Forward Thinking

Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack discussed the defensive tackles and the staff's strategy for moving forward in Part III of our defensive series.

*** This is the third, and final installment of a recent postseason interview with Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack. In Part I, Wommack discussed the secondary. Part II was centered on the linebackers and defensive ends. Today, the defensive tackles and moving forward as a defense.

At the defensive tackle slots, there is a lot in the air. Although the numbers there are OK, that group has suffered through injuries and some productivity issues at times.

"Woodrow Hamilton had some injuries, as did Robert (Nkemdiche) and Carlton (Martin). Issac (Gross) wasn't right until the end of the year coming back from two sports hernia operations," explained Wommack. "All I know is this – the best teams in the country have good defensive lines. Those guys are in a man-to-man battle in the trenches every snap and you better be a stud down in there in this league.

"We have a few good people there, but we need more."

Wommack was obviously alluding to the importance of signing Jackson Calloway's Breeland Speaks, who has committed to Ole Miss. Speaks is considered by recruiting experts to be a player who could step in quickly and get in the Rebs' DT rotation.

"We're not ready to name names yet, but in spring, we're going to take a look at a couple of our defensive tackles being looked at on offense," said Wommack. "We aren't as deep there as the numbers may indicate."

Nkemdiche was the number one recruit in America last February. Did he live up to Wommack's expectations?

Robert Nkemdiche
File Photo

"I'm very, very pleased with Robert's development. It's really hard to play a freshman on the defensive line, especially one who missed some time with injury and a guy who we moved from the outside to the inside," Wommack added. "He is a special, special talent. Toward the end of the year, he made a big difference for us toward the end of the year and I think everyone saw what his future is going to be in the Georgia Tech game. I really thought that was a turn-the-corner game for him.

"He's going to get better and better. People have to remember, Robert hasn't played much defensive tackle yet. This spring, I look for him to really learn the position and just keep climbing up the ladder. He's going to be special. Issac also had an outstanding game in the bowl game. We just need him to put on some weight. We know how good he can be, but he's just got to get bigger so he can hold up better and avoid injury. Herbert Moore is a youngster I'm interested in seeing in spring. I think he's going to be a tough guy who is very strong and has a passion for the game. He has to keep battling his weight, but I've liked what I've seen so far."

So, overall, how did Wommack feel he and his staff did in 2013? The Rebs finished seventh in the SEC in total defense, despite some crippling injuries, but Wommack broke it down further.

"I think the defensive staff competed. When there was something broken, we were constantly trying to fix it or come up with other ideas to make things better," Wommack began his self-grading, if you will. "The first couple of years here, that's just what we have had to do – plug holes as we go. It just hurts when something happens to C.J. Johnson and you have to move a defensive tackle (Bryon Bennett) there or Cody Prewitt gets hurt and you have to move Mike Hilton, who is doing a great job at cornerback, to safety, like we did for the bowl game. Those things break up your continuity and are done on the fly. That's tough – it limits what you can do. We've had to patchwork this thing for two years. I'm not complaining, just telling it like it is.

"I'm not one to pat myself or my staff on the back – we have plenty of room for improvement as coaches and players. But I know what we have gone through. I'm confident in what we're doing scheme-wise and I know our players have bought into it. The assistants are on the same page and I think we're strong in being able to make adjustments during the game. That's a huge thing – not everyone is able to do that. I've been on staffs that couldn't adjust on the fly, but this one is not like that."

The big focus for spring is three-fold – doing better on third downs, doing better in the Red Zone and getting more pressure.

"The pressure deal is based more on personnel than anything. Our first year here, we were in the Top 10 in pressures and plays for loss. I'm not just talking about the rush guys either," he continued. "We struggled with our corners early and until we felt comfortable with them, we weren't comfortable bringing much pressure.

Dave Wommack
File Photo

"Absolutely, getting more pressure is on my mind. In 2013, we got less pressure than any time in my career. I don't ever remember bringing less pressure than we brought this year. While I think we did the right thing based on our personnel, that's not how we want to play. We want to be more aggressive – we will be more aggressive, but we'll also do what our personnel allows us to do. Pressure is a double-edged sword. It can be a very valuable weapon, but it can also cut you if you're haphazard with it. Trust me, though, our desire is to apply more pressure, which I think we illustrated in our first year here."

So what is the key for Wommack moving forward? Simple, the same as it always is.

"Certainly, player development is critical, but we have full faith in Paul Jackson and his staff to get that done," Wommack closed. "But the most important thing, obviously, is recruiting. For us to be two deep, like we're driven to be, we have to continue to bring in top talent.

"Right now, we have some players committed – who I can't name due to NCAA rules – who can help us immediately and we just need to get them signed and get them in here and add one or two more to help our cause. There are good opportunities for young players on this team. We believe they can see that and will act accordingly."

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