For the past two seasons, the depth along the Rebel defensive line has been one of the strengths of the team.
In 2008, then DL Coach Tracy Rocker was comfortable rolling in and out 10 players at four positions.
Last year, in his first season back at Ole Miss, DL Coach Terry Price felt good about two complete units.
That's the way it's supposed to be, but until the last couple of years has rarely been that way at Ole Miss.
We can readily recall the days when putting four good players across the front, with very little backup, was the norm.
Now, with Marcus Tillman, Greg Hardy and Emmanuel Stephens all gone off the 2009 squad, T.P. has his hands full filling in the gaps.
Price's group should remain strong on the inside with his top four - Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent and LaMark Armour - all returning, but the defensive end slots are a different story.
Senior Kentrell Lockett is the only heavy contributor who returns off the last two squads at defensive end.
On the glass-is-half-full side of things, Lockett is a good one to start with.
Word has trickled out from offseason workouts that Kentrell is now over the 260-pound mark and is setting himself up for a monster year with the NFL definitely in his sites.
There's no question Lockett will be the leader of the defensive ends and most likely one of the overall team leaders, which puts him in the running to be one of the permanent team captains.
From there, things get a bit more dicey.
Sophomore Gerald Rivers will be backing up Lockett in spring training and the verdict is still out on him. He's around 240 pounds right now and needs to put on 10 more good pounds to be as effective as Price wants him to be. Gerald did show improvement and work hard last year, but did he make enough advancement to be one of the rotation guys next fall? He will need a big spring to elevate himself to that level.
Behind Rivers is converted linebacker Jason Jones who missed all of last season with a knee injury. His rehab has gone extremely well and he's now over 250 pounds. He definitely looks the part, but word from the training room is that he may be limited in spring training coming off that injury. The hope is to get some work out of him, but it remains to be seen. Again, some advancement is hoped for in those valuable 15 spring practices, but how much he will be able to do is TBD.
On the other side, Price definitely has his hands full with three candidates who have never taken a snap in the SEC - junior Wayne Dorsey, freshman Cameron Whigham and freshman Mike Thomas.
Dorsey was a must signee during recruiting. Not only is he projected to be a major talent, he was able to come to Ole Miss at semester break from junior college and take advantage of an offseason and spring training acclimation.
Wayne is working hard to put on some weight and gain some strength. Again, a big spring is a must because he is basically - at this point - penciled in as a starter for 2010.
Whigham was able to go through a few on-campus Cotton Bowl practices as his first taste of college football.
He left a good first impression with his toughness and effort. Physically, he looks a lot like Stephens - not as tall as you would ideally like, but thick and with an all-out motor.
Thomas comes to Ole Miss from Hargrave Military Academy after signing with the Rebels in 2009. At 6-4, 255 pounds, he looks the part. All his health (back) issues are behind him and he's looking for a clean start.
Mike will start out on the outside, but with his frame, he could easily grow into a DT.
The inside looks much more "comfortable," with a good combination of depth, skill and experience.
Powe leads that march and is working hard in the offseason to set himself up for a big year. His goal in spring will be to become more of a factor in pass rush. Many times last season, Powe would be taken out of the game on passing downs. He's terrific at blowing up run plays, but he knows he's got to be more effective in getting to the quarterback.
To accomplish that, Jerrell has been working out in the offseason with the skill position players in all drills. Strength is not an issue with him, so his goal has been to improve his movement. He's also trying to get his body weight down to about 315-320 - no word yet on his progress in that area.
Scott and Laurent are also working hard on movement, flexibility and explosiveness. Like Powe, they want to become more of a factor in pressuring the quarterback and making more plays behind the line of scrimmage.
LaMark Armour, who was in the DT rotation in 2009, will be back for his sixth year and should be able to repeat or improve on some decent work from a year ago.
Justin Smith is still a question mark for spring training. After breaking his foot last August, and going through surgery, he started having problems with it again toward the end of last year. He sat out the last several games.
Offseason surgery was considered, but then the doctors opted to see if the fracture would heal on its own. Next week, he will have another diagnostic test to see if there is any progress and then plan a course of action from there. His availability for spring training is still very much in question.
Redshirt freshman Corey Gaines showed some promise in Cotton Bowl practices, but the thinking right now is that he's still a year away. Corey has to get stronger and continue to work on getting his body in better shape. The good news is that he has made substantial progress. The bad news is that he had a long way to go when he first came to Ole Miss.
Will Price be able to have a full rotation again in 2010?
Spring training will go a long way in determining that answer.
Spring Preview: Defensive Line
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