Shoring Up

In our last offering, Coach Hugh Freeze took at look at the possibilities for the 2014 Rebel offense. In this offering, he does the same with the defense and kicking game.

Some offensive-minded head coaches tend to overlook defense at times. Not Freeze.

"I love offense. My background is offense, but I am not going to slight the defensive side of the ball," he stated. "You cannot win in this league unless you have a solid defense. That's been proven over and over again through the years and that is not going to change, not matter how good the offenses get."

To that end, a majority of the Rebs' commitments are defensive players. While there has to be a balance between both sides of the ball, it's defense that will get a little more attention this signing day and at midyear.

Rush end is a priority this year, but the Rebs - if things go according to plan, should be OK in 2014 there with the return of C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson. Also, will D.T. Shackelford come back for his sixth year? That would also be a positive influence on the position.

"We need to sign two, for sure," Freeze noted. "You saw what happened this year when C.J. and Carlos went down. We lost our edge pressure and we paid for it. That's another position we have to balance out."

Signee Marquis Haynes, who will go through spring training, and Texas product Victor Evans are the candidates to fill those two slots. Haynes, however, is also considered somewhat of a "hybrid," an athlete who can play OLB, MLB and DE.

Robert Nkemdiche
USA TODAY images

Channing Ward and John Youngblood will return at the strong end position, but the Rebels are also adding 4-star Garrald McDowell.

"I'm also very excited about Fadol Brown. He sat out this year due to transfer rules, but I will be surprised if he does not have a big spring. He may be a guy we can play inside or outside, but I look for him to play somewhere," Freeze evaluated.

Inside, the Rebs seem somewhat set with Robert Nkemdiche, now longer of tooth, Lavon Hooks, Bryon Bennett, Issac Gross and Carlton Martin all returning. Herbert Moore will be coming off a redshirt as well. Throw in the mix Jackson Calloway's Breeland Speaks and Tyrone, GA, DT Chris Williams and there's a good mix of talent, experience and youth.

"I like the direction we are going on the interior of our defensive line," noted Freeze. " "Robert and Issac had terrific games in the Music City Bowl when they were completely healthy and that's a great place to start up front. Plus we have a lot of faith in the other guys as well. We may play a lot of kids in the middle of our DL next year."

Middle linebacker was a priority in recruiting and midyear signee Christian Russell, a 4-star JUCO off national champs East Mississippi, whould fill in nicely with Keith Lewis, Temario Strong and Shackelford, should he return.

"Mike Marry did so much for us and he will be missed. It was important to us to find a MLB who was mature and could come in and help immediately," Freeze said. "We really like Christian. He's smart, hungry and aggressive. I'm anxious to see his impact in spring.

"Keith plays an important role for us as well and we believe Temario is starting to make strides in learning how to direct traffic. He is also very important on special teams."

On the outside, Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant return along with redshirt Ray Ray Smith. The Rebs have also committed Lovejoy, GA's DeMarquis Gates, Bassfield's Alvin Moore and Olive Branch's Alfred Dickens.

"We need to get Denzel back healthy, but I thought Bird did a great job this year when Denzel couldn't go. We have great confidence in both and they give us a proven one-two punch," said Freeze. "Ray Ray gives us the length we need at the position and looks the part.

"Bird will be a senior and Denzel a junior, so we need to start developing some youth there and balance that position out."

At Husky, freshman Tony Conner did a tremendous job the whole year, but his backup, Dehendret Collins, is now gone. Freeze is not sure who will compete with Conner yet.

"Right5 now, all I know is that we have a great one in Tony and he will only get better," said Freeze. "We will have to find a quality backup for him in spring."

Freeze said continuing to build the secondary is a big priority for him and his staff.

Anthony Alford
Ben Garrett

"We have some good players returning in Cody Prewitt, Trae Elston and Chief Brown at safety, but we need more. I can't tell you how excited we are about Anthony Alford. We think he has a chance to be special," noted Freeze.

And, of course, one of the crown jewels of the recruiting class, Meridian's C.J.Hampton, will be at Ole Miss in the spring and is expected to make a quick impact. Bassfield's Calvin Moore is also an important cog for the future due to his speed and coverage ability.

While Freeze believes his current safeties are very good in run support, he feels the group needs help in coverage situations and that is where Hampton and Moore could be instant contributors.

At corner, Senquez Golson returns along with Bobby Hill, Derrick Jones and Carlos Davis.

"Senquez got better and better as the year progressed," noted Freeze. "I also like the way our two freshmen developed and Davis is making progress as well. We need more corners, but we have a solid foundation there."

"More corners" will be partly filled by 4-star commit Kendarius Webster out of Stockbridge, GA. Webster was one of the Rebs' top targets for the upcoming signing day.

The wild card in all of this is Mike Hilton, who has played corner, Husky and safety.

"Mike is a guy we can plug in just about anywhere and know he is going to produce," said Freeze. "He is very valuable to us."

The kicking game will be brand new with senior P Tyler Campbell and senior PK/KO man Andrew Ritter both graduating.

"We have a long way to go there," surmised Freeze. "I think Nathan Noble will probably earn the kickoff duties, but it will be a battle between Andrew Fletcher and Andy Pappanastos for field goals and extra points.

"At punter, we have Will Gleeson and Grant Warren who will battle it out in spring."

The wild card in that mix will be commit Gary Wunderlich out of MUS in Memphis. By most accounts, he is rated as the number one kicker in the country and is capable of kicking off, field goals and punting. A triple threat foot who will challenge when August rolls around.

In the return game, Freeze is banking on Alford.

"I think Anthony can be phenomenal at punt returns and kickoff returns. Jaylen Walton is very good at kickoff return as well," Freeze closed. "I also think Quincy (Adeboyejo) and Trae (Elston) can help in punt returns, we just have to get them a lot of reps this spring to get them more comfortable back there.

"Also, we like Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore in kickoff returns. They can be a threat back there."

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