(Sixth in a series of interviews with the Ole Miss football coaches regarding the outcome of spring training._
Defensive Line Coach Tracy Rocker starts at square one with his coaching and then moves to the next square.
What is square one for him?
"It's all about effort. The thing I have seen every day in spring is that the effort improves daily and that's a good sign," Rocker noted. "Our number one goal for spring was to keep improving each snap from an effort standpoint as we go forward. We want to eliminate mistakes and execute, but the best way to cover up mistakes is going hard every snap."
Rocker, like all the Rebel coaches, is also looking for consistency in play, which includes consistency in effort.
"What Coach (Tyrone) Nix and all of us on the defensive staff are selling our guys on defense is to have 11 guys in the picture frame every day we watch film. At times we see 11 in there, but at other times we see five or six. That's not the consistency we are looking for," Tracy added. "For much of this spring, we've been having two great snaps out of four. Football is a game based on four downs, get 10 yards for a first down in four snaps. Those four downs have to be consistent for us to stop the offense or make them punt.
"That is what we are striving for and I feel we will get there. My guys are getting better at that, but we aren't there yet."
At defensive end, sophomore Kentrell Lockett has emerged in the top spot this spring, currently ahead of junior Greg Hardy.
"Kentrell has been very consistent and solid. He understands what we are doing defensively and I've been proud of his effort, even though it can be a little better. He's taken coaching well and that's been very positive. He needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room in the offseason, but so far so good with Kentrell," Rocker assessed. "Greg understands what we are doing on defense. What we want from Greg is more consistency. He will make a great play and then he will disappear. You can't disappear for two or three snaps and then play hard every once in a while."
Sophomore LaDerrick Vaughn is next in the pecking order.
"He's a young guy, but he's starting to understand what's going on. I think he will be a solid player in time, but we have to improve his body weight and strength. He's shown some speed in his approach, but we need more pop from him," Tracy said.
At the other DE slot, junior Marcus Tillman has held down the top spot the whole spring, even though he's getting a strong challenge from JUCO transfer Emmanuel Stephens.
"Marcus started off spring slowly, but in the last week or so he has come on strong. He understands the defense. To play defense, though, you have to be a little bit mad. We want him a little madder when he comes off the ball. I enjoy coaching Marcus – he takes coaching well," Rocker noted. "Emmanuel is a junior college kid who got here at the semester break. I feel good about him. He is understanding all the terminology and the defense, but he's done a little of what Greg has done – make a great play and then disappear. We just need him to be more consistent and to get in the weight room in the offseason."
For the purpose of this story, Tracy wanted to keep Chris Strong at defensive end, even though toward the end of spring he moved Chris inside to tackle for a few practices and it has not been determined where the talented sophomore will stick. Redshirt freshman Nathan Juleff is also in the mix.
"Chris is developing. He just needs work. He came in as a linebacker last year, but now we have moved him closer to the ball and down. He has to get the grasp of defensive line terminology, leverage, getting underneath blocks and so on. It's all new to him and he's still a freshman," Rocker explained. "This is his first spring practice and he was kind of thrown in the fire when he came in here last summer. He needs time to develop some. We're not sure if he will be an outside guy or an inside guy, but we know he has ability. Once he matches his effort with his ability, we'll find him a home.
"We need Nathan to put on some body weight. Get in the weight room and get after it. I enjoy coaching him but he has work to do in the area of developing his body."
The "tweener" of the bunch is junior LaMark Armour, who started out at DE and was moved inside to DT early in spring.
"I'm not sure is LaMark is a DT or a DE yet. We worked him at both positions. He's learning how to use his leverage and make that work for him. We need him to pick up his intensity as well on a consistent basis," Tracy added.
At one defensive tackle slot, senior Peria Jerry has been the man.
"Peria has been very solid for us. There is no question he plays with a high motor and is very intense. The only thing we need from him is to get him in better shape so he can have a great senior season. He's very enjoyable to coach and I'm proud he's taken to me. At first I was worried because he's a senior and sometimes seniors don't accept change well, but Peria has not been that way. He is taking what I tell him. He can also be a leader for us, not only on the front four, but on the whole defense," Rocker said.
Sophomore Lawon Scott is next in line.
"Lawon has good upside, but he's got to get more consistent and in better shape. This is his first spring. He has some growing up to do, but he makes some good plays and then disappears. We know it's in him because we see the good plays," stated Tracy. "Like Justin Sanders, we need them to grow up some in the offseason."
Sophomore David Densmore is next.
"David probably is more sound fundamentally than most of my guys, but he's also the smallest. He's a pleasure working with. If he can ever hold a little more weight, he might help us one day," Rocker noted.
At the other tackle slot, sophomore Ted Laurent took over quickly and never let go this spring.
"This was Ted's first spring and with that has come solid play at times and inconsistency at times. That's pretty typical for a first-year player. I have not questioned Ted's effort at all, it's just a matter of eliminating mistakes and getting him to understand the correct techniques to use at that position. He's been very enjoyable to work with," Rocker said. "I'm hoping to build some continuity between Ted and Peria and make that inside real solid."
Redshirt freshman Justin Sanders is next in the pecking order.
"This is Justin's first spring and he's done some good things and some disappearing acts as well. The thing with him is learning to bend over more and play lower. He's a big guy with great upside. I like coaching him, but we have to get him bent over more and get him in better shape. He wants to be a player so that's half the battle," Tracy said.
Rocker mentioned Jerrell Powe briefly as well.
"Jerrell is working on his books right now, which is the most important thing he has on his plate. He's having a good semester. Once he takes care of his academics, we will worry about football," Rocker added. "Hopefully, he will take care of his academics and we will get that big body on the field in the summer and in August."
Overall, Rocker says offseason conditioning is a key to August and next season.
"We've got some guys who need to get in better condition so they will let their bodies go and not be timid. Once we get them in better shape, they will start playing faster and that will be a major goal for us," he ended. "We made strides in spring, but we've got more work to do. The good thing is that everyone is on the same page now as to what is required and we can go from there."
Defensive Line -
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