Getting Defensive

Ole Miss DC Dave Wommack sat down with The Ole Miss Spirit recently to preview his group prior to the opening of fall camp. This is the first in a series.

Last season, when Defensive Ends C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson – arguably the two best pass rushers on the Ole Miss squad – went down to injury, the Rebel defense, led by Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack, was thrown off kilter.

A lot of the plans formulated during spring and summer had to be scraped. The Rebel defensive coaches were left scrambling, shuffling personnel around constantly trying to find the right combination and chemistry.

“We had to try to manufacture a pass rush. In the end, we didn’t really have a very good pass rush last year and we weren’t able to call what we wanted to call in many instances due to not having a good pass rush,” explained Wommack. “In my career, I had never called as many conservative games. We just could not risk being aggressive with our calls. The odds of being successful with aggressive calls were not in our favor.”

It was all due to a lack of quality depth. The battle cry in recruiting was simple – depth had to be developed to avoid those types of pitfalls in the future.

When spring training rolled around, Wommack had quite a few excellent athletes at his disposal who were not available during the 8-5 season.

“When we added those kids into the mix, we started looking different,” said Wommack, heading into his third season running the Rebel defense. “It got our attention and made us feel like our hard work was starting to show up in the area of depth, which is so critical to success on this level and in this league.

“Counting C.J. and Carlos, we had seven guys in spring who will help us tremendously who we did not have, for all intents and purposes, last year. That’s huge to our efforts. That’s exciting to us.”

The luxury of quality depth is critical to success beyond replacements for injuries.

“Ultimately, we want to use 9-10 guys up front, 4-5 linebackers, 4-5 safeties and 4-5 corners. When you can do that, and keep your guys fresh, the dividends are immeasurable,” Dave said. “One, fresh athletes tend to stay healthier. Two, the fatigue at the end of games is less noticeable. Three, the grind of the season becomes less of a grind.”

Wommack does not claim the Rebel defense is where he wants it. There is still plenty of work to do in the depth department, but available players are not the only benefit of added depth.

“One proven commodity that takes teams from being good to having a chance to be great is competition from within,” he continued. “For two years, in several positions, we knew who our main guys were before the work had begun. Some of them had nobody pushing for their starting jobs.

“I’m not saying any of them let up or didn’t give us what they thought was their best, but I am saying when there is someone breathing down your neck with a chance to take your job – competition, then it tends to take athletes to a higher level. We saw some of that in spring training. I expect to see even more of that in August practice and into the season. Fortunately for us, we have young men who didn’t take that for granted much and tried to excel, but built-in competition just makes everyone better.”

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