Was it the league we play in? Or the pesonnel we had to work with? Or the perceived armband confusion? Or just the scheme itself not fitting?
I don't know enough about football to intelligently discuss what went wrong with the Rebs' recent defenses, but it became apparent it wasn't working, whatever the reasons.
But, right now, who cares? The past is the past.
Enter Rebel Head Coach Ed Orgeron, who will also coordinate the Ole Miss defense in 2005 and, probably, beyond.
He's reintroduced Ole Miss football to what he declares is a "simple" 4-3 alignment and went through spring training stressing getting the fastest football players he has on the field. (Note: Make sure you interpret that correctly. "Fastest football players" doesn't necessarily mean stop-watch fast. It means the players with speed who have instincts for the game and play the game fast.)
He's experiemented with personnel searching for his 11 best and has moved some players "up" - S to LB, for instance - to enhance that position's speed.
He's given the players a "one call says it all" playcalling scheme that they understand and he's introduced a one-gap philosophy. Simply stated, that is players have responsibility for one gap instead of two in the 4-2-5 alignment/scheme.
All of this has been met with open arms by the players. The confusion is gone, the players are playing faster and the simplicity of it all - coupled with Coach O and his staff's passion - has created an aggressiveness and excitability to the defense that has, frankly, been lacking.
For those reasons, I believe - again without certainty due to my limited understanding of the game - that the 2005 Rebel defense is already ahead of where it was last year.
But while there aren't as many questions to be answered in August as there are on the offensive side of the ball - as was thrown around yesterday in part one of this series, there are still questions.
We'll start up front, which I think is potentially a strong point of the entire team.
Is senior DT McKinley Boykin healthy? For the prosperity of this defense, he needs to be. Pound-for-pound, I don't think there is a more talented player on our team, including LB Patrick Willis, who is an Adonis of the college linebacking world. A healthy Boykin is, quite simply, a difference-maker when coupled with tried-and-true veteran DT Michael Bozeman, who I feel is an underrated player in our league.
But assuming Boykin is healthy, which we have every reason to believe he is, what about the DT backups? Is Jeremy Garrett ready to blossom? Is Dedrick Clark, who has been shifted from DE to DT during his career a couple of times, finally finding a home where he can produce? How good are freshmen Peria Jerry and Jada Brown? When you are starting off with two like Boykin and Bozeman, it's hard to complain, but they can't take all the snaps and be effective in the fourth quarter. What will end up being our DT rotation? Garrett got some good reviews in spring, as did Clark, but Jerry and Brown are basic unknowns at this point. Some frosh can, some can't. We'll see.
RS frosh DE Chris Bowers wowed me in spring. And I think he did the same for the coaches, but can a 230-pound DE really hold up in the SEC against the run? He did against our running attack, but nobody knows how good that is in comparison to other SEC teams yet. Personally, I think Chris is a stud - a disrupter with great quickness and speed off the ball who will lead the team in QB sacks by a mile, but it remains to be seen. Senior Corvelli Haynes also showed flashes in spring, but he's been hampered by injury some. Is sophomore Viciente DeLoach a young up-and-comer? We'll see.
On the other side, senior Jayme Mitchell and soph Brandon Jenkins can give us a powerful one-two punch, but will converted LB Reterio Brown come into his own this year or is he a year away? His development will be interesting, to say the least, because athletically he is very gifted.
At linebacker, is Willis as good as we think/hope/expect he will be? We are putting a big weight on a guy who has never started a game. Is senior Kelvin Robinson making the transition from SS well enough to become one of the elite LBs in the SEC? Don't bet against it. Who will win the battle for the other starting LB slot - sophomore Dontae Reed, who was a major surprise in spring, or soph Garry Pack, who closed spring on a strong note? Either way, that's a healthy situation, in my mind, but the question of who will be the top guy still remains at this point.
Where will the backups come from? Is it time for sophomroe Marquis McBeath to shed his shoulder problems and step up? Which freshmen will make the quickest transition to college football and get quality snaps almost immediately? Critical questions for the linebacking corps that need answers in somewhat of a hurry.
The frontline of the secondary seems pretty solid with three returnings starters - junior FS Charles Clark, junior CB Trumaine McBrice and senior CB Travis Johnson, who will be counted on for leadership as well - but what of SS Jamarca Sanford, a redshirt freshman who gained the confidence of the coaches quickly, but has never played an SEC down? How will he respond in that fast-paced world? There's no question he's a rising star, but how quickly can he reach that plateau?
Other interesting questions, to me at least, center around all the DB backups. Will Nate Banks' immense talents be harnessed into the complete package? Speaking of immense talents, how long will it be before the light goes on for S Mico McSwain? What an athlete. Where does veteran S B. Brown fit into the scheme? Seems like he's got to be in there somewhere, but where? Is this the year Kareem Moore makes his mark? Dustin Mouzon? Terrell Jackson? All those guys have the potential to contribute and maybe a little more.
And what of the newcomers? Frosh Tyson Andrus has drawn rave reviews all summer for his work ethic. Gary Albury is a good-looking kid too. Michael Hicks looks so good physically and has so much growth potential that where he will land may be a mystery for weeks, or longer. Gary Riggs also did not disappoint in offseason workouts.
One thing is certain, expect capable freshmen to make more of an impact on this defense because it is, according to every player I've talked to, easily learned. The newcomers won't be walking around in a mental haze for a year, I don't think.
The bottom line is that I expect the Rebs to be flying all over the field making big plays and having the attitude of not only stopping the opponent but of actually taking the ball away.
But like all jigsaw puzzles, for that to be completed, Orgeron and staff will have to fit the pieces together neatly.
I'll be surprised if this 2005 defense doesn't end up being very stingy, but there are, as you can see, questions to be answered.
Tomorrow Part 3 on the special teams and a recap as we head into reporting day.
Coach O will improve defense
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