“I expect really big things from him,” said the Rebels’ third-year defensive line coach. “I think the world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t take over the game from a three technique standpoint. I think he’s that good.”
That he is that good is likely not a surprise for close observers of the highly-recruited star from Atlanta, who will be playing at home in the Georgia Dome against the Broncos. Last year he had an impact. This year he’ll likely have much more of one, according to Kiffin.
“Football-wise, it’s understanding blocking schemes, understanding the three technique,” Kiffin said of some of the areas of improvement for Nkemdiche. “Studying film of great players who played the game. The guy is just so eager to learn. Last year the (season-opener) in the Vanderbilt game, he bull-rushed every single snap. Now he’s got a whole tool box of moves, and he’s so hungry to do really well. I’m just excited for everybody else to see that.”
He also believes Nkemdiche will be better because of the depth of the defense and the other players on that side of the ball.
“We’ve got guys around him to be really good on defense,” Kiffin said.
He also likes the fact that Nkemdiche has progressed in so many areas since arriving on campus a year ago. Some of where he was came from the fact that his senior year of high school was so intense due to his notoriety as one of the nation’s best players.
“I think this year he’s really matured,” Kiffin said. “If you look at his freshman year, just all the stuff he had to go through with recruiting and the targets on him and all that. With the defense, I think he can really step back and learn it now. I think he’s really ready to go.”
One player that continues to try to work his way into significant playing time is Channing Ward. The junior should see some action against BSU, according to Kiffin.
“Channing is a guy that’s going to probably be in the game on Thursday night,” he said. “He’s always been a guy that steps up on game day. We’re going to throw him out there and see what he can do.”
Because, said Kiffin, he should be ready to contribute even more.
“It’s about time he lets loose and goes and does something for us. Channing’s heart’s absolutely in it. He tries every day to get better. We have a lot of competition now, so it’s hard for him to get up there with the ones and twos. We’re going to throw him out there and see what he does when the lights are on.”
Another player Kiffin mentioned with improvement is senior Lavon Hooks, like Nkemdiche from Atlanta.
“He is doing well. He’s Robert’s backup right now in practice. We also have flexibility there and are able to move Bryon (Bennett) back because that’s where Bryon played the last two years for us.”
Kiffin, who said he wants to play at least eight defensive linemen in the rotation, said one of the keys to the entire defense is not only depth but the versatility of the players.
"This year I challenged the guys to be able to play multiple positions,” he said. “C.J. (Johnson) being able to do that gives us flexibility. Marquis (Haynes) being able to do that gives us flexibility inside. A guy like John Youngblood, I can’t say enough about him. He’s a limited rep guy. He knows the whole defense. He’s going to get the job done, so I can play him at multiple positions next Thursday night. It allows us to do a lot of things.”
So does having numerous players with years of experience, not only in college football but in year three of this staff’s system.
“Guys that have been around a while, you continue to see them mature and continue to get better,” Kiffin said. “Experience is invaluable.”
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