In the golden, olden days of football, defensive linemen were basically run stoppers.
They took a gap and plugged things up at the line of scrimmage.
That is no longer the case, and hasn't been for a long time.
These days, defensive linemen have to be exceptional, big athletes who can stop the run and pressure the passer. Strong and agile. Aggressive, but still technique-sound. They are, arguably, the ultimate athletes among big men in sports.
From what I witnessed in spring training, the Ole Miss defensive line has a chance to be a strong unit, capable of mixing it up and succeeding in our league in both run stopping and pressure situations.
But at this point in time some of that statement hinges on potential.
Right now, we are banking on the potential of DT Ted Laurent. The potential of DE Emmanuel Stephens. The potential of DT Jerrell Powe making it academically. The potential of Lawon Scott and Justin Sanders to keep progressing.
Some of that potential will surface into production. Some of it may take more time. My odds are on most of it getting done for the 2008 season.
As of this writing, the signs are very positive for Powe. The optimism within the coaching staff is high that he will be eligible this fall. That would be a great boon to all involved, especially Jerrell, who has struggled for three years to get the green light to play football for the Rebels and has jumped through a lot of hoops to do so. How can you not pull for that type of effort to be rewarded?
Laurent had a very good spring and was one of the most improved players on the squad, from my view, but he is not, as DL Coach Tracy Rocker is quick to point out, a finished product yet. He was simply the "best available" in spring and he produced sporadically. Sporadic must turn into consistent for Ted to reach his potential and become a force in the SEC trenches, where the men are men and boys reach extinction quickly.
Stephens hit the ground running and will earn a lot of snaps this fall, but he's unproven as well on this level. Again, he needs to keep digging to find the consistency needed to play winning football in the SEC. I like his spring start though. He comes off the ball hard and quick and attacks blockers with ferocity. The offseason goal for him is to gain about 10 more pounds.
DTs Scott and Sanders also made strides and appear to be reaching the level of being competent backups. They are feeling their way through and making steps in the right direction. One or two more notches, which they should be able to reach by the time the season starts, and they will move into the echelon of reliable. Again, reaching their potential is the key and excellent offseasons and Augusts will be their keys.
DE Kentrell Lockett made as much improvement in the spring as anyone on the team. So much so that the somewhat complacent start by returning starter Greg Hardy allowed the coaches to promote Kentrell to first team status. Lockett has finally been able to maintain some weight gains and is now hopeful of being 250 pounds by the time the season starts.
Hardy was a spring enigma. When he wanted to, Greg showed the prowess that has earned him All-SEC status as one of the QB sack leaders in the conference. When he didn't want to, well, you can guess the rest. His productivity dropped and Lockett scooted ahead of him. Something tells me Greg will not like sitting on the bench and because of that we will see the real Greg Hardy surface in August practice. Nobody on the team has more ability at any position, but that alone will not get him on the field.
Chris Strong was moved from DE to DT late in the spring, but he's having academic issues and his future at Ole Miss is in peril. LaMark Armour was also moved inside and showed flashes of being a good pass rusher, but his size does not hold up play-in-and-play-out in the trenches against a run attack. Ditto on DE LaDerrick Vaughn. Both could be used in pass rush situations as specialists.
DE Marcus Tillman also had a very good spring. Marcus is Marcus. He's got a big body, good movement and he's going to give the team everything he's got on every snap, be it in practice or in a game. Not much more to ask for out of a player.
Saving the best for last, senior Peria Jerry entered and left spring completely healthy for the first time in over a year. His good health showed in his play. There is no question he is the anchor of the DL and one of the main leaders of the entire defense and team. When Peria speaks, his teammates listen. There were days in spring when one OL just could not block him due to his combination of brute strength and quickness off the ball. He's also developed an immense amount of DT savvy and is using his experience to his benefit now more than ever. Frankly, I would not trade Peria for any DT in the league now that his health is not an issue.
Overall, the Rebel defensive line is headed toward being a strength of the team if it's not there already.
One side of the story is some players need further development. The other side is there is no reason they shouldn't continue along that path and reach their potential.
Defensive Line -
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