Petre Thomas

Ole Miss defense having to move some pieces around

With Middle Linebacker C.J. Johnson out with a knee injury/surgery/rehab and Husky Tony Conner still MIA due to knee surgery a couple of weeks ago, Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack is having to do the Rebel shuffle.

"You lose guys like we have and it's tough, but the next guy has to step up and I think we will," said Wommack.

The first 'musical chairs' move concerns getting a lot more experience at the Husky slot vacated by Conner.

"We will move Mike Hilton to Husky from Rover. He has experience there and is one of our best players. He can handle it. Every week, we are trying to get our best 11 players on the field and (free safety) C has made so much progress in the last two or three weeks that we felt he deserved a chance," Dave continued. "C.J. has become very vocal and demonstrative out there and he needs more playing time.

"We are not down on A.J. (Moore, who took Conner's spot for two games), he just needs more work and more experience. We will also move Trae Elston from free safety to Rover."

So all three safety-type slots will have "new" faces this week against New Mexico State.

"We will also move freshman Zedrick Woods back to Rover from Husky. C.J. Moore and Red will back up Trae and Chief Brown will back up Hamtpon at free," Wommack said.

Without C.J. Johnson, there will not be as big of a shift, but upward mobility.

"Terry Caldwell will start at middle linebacker and Christian Russell will back him up," Wommack explained. "I played Terry a lot more against Florida. He has really been coming along in the last couple of weeks fitting the gaps and making plays.

"He played Stinger all spring so when we moved him to the middle in fall camp, it took him a couple of weeks to catch up, but now he is up to speed. I like Terry - he is fast and physical. He runs very well and he is a smart guy who understands all our multiple looks."

The MLB normally calls the plays for the defensive front, but now Wommack will let the Stingers - Denzel Nkemdiche and DeMarquis Gates do that.

"I've probably only done that five or six times in 30 years, but it's OK. Our Stingers know what to do and how to call things," he stated.

Cornerback Tee Shepard announced in a statement he was quitting football but will remain at Ole Miss to get his degree. What's the plan now?

"We're getting freshman Cameron Ordway ready but we don't really want to play him if he's only going to get three or four plays a game. We just need to get him ready just in case," Wommack said.

Wommack was asked what part of the defense, to this point, he wants to see improve. He was quick to answer.

"Third downs. That's my concern. We have to do a better job on first and second downs to get shorter third downs, first and foremost, but then we have to do a better job getting off the field on third down," he assessed. "We have not executed on some of the third downs the way we should.

"On Florida's second series, we had a third-and-short and A.J.had the runner dead to rights in the backfield, but he whiffed. I love A.J., but we have to make those plays. We are close, but we are not making them consistently enough. The very next play was a touchdown from 36 yards when we were about to kill the quarterback, but we were a half step late. 

"We just have to clean some little things up and we will be OK. We took a bad angle on a 77-yard play and a bad angle on the 36-yarder and all of a sudden, if you take proper angles, they have 250 yards instead of 360 yards of total offense.

"We have to do better on those things and we will be pretty good."

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