Grid observations

In the next few days, we will take a look at the Rebel football team based solely on observations from one scrimmage and talks with some of the coaches and players. In Part I of the series we will give you our glimpse of the Rebel defense-ive line. Read about it inside.

There's an old saying in football that has become old because it's tried and true, proven time and time again.

"It all starts up front."

Both Rebel lines - offense and defense - are being revamped for 2006, but today it's the defensive line we will focus on.

While I've only had the pleasure of seeing one spring practice thus far due to Coach Ed Orgeron's new practice viewing policy this spring, I have had the opportunity to interview several of the players and most of the coaches. I have also watched - on a daily basis - most of our current players throughout their careers as they have developed.

Based on all those factors, it's apparent the defensive line will be a) inexperienced and b) inexperienced. No, that wasn't a mistake. The duplication is simply a way to stress the obvious.

Coach Ryan Nielsen will have some talent to work with, but in terms of starting and every-down experience, he's basically got none.

But what he does have are players who fit in the category of "it's their turn." Guys who have paid their dues as understudies, guys who have matured, guys who have gone through the ropes of the year-round training at least a year (most more than one) and guys who are determined to prove they can be as good as the graduated four who started virtually every game last year.

From spring's early going, the player getting the rave reviews on a daily basis is Peria Jerry, who was moved from DT to defensive end and, through his results, has Coach O talking about Peria and some of the DL greats he has coached in the same breath. Peria is explosive, even at 290, which is a little bigger than ideal for a DE in Coach O's system, he's powerful and his intensity level improvement from last season to this season is signficantly and visibly - even to the novice - noticeable. Peria is proving to be a player with all-conference potential and he's versatile enough to play inside or outside on the DL. If he continues on his path to grid glory, Jerry will be the kind of anchor you can build a DL around, a player who will draw double teams and wreck offensive schemes.

At tackle, currently Brandon Jenkins and JUCO transfer Hayward Howard are battling it out. Nowhere on the Rebel roster are there two players at the same position who look the part more than those two. From all accounts, Jenkins has grown weary of being a "potential" player. His light apparently came on during the offseason. S&C Coach Aaron Ausmus praised Brandon's efforts and results. If Jenkins can apply that intensity level to the field, we will no longer hear the question "when is Brandon Jenkins going to emerge and impact the team?" From what I witnessed in the first spring scrimmage, he has not completely answered that question yet, but this is a different Brandon Jenkins than I have been watching for three years. More dedicated, more intense on an every-down basis and more alert. While the jury is still out on Brandon as an impact player, the signs are positive he is moving in that direction.

Howard has all the tools you look for in a DT - big, strong, good quickness. But typical of most JUCO's, he doesn't "get" the pace on this level yet and his conditioning needs work. While he was fresh last Saturday, and after a lull when he picked up his second wind, Howard showed flashes of being the kind of DT everyone wants in their lineup, but he's got more to learn and more to accomplish before he can make a marked impact on the team. The good side is he has time to get it all done before next September if he drives himself and takes the coaching he'll get from Ryan Nielsen and Coach O.

At noseguard, junior Jeremy Garrett claims the extra 10 pounds and strength he gained in the offseason will afford him the opportunity to break into the echelon of "every-down player." Last season, lighter and not as strong, Jeremy was good as a 20-snap-a-game backup, but much beyond that and he wore down from the constant pounding from 300-pound guards and centers. This season, his task is to prove he can hold up for 50-60 snaps a game without a decrease in his productivity. He seems determined, and equipped, to do that.

At the rush end, sophomore Chris Bowers was/is very similar to Garrett. His motor runs all the time, he's quick at his position and his intensity level is as high as anyone's on the team, but last year he was just too light on the scales to hold up for a complete game. Like Jeremy, he's put on some weight and it's helping his cause, especially in run defense. In Saturday's scrimmage, Chris was able to take on big tackles and tight ends more effectively, from our viewpoint. At 237 pounds, and still holding his edge speed, it is his goal to enter August practice in the 240-245 pound range.

The backups include junior Viciente DeLoach, who is now in the 260-pound range and showing some signs of improvement; Trey Poole, who was moved from OL to NG this spring and is learning the position on the fly; and sophomore Reterio Brown, who needed a good spring under his belt but was recently injured. Of the three, look for DeLoach to be the most prominent contributor.

Overview: The anticipated arrival of several highly-touted signees - most notable being Jerrell Powe, Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman - has the current players on their toes. This is their time to prove their mettle and they seem - as a whole - to be taking their shots with the abandon and aggressivness required. In an earlier interview with Coach O, he basically said the returning defensive linemen need to step it up in spring or the reps may not be there in August for them. We do not, for one instant, believe Coach O was bluffing.

The Rebel defensive line has a big challenge in front of them. Leadership has to be developed and some cohesiveness as a unit working as one has to be gained. More individual gains need to be made as well.

On the flip side, the five main candidates are "due." It's their time to shine, and the backups have a chance to prove themselves as well. The opportunity is there. They just have to put a strangle hold on it.

Tomorrow: Part II - The rest of the defense.

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