Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator John Thompson still has some questions in his mind about this year's Rebel defense, but most of them concern performance consistency and not talent/ability issues.
"We've got some battles going on at different positions and we have made good progress, but I'm still looking for more consistency across the board," said J.T. 10 days from the season opener against Memphis. "I really don't look back much, but we have made progress. We know a lot about our guys. We are getting our two-deep more settled. We have trimmed back on reps now and are starting to hone in personnel-wise and hone in on what we can do as a defense. We are adjusting our gameplan. I see every position as better since early August, but we needed to be, we had to be.
"We are not as consistent as we need to be and are going to be. It's overall. Last Saturday, for instance, we came out and we were playing the run well, rushing the passer well and defending well. Then we take and break and we don't rush the passer, we don't defend the run and we don't defend the pass. And we didn't get any turnovers."
There are battles for playing time going on all over the defense. One battle that is drawing a lot of attention is at middle linebacker between JUCO Tony Fein and freshman Chris Strong.
"It's Fein-Strong and Strong-Fein, depending on the day," Thompson said. "I can see Tony really starting to smooth out. He hit bottom and now he's on an upswing. Now I can see him starting to progress and come on.
"Chris is a downhill player and is doing well. He is doing the same thing as Tony, having ups and downs and starting to level off, but on this level, it's a tough position to play. They are making each other better and focusing on what they have to do. The competition is good for them."
A week ago, Thompson was "concerned" about the right corner slot, manned by Terrell Jackson, Cassius Vaughn and Jamariey Atterberry. He's still concerned a bit.
"They are battling. We are just still inconsistent and you can't be at that position. You have to be consistent. Nate (Banks) is playing on the side with Dustin Mouzon right now, but I guess he could go to the other side if he had to," he noted.
Thompson came out of spring training worried about the depth on the defensive line. That worry has subsided a bit for now.
"We have guys getting after it and a number of them. We are deeper than we were in spring and that's a good sign," he stated. "Again, we are looking for more consistency, as a group and individually."
At Sam Linebcker, he was pleaed to see the play of Ashlee Palmer in last Saturday's scrimmage.
"It is like the light came on for him and it's all starting to come together. He showed more consistency and he showed playmaking ability," Thompson said. "I needed to see that kind of progress out of Ashlee, and was glad to see it.
J.T. said the last days leading to the opener are critical, like they always are.
"As a unit, and individually, we need to do everything we can to improve every day we are out there to get to the level we want to be at," he closed. "The kids work hard enough to get that done. That's what I am counting on."
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