Answering my own defensive questions

Yesterday, I gave my opinion on the answers to many offensive questions that have to be answered in August and in the early season. Today, it's defense and special teams.

As a diehard Rebel fan, I have to say I am very excited about the 2005 Ole Miss defense.

Based on all the ingredients - coaching, scheme, available personnel - that make up a good defense, I feel Ole Miss' defense, led by Coach Ed Orgeron - a major plus in itself, has an opportunity to be very good.

Some of that feeling, however, is a hunch and there are questions that have to be answered in August.

Coach O told me not too long ago that effectiveness in press coverage by our DBs is a concern of his. One, because press coverage will be a mainstay in our arsenal and, two, because he said our DBs needed work in that area. I am surely not going to refute a guy who has forgotten more defense than I will ever know, but I get the feeling he will remedy that in short order.

So, here are some basic questions I've been asking myself and my guesses, uh, answers.

Is Patrick Willis as good as we think and hope he is at middle linebacker?

I'm not trying to put pressure on the guy - after all, he has never started a college game - but for the life of me I can't look at him or talk to him without thinking "superstar." The body (speed and strength), the will, the attitude, the work ethic and the brain just say "All-American" to me. Maybe that's premature and based mostly on potential, and maybe that's me being such an optimist about all Rebel players, but I honestly believe P-Willie could be the best LB to come through here in a long time, maybe ever. So, there, I've said it and believe it.

What kind of transition will Kelvin Robinson make from SS to LB?

A good one. In the old 4-2-5 system, the SS was a glorified linebacker. Kelvin struggled some with coverage in that system, being matched with speedy wide receivers, but was outstanding in run support. Now his responsibilities will be centered more on run support and his coverage assignments will be less strenuous, aks, tight ends, short routes will be his focal points from OLB in the 4-3. He will be fine.

Who will win the job between Dontae Reed and Garry Pack at the othe OLB slot?

I don't care. Whoever wins it will be good enough to win with in this league and the other will be a very, very good backup. No-lose proposition there with two fine kids battling for one position. I will be proud for the "winner" of the competition and just as excited about the other. Both bring a lot to the table for the Rebel defense.

Is DT McKinley Boykin healthy?

All indications are that he is, and I can't tell you how important I think that is to the overall welfare of the defense. I think McKinley has the ability to play on the next level. Any time you can insert NFL-type ability into a college lineup, the upside is immeasurable. His good health is paramount to our success, but I think he is ready to roll.

How are our defensive ends?

I think there is a chance for a high level of play at those positions. I think one player who has gone under the radar a little and is ready to have a banner season is senior Jayme Mitchell. He was plagued by injury late last year and part of the spring, but says he's 100% now. I look for Jayme to have a big year, but he's rarely mentioned in Rebel talk right now. His backup, Brandon Jenkins, seems to have matured in the last six months. His dedication level and intensity level have risen a notch or two. With his physical prowess, that can't be anything but a great sign. Chris Bowers had the most surprising spring of any player on the team, IMO. I can't tell you how many times I wrote "Bowers QB sack" on my practice notes. I think DE has a chance to be a defensive strength.

How will RS frosh Jamarca Sanford fare at SS?

He is the least of my concerns. He's as natural and instinctive as any young player I've seen come through here in a long time. He just seems to have a knack for the game and for making plays.

Who will emerge as some of the key backups at various positions?

I think B. Brown, Jenkins, DE Corvelli Haynes, CB Nate Banks, S Mico McSwain, LB Marquis McBeath and a couple of more have a real shot at quality, effective playing time. And you can always expect a surprise or two in August.

Which freshmen will make impacts?

That's the question that can't be answered right now, but Orgeron expects to get immediate help from several, particularly at LB. I'm pleased with what I have seen from the available candidates, but I have seen none of them in pads or in game situations, when it really counts.

Why haven't you mentioned the corners and free safety?

Because I think Travis Johnson, Trumaine McBride and Charles Clark are very good football players who will hold down their positions ably. I'm really not worried about them due to experience, ability and competitiveness.

Moving on to specials teams, there are really only three major questions.

Who will punt, who will handle placements and how effective will they be?

Freshman P Rob Park is expected to be the guy. He says he did what he set out to do in the offseason - get stronger - and it has paid off in his punting. I think he will do fine, but I'd be fibbing if I didn't say I have minor concerns about thrusting a freshman - any freshman - into a starting role, any starting role. I thought the placements were, all things considered, pretty good in spring. I feel the candidates we have there are capable. We'll see.

In terms of coverage folks, return folks, snappers and holders, I think we are fine. There will be plenty of experimentation and work done in those areas in August, but I expect our coaches to mold those units into good outfits by the first game.

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