Ole Miss Linebackers Coach David Saunders is not displeased with the production of the Rebel LBs through two games, but he is trying to get more "umph" into his lineup.
Saunders and Head Coach Ed Orgeron hope junior Rory Johnson can help in that area.
"Rory has a grasp of the defense now. Last week, what he did was somewhat limited, but this week he has shown a lot of progress," said Saunders. "We feel good about him being able to run our defense now."
Saunders and Coach O said the same things when asked what Rory, who might get his first Ole Miss start against Kentucky, brings to the table.
"Obviously, his speed is a major factor for him. You could see last week he can make up ground in a hurry. He can run guys down. We've seen that in practice since he has been here," he noted. "He also has some experience - he played in 20 JUCO games, which has helped his development as a college player. His junior college experience was good for him. It's a fast, talented league and it shows in his play now.
"Rory has a great intangible for a LB - he is always near the ball. He has good LB insincts and finds the ball quickly. At the end of the play, he's usually there."
Saunders was quick to point out that Quentin Taylor, the starter at Will LB the first two games, has not done a bad job.
"The change is the result of Rory making progress. Rory made plays in the game last week and deserves more playing time, but there is still a heated competition at that position," David continued. "Quentin has done OK and will continue to play. Right now, my ideal ratio between the two will be 3-to-1 in favor of Rory, but that's a week-to-week deal too."
Sam Linebacker Garry Pack has been grading well, according to Saunders.
"Garry has been consistent, but we want improvement from him. We feel like he's doing a good job, but we think we can get more production from him because he's a veteran and really hasn't turned loose yet," David allowed.
MLB Patrick Willis' productivity goes without asking, but even at that Saunders says he believes P-Willie can continue to improve.
"Patrick has had two very solid games - which we expected, but even he will tell you he can do better. We expect him to improve week-to-week and just get better and better," Saunders evaluated.
Saunders is working with several backups who are trying to make a move, but none moreso than freshman Jonathan Cornell, who is working at the Sam LB this week and has played all three LB positions at one time or another this fall camp and this season.
"We are looking for competition at all positions. We like what we have seen out of Jonathan and would like to start getting him in games due to the progress he has made," Saunders said.
Backing up Willis is Robert Russell, who hasn't seen much playing time to this point, but is doing a nice job.
"It's hard to take Patrick off the field, so Robert's opportunities have been limited, but he's doing some good things in practice. Robert is working hard and doing some positive things," David said.
All-in-all, Saunders thinks the linebackers are on the right path, but as the season wears on, he wants to see more production out of all of them.
"I believe we will start making more plays beginning this week against Kentucky," he closed. "That's certainly our goal."
David Saunders -
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