Editor's Note: The following is Part X in our series of evaluations for spring football from the Rebel coaches. Today, Coach Ed Orgeron looks at the defense and their spring production.
Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron, who everyone knows doubles as the defensive coordinator, is frank when discussing the spring progress of the Rebel defense.
Some positions are filling in nicely, some are on the verge and some need help. Pretty typical of most springs.
Coach O didn't mince words in assessing the spring session, beginning with the defensive line.
"We aren't really completely settled on anything up front yet," he began. "(DE) Peria Jerry has had an outstanding spring. As I have said before, he has proven to us this spring that he can play any of the four DL positions. We're not sure what we are going to do with him yet, but we know he can handle whatever we throw at him based on his spring performance. He's been dominant at times and has set the tempo of the defense up front.
"(DT) Hayward Howard has progressed but he's still not in a position for us to declare him a starter and to play every down in the SEC. He will need to get better in August and to keep working on everything. The nose tackle and LEO (DE) positions are still up in the air. Chris Bowers and Jeremy Garrett have done solid jobs, but they have not put a strangle hold on those positions based on their spring performances. I do believe both have improved since last year, but they have to continue along that line in order to win the jobs in August. Brandon Jenkins, Viciente DeLoach and LeRon King all have to keep plugging and raise their games another notch. Brandon did come on some at the end of spring and earned the number one nose tackle slot for now, but he's still go a way to go to be where we want him in the fall."
At linebacker, O's assessment is similar – some good, some a work in progress.
"(WLB) Quentin Taylor has upped his status with us a little bit, but he has not taken over the position yet," Coach O continued. "(SLB) Garry Pack is solid and has progressed the way we hoped he would in spring. You can tell the year's experience he has as a starter in this system helped him. His retention in spring was good and he's honed in on being better at his position.
"(MLB) Robert Russell is in the same boat as Quentin. He has made progress, but he's got to continue in that direction. We feel comfortable he will be able to spell Patrick (Willis) in the fall, but he's still got work to do. Antonio Turner, Rogers Loche and Brandon Thomas have a lot of work to do to break into the lineup. For the first time he's ever been at linebacker, Antonio did some positive things. We feel good about him at linebacker for now."
Orgeron likes the experience of the starting secondary, but he's anxious to see some depth develop.
"We feel good about the secondary, to a point. The starters are experienced, but we have to get more development from the youth back there," he explained. "(FS) Charles Clark, (CBs) Trumaine McBride and Nate Banks, and (SS) B. Brown have had solid springs, but we need Jamarca (Sanford, out with an injury) back there Dustin Mouzon was injured some in spring, but while he was out there, he was productive.
"We also need guys like Gary Riggs, Terrell Jackson, Gary Albury to emerge and up their games to another level."
Our Take: From the limited views we had of practice, it was clear the Rebs are benefiting, most of them, from being in Orgeron's 4-3 scheme for a year. The returning starters are reacting quicker to situations and have a grasp of what Coach O and the defensive staff want. While there is nothing that can be done about it now, it is apparent the defense will get a major shot in the arm with the return of Willis and Sanford. (Duh.) If Bowers, Garrett, Jenkins and Taylor can up their games to the level O is looking for, and some newcomers can make the impact that is hoped for, the Rebel defense can be salty in 2006. Those are a lot of ifs, but when you have an impact player like P-Willie to build around, it certainly makes life in the SEC easier. We look for the defense to "surprise" some folks in 2006. In fact, we will be surprised if they don't.
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