Opportunity Aplenty

Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack takes a look at the linebacker and defensive end situations as the Rebels move forward. Part II of a three-part series.


**The following is Part II of a postseason interview with Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack. Today, he'll discuss the linebackers and defensive ends.

At middle linebacker, Mike Marry has been the "conductor" the past two years and Wommack made no bones about it – Mike will be missed.

"He was so smart and got us in everything we needed to be in on the field. His speed was not ideal, but he made up for that in so many ways. Mike was a highly underrated part of our defense," assessed Wommack. "Having said that, we have to move on.

"I'm very excited about having (JUCO) Christian Russell signed and getting him here in the spring. I got to see him practice a couple of times in person and I was very impressed with his movement and the way he took charge of the East Mississippi defense. He brings more speed to that position.

"Temario Strong is also developing. He's what we call a rep guy – the more he gets, the better he will be. As he gets more reps this spring, I look for him to make a move. While he's getting situated, we have enough experience at outside linebacker to let those guys make the defensive calls and take that load off of Temario."

The wild card is D.T. Shackelford. As announced Saturday, Shackelford will return for a sixth year, and he has already been granted an NCAA waiver.

D.T. Shackelford
File Photo

"We'll need to have the conversation of where he wants to start out – linebacker or defensive end. He really played well the last three or four games at defensive end," Wommack said. "He plays with such great emotion. He brings a lot to the table and improved weekly during the year as he tried to make a comeback from those severe knee injuries."

On the outside, Wommack will have Denzel Nkemdiche and leading tackler Serderius Bryant coming back, but that's not all he is excited about, as he explains.

"Serderius had as good a year as anyone on the defense. I love his passion and the way he plays. He gets it and is all in. Denzel was hampered all year due to injuries. I expect him to come back with a vengeance in spring," Wommack stated. "With those two, we're solid, but I'm also anxious to see redshirt Ray Ray Smith this spring. He's 6-2 and gives us more length there. He's about 210-215 pounds now and will only get bigger in the offseason.

"We also have three walk-on guys who I'm impressed with who all had scholarship offers at smaller schools. They're smart guys, they can run and I'm excited about their potential. Taylor Polk, J.T. Sherling and Luke Davis are guys who would help our kicking game right now. I'm really anxious to see those guys in spring. They're going to help this football team. Taylor, for instance, makes plays and he's very instinctive. Who knows? They have the mentality to rise to the top and they're intense. They have linebacker attitudes and don't want to sit on the sidelines. They want to play."

At defensive end, Wommack is definitely putting out the "welcome back" mat for C.J. Johnson, who missed most of the year due to an injury, but is expected to be in the fold during spring after a full recovery.

"Having C.J. back, and having the possibility of getting Carlos Thompson back, who is still undergoing some tests, is a big, big plus for our defense," Wommack noted. "Not having C.J. hurt us badly from the standpoint of putting pressure on people. He was the true pass rusher on the team in 2012 and he was sorely missed. If we get him back like he was in 2012, going full speed, that will be huge for us.

"Also, we are very hopeful Carlos will be able to make a comeback. He was just starting to get into a rhythm and get to a point where I thought he was going to be an effective pass rusher off the edge."

The Rebels also have one speed rusher – Marquis Haynes, who might also play some linebacker – signed and another – Victor Evans – committed. Haynes will be at Ole Miss for spring training and Evans was All-State in a tough Texas division.

Marquis Haynes
File Photo

"Rush end is a big need area for us in recruiting," Wommack said. "We need to fill two spots with guys who can come in and get after the quarterback early in their careers."

On the "thud" end side, the Rebs have Channing Ward and John Youngblood back with some experience to take Cameron Whigham's place, plus transfer Fadol Brown, who sat out the 2013 season, ready to rumble in spring training.

"Fadol will be hard to keep off the field. I see a mature guy who is bigger and more athletic than Cameron, and Cameron did a good job for us. Fadol is kind of the next generation, if you will, of Cameron and is a kid who can be a difference-maker if he develops like we think he will," Wommack allowed. "And I'm anticipating good things from Channing and John. They're coming into their own now and there will be good competition at that position."

Commitment Garrald McDowell is also a player to get your dander up over as well. He could give the Rebs instant help, from a pass rush standpoint, from the thud position. He's been evaluated as a player with an excellent get-off from the thud position.

And a big P.S. is the question of where Jeremy Liggins may end up once he get to Ole Miss. Tight end? Defensive end ? Quarterback? That decision could change the complexion of a lot of things.

Next: The defensive tackles and moving forward as a staff and a defense.

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