Ole Miss Linebackers Coach David Saunders is still mixing and matching some after a couple of weeks of fall practice - mostly trying to identify who the main backups are and how they fit in, but to this point, he's been pleased with the effort they have given.
"Everything is going pretty well," Saunders, who came back to Ole Miss last spring after s stint as the head coach at Millsaps, said. "We are making progress."
He got right into his quick evaluation.
"Garry Pack is holding things down at Sam. I feel like that position is solid at the number one slot," David began. "We have worked several players there as the backup - Jonathan Cornell, LeRon King. We just moved Jonathan to Will LB, so it looks like it's going to be Garry and LeRon at Sam for now. We are still evaluating everyone.
"Both have done a good job, but we are wanting both to notch their games up a little. Garry knows the position and is making plays. LeRon is learning the position and doing a good job preparing himself."
At Mike (Middle) LB, "the man," Patrick Willis is the clear number one - obviously - and is having a good camp while being held back some for precautionary reasons.
"We are working Patrick in at practice some, but we aren't going to risk anything with him," Saunders explained. "He knows what to do, he's attentive and he will be a terrific player for us this fall, just as he has been in the past.
"Our goal for Mike LB this camp was to find a solid backup. Robert Russell is in that position now. Rogers Loche and Brandon Thomas are also taking snaps there. Robert is ahead there right now for the backup slot."
At Will, sophomore Quentin Taylor has gotten good reviews from Head Coach Ed Orgeron. Saunders echoes those sentiments.
"Quentin has had a good camp. We tried switching him and Garry early in the camp, but both seemed more comfortable at their original positions so we moved them back - Quentin back to Will, Garry back to Sam," Saunders noted. "Quentin is the starter at Will, but we are in the same position at Will as we are at Mike - we have to identify a backup who we think will be solid for us. It could be Antonio Turner, it could be Cornell. There's a good competition there right now between those two."
And if - or when, we feel - JUCO transfer Rory Johnson joins the team, where does he fit in?
"We don't exactly know. There are a lot of things we feel Rory can do. We want to put him in a position to compete for a starting slot, but he might be a guy who can back up anywhere and get a lot of snaps that way. We don't know until we get him here," Saunders added.
Saunders was asked what a realistic time frame would be for him to get ready for game action.
"That's an unknown. Is he in good shape? How quickly can he learn the defense? We don't know that right now. Hopefully, he'll be in shape and can learn quickly - that's what I expect, but he's missed 14 practices already," Saunders noted. "What I think is realistic is a quick contribution backing up, special teams play and a couple of weeks of catching up on his assignments. Then we will see from there.
"We just know we are anxious to get him here and excited about his potential and athletic ability."
Willis got high praise from Orgeron after yesterday's scrimmage, which was his first extensive action of the camp.
Saunders also knows a great player when he sees one.
"Patrick changes everything for us. He's that special, a difference-maker. When he's in the lineup, our defense goes up several notches, and that's not a criticism of anyone. He's just that special," David ended.
To summarize, the Reb LBs seem to be pleasing their coach in terms of the starters, but the backups need to step up their games and solidify themselves as solid backups.
And Rory Johnson needs to get on the practice field ASAP.
None of that is new news, but it's good to hear from Saunders that everything is moving ahead and going mostly according to plan.
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