Ole Miss senior defensive tackle D.J. Jones believes Rebel front deepest in years

D.J. Jones was prepared for the question he was inevitably going to face at SEC Media Days Thursday morning.

No, not about Ole Miss and the NCAA issues that hang overhead as the Rebels ready for the 2016 season, set for a Sept. 5 kickoff against Florida State. But about the loss of Robert Nkemdiche and how Jones and his fellow defensive tackles will make up for his absence.

“It’s a young group,” Jones said. “Quick, powerful, depth. The depth is probably the deepest we’ve had in years. Benito Jones just came in, Issac Gross. We’re looking good on the front.”

The task is to replace the some 140 combined tackles registered by Nkemdiche, Woodrow Hamilton and Channing Ward. No easy task. 

Ole Miss landed an impressive defensive line haul in recruiting, from a pair of four-star prospects in Benito Jones and Charles Wiley, to three-star Josiah Coatney and former Syracuse DE Qaadir Sheppard. All but Sheppard will be eligible to play next season.

Benito Jones enrolled in January. A former four-star prospect, he quickly made an impact in spring practices, garnering praise from teammates and coaches alike. D.J. Jones said Benito Jones’ motor is what sets him apart from most incoming freshmen. 

“Quick-twitched,” he said. “That quick twitch is what can make you dominate this league. He has that as a freshman. Coming in with that quick twitch, he’ll make an impact.”

As far as replacing Nkemdiche, well, Jones said the defensive line will let its play speak for itself. Jones played in every game with three starts at defensive tackle last season. He finished eighth on the team and second among defensive linemen with 40 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. 

He saved arguably his best performance for last in the Rebels’ rout of Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl, when he collected five solo tackles, including a sack, as a starter in place of Nkemdiche.

“You address what people have to say about players leaving with your play,” he said. “So come September, that’s how they’ll find out. Guys like Breeland Speaks, myself, Issac Gross, we’ll step in and fill those roles.”

And as to the NCAA investigation, Jones said the players are focused only on what they were brought to school to do: play football.

“We’re going to play football,” he said. “That’s what we came here for. We didn’t come to investigate anything. We’re here to play football.”

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