack's standards was in pass defense.

"We have a long to go way there. Our skill level has to increase in the back end," he stated. "That's across the board. Another spring in this system will help with that some and the only other remedy is recruiting."

With 2012 being the first the Rebels were in Wommack's system, the defensive boss had to limit what he tried to install and limit calls in games.

"All through spring and fall camp, we struggled with our eyes so much. It didn't really click until after Texas, so we didn't waste much time trying to install different looks and twists. We were pretty basic most of the year," he explained. "As we improved some, we were able to do a little more, but there really is no need installing things that you aren't capable of running. We tried that a little and were giving up too many big plays.

Channing And D.T.
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"Even though giving up big plays continued to haunt us later in the year, we did get better by keeping things fairly simple."

Most of the miscues made were youth mistakes, according to Wommack.

"We made freshman mistakes throughout the year, which are somewhat expected, but the flip side to that is that we got so many young guys valuable experience," he noted. "It's critical for their futures. We have a nice senior class coming up, but we also have a lot of juniors and sophomores who have played quality snaps. That excites me.

"We'll be able to do more schematically next year because the foundation and concepts of the defense are in and the guys understand that and have experience running those things. So much of defense is being able to stop what the opposing offense wants to do and to be able to adjust and tweak things week to week. We will be able to make more tweaks and adjustments than we were able to in 2012."

Like the Rebel offense, graduation will take away a few key players, but there won't be a major overhaul in personnel due to losses.

"Gilbert Pena, Jason Jones, Joel Kight, Uriah Grant, E.J. Epperson, etc., were all in our rotation. They did a great job and I was very proud of them, but I think we'll get better and better at those positions in the future through recruiting and player development," said Wommack. "For example, we'll miss the bulk and anchor inside that Gilbert gave us, but we feel like we can get another Gilbert Pena ready to go in due time.

"What we have to be sure to replace is their leadership and their want-to, not just their talent. They worked extremely hard to get better and they set the work ethic standard for future teams. What I'm saying is I don't discount their contributions at all, but we feel we can replicate what they did with some of the kids we have on board and are recruiting if they have the same approach. We have a foundation now with how we want kids to work and our tempo and our expectations and I expect that to carry over and pay huge dividends in the years to come."

Cody Prewitt
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Wommack is anxious for the next step in the evolution of the defense – players stepping up one more notch.

"We need guys to raise their games to the next level. Gilbert did that in 2011. Another example is Bryon Bennett. At first, he didn't understand what we wanted, but he became a different guy about midway through the season and I think he will just continue to get better," he said. "I look for guys like Channing Ward, Woody Hamilton and several others will take huge jumps and I'll be disappointed if they don't.

"I'm also anxious to see the development of guys like Temario Strong and Carlos Thompson and the return of D.T. Shackelford. I've never seen D.T. in pads and that excites me. We saw Temario in bowl practices and he's going to be a force in time. That excites me. I expect all the freshmen who played this year to improve by leaps and bounds technique-wise. When they get those techniques down pat, they'll be able to compete consistently in the SEC instead of having those ups and downs they experienced some this year. Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, Denzel Nkemdiche, Keith Lewis, Cody Prewitt, Senquez Golson, and the list goes on, are all young guys and they'll just get better and better."

The two areas Wommack wants to see improvement in, through current players getting better and recruiting, are defensive end and in the secondary.

"We need help at all spots for depth because we like to play two-deep and don't really dwell on starters, but the glaring areas to me are defensive end and defensive back. There are times when we got worn out in the fourth quarter due to lack of depth," he noted. "We don't like to admit that, but our depth was an issue last year and we have to face it and solve it, especially in those areas."

With spring around the corner, Wommack had one final question.

"Who wants to get better? Who has that burning desire to improve? Cody had it last year. Denzel had it. Others had it. How many are going to put the effort in during the offseason? All those things are critical to spring and next year," he closed. "I'm anxious to see who's willing to pay the price.

"The bottom line is that we want to be at the top and we don't want it to take a long time. To do that, we'll have to have the same kind of effort and determination from our players and in our recruiting that we've had this year."

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