For the Rebel defense to be good next year, the most experienced part of the team - the defensive line - has to step up and be a force.
For the DL to be a force, the Rebels in the trenches are going to have to stay healthy.
Case in point, senior Nose Tackle Jeremy Garrett.
After earning a starting position last year, he was injured in the season opener against Memphis. Coupled with Peria Jerry being hurt most of the year as well, the DL did not reach the levels it could have or was expected to.
"My biggest goal is to just stay healthy," sid Garrett, who is one of the strongest players on the team and has earned his stripes though being fast and bullish at the same time. "If I can stay healthy, the rest will take care of itself."
After a couple of years of being a reliable backup, last year was supposed to be his breakout year. All the stars were aligned for him to have a banner season as the Rebels were having to replace all four starters on the DL.
But fate was not on his side.
"I had worked hard and I know I was ready for a starting role. I'd paid my dues and was ready to show our fans that I could handle it and succeed," said the 6-1, 285-pounder, who has had to overcome size doubts since he's been on the collegiate level. "Getting hurt was frustrating. I knew I could be helping my team, but I wasn't able to go."
Now, with the injury behind him, Garrett is making another push to prove himself in an important starting role.
"I'm approaching this spring the same way I have every practice since I have been here - I am giving it 100% percent and trying to be the best I can be for my team," he explains.
His attitude has given rise to him being tabbed as one of the defensive leaders on squad.
"When they see a senior giving it everything he has, it catches on with the younger guys. They learn that is what it takes. They pick up on it - it's contagious," he continued.
Garrett has obviously impressed Coach Ed Orgeron. In each of the five post-practice meetings with the press, Coach O has been asked to talk about who impressed him in the closed practice sessions.
Each time, he has started his comments - on defense - with Garrett.
"He's one of our stalwarts right now," said Orgeron. "Jeremy is one of hardest workers and he's become a good technician. He's powerful and he's quick. His biggest barrier is to stay healthy."
Garrett likes the way things are progressing so far in the spring on defense, under the direction of new Defensive Coordinator John Thompson.
"Coach Thompson brings the same things Coach O brings - energy and passion and intensity," he assessed. "His enthusiasm catches on and trickles down through the whole defense."
Jeremy belives in the Rebs' returning D-Linemen.
"We have experienced with Brandon Jenkins, Peria and me inside and Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman and Chris Bowers on the outside. The one thing we all have to do is stay healthy," he added. "Brandon, Greg and Marcus were really the only ones who stayed healthy all year last year. Chris, Peria and I missed a lot of time. We can't afford that this year. We need all the help we can get up front and we need to work out a rotation to keep us all fresh.
"If we can accomplish that, I know we are good enough to have success. We have all proven we can play well, when healthy, so that's the key."
Garrett knows there is development to be made on the back end of the defense, but he believes in the candidates available and the candidates who will be coming in this summer.
"We've got enough good athletes. We just need some of the younger guys to become players. That's what spring is for," he says. "It's a long time between now and September. We will ge there."
And he hopes - with fingers crossed - to be leading the way.
"I want to go out with a big bang. We've lost the last three years. That's got to end now," he closed. "I believe it will. We are putting in the effort. It will pay off."
Jeremy Garrett update -
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