Behind the Front

The Rebel defensive line is getting a lot of preseason praise, and rightly so, but the Rebel linebackers and defensive backs are primed to be pretty good as well. Ole Miss DC Dave Wommack is confident across the board, not just up front.

Robert Nkemdiche, Issac Gross, D.J. Jones, Marquis Haynes, Fadol Brown, et al, the names of the Sack Men roll off the tongue easily, but Rebel DC Dave Wommack is quick to point out there are other "name players" on the Rebel defense as well.

"I love our guys up front, make no mistake, but I love our guys at linebacker and in the secondary as well," said Wommack, who orchestrated the number one scoring defense in the country a year ago and has most of those players back this year. "I mean, Tony Conner, C.J. Johnson, Denzel Nkemdiche, Mike Hilton, Trae Elston and some others have made a lot of plays for us in the last two or three years.

"We've got to keep shoring up our depth and we may not be quite as far along as different units as the DL, but I think we are going to be pretty good up front, in the middle and on the back end of our defense. I think we are two-deep across the board and two-and-a-half at several spots."

At linebacker, which Wommack now coaches, the Rebels are replacing some key players in D.T. Shackelford, Serderius Bryant and Keith Lewis, but Dave takes that all in stride.

"It's college football - you lose players every year. We just happened to lose more linebackers than anything. That's why we moved C.J. Johnson to middle linebacker, to give us some experience and leadership there," Dave explained. "C.J. brings the element of a bigger LB who is instinctive.

"Denzel is very smart and knows everything there is to know about our defense. He has returned to his freshman form health-wise and I expect good things from him this year, but I also believe Terry Caldwell, DeMarquis Gates, Tayler Polk, Christian Russell and Temario Strong are going to help our linebacker group and I think we are going to need them all to thrive against the offenses we will face. We need everyone to pitch in so we can stay fresh throughout the year."

At Husky, absolutely no concerns. It's Tony Conner and that's all you need to say.

"We ask him to do so much and he has done it exceptionally well his whole time here," Wommack expressed. "I can't even articulate how important Tony is to this defense. He has to cover, blitz, zone cover, run support, play in space, play in the box and he is exceptional at all phases. Also, I like what A.J. Moore is doing now - he's playing faster and his athleticism is showing more."

At DB, how do you replace First-Team All-Americans Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson?

"We probably won't replace double digit interceptions," Dave chuckled, "but I love the guys we have back there. Moving Mike Hilton to Rover and Trae Elston to free safety has really helped our cause. You cannot replace their experience and to have them both on the back end directing traffic is invaluable. They are two of our better football players.

"I also like their backups in C.J. Hampton, Chief (Brown) and C.J. Moore. I have no issues seeing them in the game. They improved a great deal in spring."

At corner, Tee Shepard, Tony Bridges, Kendarius Webster, Kailo Moore and Carlos Davis give the Rebels a potentially formidable unit.

"We are bigger, longer and more physical at corner. I am really happy with the guys we have back there. I wouldn't trade them for anybody that I know of. We'll see how they perform."


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