A year ago I looked at this position and wondered what the Rebels could accomplish here.
There wasn’t much production returning. Uriah Grant had played through some injuries, and conditioning had been an issue for Gilbert Pena. Now looking back at 2012, those guys combined for 13.5 tackles for loss.
Last August I wondered if the quickness of freshman Isaac Gross would truly off-set the fact that he was giving up 50 pounds — sometimes much more — in 1-on-1 matchups.
That quickness did pay off for Gross, who led all defensive linemen and ranked third on the team with 10 tackles for loss. His 40 tackles — 15 of them solos — were second among the linemen and first among the tackles.
Gross missed much of spring drills with a sore groin, but he will again be a factor and a matchup problem for opponents.
The question mark at tackle will be replacing the physical play of Pena, who hit a stride at the end of the year. Newcomer Lavon Hooks could be the answer there. So too could be Woodrow Hamilton, who will be a third-year sophomore.
Hamilton appeared in eight games last year and had nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Injuries kept him from playing more. He was solid in spring drills and will be a factor in the playing rotation.
Ole Miss was hoping to land more than one big junior college tackle, but Hooks provides a big frame (6-4, 290) with some athleticism. He’s not just a plodder. He looked good filling out the uniform in spring drills but was clearly learning his way around. He was an honorable mention All-America last year at Northeast Community College and was rated a consensus top 15 junior college recruit.
Juniors Bryon Bennett and Carlton Martin are also back. Bennett started six games last year.
Incoming freshman Herbert Moore (6-2, 330) has more mass than Hooks. Moore was a consensus three-star recruit. He had 13 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries and four sacks as a senior at Memphis East.