Kiffin pleased with spring effort

In the next few weeks, we will publish interviews with each position coach about spring training. Up first, Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin.

Despite a spring-ending injury to DE C.J. Johnson and a couple of minor injuries that cost some players some time, Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin liked what he saw from his players during spring training.

"It's a tough deal that C.J. broke his fibula the first week of spring training, but it gave some guys a chance to get needed reps they may not have gotten otherwise," Kiffin began. "As a group, I was pleased with their effort.

"I think we are getting better. We tried to develop a two-deep and I think we got closer to that. Overall, it was a good spring, other than C.J.'s injury."

At Bandit (DE), senior Cameron Whigham returns as the man to beat for the top spot, a status he held in 2011.

"Cam was really solid for us last year. We need some improvement going into his last year and he's working hard to accomplish that. I want him to turn the corner and he is showing flashes of that," Kiffin noted. "We have time for him to get there and I'm counting on him doing that.

"Channing Ward is next. Like I said early in spring, it was baby steps with him. When he flashes, you see first-round pick, but then the next day, it could be up and down. We need more consistency from him. Physically, he's as well-developed as anyone we have, but sometimes he doesn't play with balance. That will come in time. Mentally, he's starting to grasp what we want. We just have to be patient with him and he will come along."

At Defensive End, with C.J. out, Carlos Thompson, who redshirted last year, got most of the number one reps in spring.

"The redshirt was a great move by our staff. It gave him time to sit back and observe. He needed to step back and see what direction he was going in. I believe sitting out gave him a chance to reflect on his career and it gave him a chance to get a little bigger and stronger," Chris stated. "He played better than I expected him to in spring, frankly. He was a pleasant surprise. I expect him do what Jason Jones did for us last year - 20-30 plays and not miss a beat. I am pleased with him, but I think he can get even better with a good offseason and more reps in August.

Cameron Whigham
File Photo

"Behind Carlos are two guys who are basically even - Kameron Wood and John Youngblood. Kam is a project guy right now, that's just where we are. He's getting bigger and he's starting to understand the defense. He's similar to Channing in that he's going through the transition from high school to college. Some guys it takes a little longer. We believe he will be able to help us down the road - he's just a redshirt freshman.

"Youngblood may be the pleasant surprise of spring. We switched him over from tight end after a week of spring ball and we saw right away why we recruited him as a DE. He understands defensive football - where to be, how to tackle, how to get to the ball. We can go straight to the finer points with him and the fact that we have him for four more years excites me."

At DT (3-technique), Bryon Bennett has drawn the praise of Kiffin and is the leader of the pack there out of spring.

"I am really pleased with Bryon. I always told him that he has all the talent in the world. With him, it's just been a matter of being consistent, taking care of the details and doing the little things every day," said Kiffin. "He's on the cusp of taking it to the next level. He's got experience and he's showing the ability to make some plays he has missed in the past. He's around 289 and in the best shape of his life. If he has a solid summer, I expect a really good fall from him.

"JUCO transfer Lavon Hooks is running with the two defense. Spring was a great initiation into big time football for him. I love being able to work with him every day. Spring was great for him. He's picking up on the little things and starting to come along. Once he gets the hang of things, he's the biggest guy in the room and athletic. He should contribute in the fall if he continues to progress.

Bryon Bennett
File Photo

"Behind him is walkon Tyler Gray. If we gave an award on the DL for most improved, Tyler would win it. Every day, he makes one or two plays. He takes coaching, he wants to do it and he works hard at it. I am very proud of him.

"Walker Sturgeon is very similar to Tyler. Great kid who wants to do anything he can to help the team. I love having him in my room."

At Nose Tackle, Woodrow Hamilton emerged as the number one guy out of spring. Some of it was because Issac Gross was injured most of spring, but some of it was because Woody has improved that much.

Gross did not lose his status, but Woody will be a big part of the DL as well.

"Issac is one of the best players in the room. When you look at him, you don't believe he's the player he is, but he can be phenomenal," Kiff continued. "Even though he didn't get much work in this spring, what little he did, you can just see it. He's even quicker, faster and stronger than he was. I expect him to have an even better year than he had did his freshman year.

"Next to Tyler Gray, Woody was the most improved player in spring. Last fall, he struggled with an ankle injury that set him back. He's so strong and powerful. The best thing we did this spring was put him at one position and keep him there. He learned the techniques and the scheme and he really excelled there. He feels comfortable and has taken ownership of the position. He understands he and Issac will be a great rotation there. He's excited and he has improved. He will definitely be a guy for us.

"Carlton Martin is running behind them and is a guy who can play both positions for us. He had a real good spring and put himself in the mix with all of them. The depth chart is not set. He is starting to get under control with his power and his quickness. He's the only guy who is close to Issac's get-off. When you combine that with being the strongest player on the team and you potentially have a dynamic player who can wreck things in the middle."

"Right now, the two inside slots are good for us. If Carlton is the fifth guy, that means we should be pretty solid up front."

Closing Note: While the attacking defense the Rebs run is conducive to the inside players getting penetration, that was not the focal point of spring training.

"In base, we are not asking for penetration from our inside guys as much. We want to make sure no runner gets past the line of scrimmage. We concentrated more on our heavy sets and guys being two-gappers. We'll still get penetration and attack with some of our calls, but our focal point was being more effective against the run in spring," Kiffin explained.

Analysis: DC Dave Wommack wants five defensive ends and five inside guys who can rotate on the defensive line. Based on spring training, they are closing in on that goal quickly up front. If things go well between now and September, the DL should be one of the stronger points of the Ole Miss football team.

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