Ole Miss Recruiting: Linebacker

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack details his goals for the linebacker position in the 2014 recruiting class.

Ole Miss feels like its in a good spot right now at linebacker. At MIKE linebacker, the Rebels return senior Mike Marry, junior Keith Lewis, senior D.T. Shackleford and redshirt freshman Temario Strong. Shackelford could return for a sixth season of eligibility if he applies for and is granted a medical redshirt.

At outside linebacker, Ole Miss boasts sophomore Denzel Nkemdiche, junior Serderius Bryant and freshman Rashawn Smith. All will return for the 2014 season. The HUSKY position has sophomore Mike Hilton, Antonio Conner and senior Cliff Coleman.

The Rebels have committed one outside linebacker in DeMarques Gates. Gates, of Lovejoy, Ga., is rated the No. 38 OLB in the country by Scout.com. They have also picked up a pair of HUSKY candidates in Alvin Moore of Bassfield, Miss., and Alfred Dickens of Olive Branch, Miss.

A hole remains at middle linebacker with Marry and Shackelford set to graduate.

"We're pretty young at linebacker but we're going to lose Mike Marry and possibly D.T. to graduation. Our MIKE linebacker is more of a box guy. I say that because our scheme allows to limit him tackle to tackle. The way offenses spread you out, that's hard to say in this day and time. You have to have speed. In a perfect world for us Keith Lewis' body and speed is a perfect fit for us at MIKE linebacker. As long as they're tough, like, you wouldn't think a Denzel would work. We have two small guys in Denzel and Bird (Bryant). Maybe as small as I've ever had.

"We have Denzel and Bird at the other side. They absolutely have to be able to run, and they have to be tough guys for us. We'd like to get a little taller there too. We were talking about that the other day. Would we go out there and recruit another body like a Denzel Nkemdiche or Bird? Truthfully, we probably never would. Denzel is just kind of like a freak of nature. Like a Charles Barkley in basketball. He's way undersized and isn't supposed to be able to play the way he does, but he does. We wouldn't want to bank on that again with someone else with his body and think he could have the same impact that he's had for us. Like I said, he's just kind of your exception. We're very fortunate that he's here, and Bird as well, but we want to get bigger guys in here."

Antonio Conner
Chuck Rounsaville

Many fans wonder what exactly is Ole Miss looking for in a HUSKY candidate?

"That's a great question. In like a 4-3, you kind of got that linebacker and you love that against the run. In our 4-2-5, our HUSKY allows us to be a little more flexible. He has to be able to play man-to-man. The reason he does because when teams go three-by-one against us he has to able to lock up in coverages so we're not always stealing the backside safety. If we play what we call a "try" over there that frees up our backside safety to be able to blitz and pressure and do some things that we normally can. That's why it's so important. That said, last year we took a small corner type guy (Mike Hilton) and put him over there. Ideally you would like for him to be Tony Conner's size.

"Tony is playing that spot for us. We'll see how he progresses but he's doing a heck of a job there for us this fall camp. Mentally, he's been fantastic, and physically he's as good as it gets. I think we got the right guy there. We really don't recruit just free safeties anymore. We really want to recruit HUSKYs and ROVERs because those are faster guys. Some guys like Derrick Jones, he's a perfect example. Derrick Jones could probably play any of those three safety spots for us. Derrick in a year from now will be 220 pounds. That's great so he can move to free safety. Really those hybrid safeties kind of like what you see from the New England Patriots defense. That's what we're using."

How many more linebackers does Wommack plan to commit from here on out?

"We'll most definitely add a MIKE linebacker from here and possibly add one more linebacker if it were just someone that we couldn't turn down. But our focus on defense right now is shoring up the secondary. That's our biggest need on defense right now. We have to add some more depth to the secondary."

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