Position Preview: Defensive Line

Continuing a look at different positions through camp …

I wrote about Woodrow Hamilton leading into last season. Ran an excerpt of that story here on the blog last week.

I was struck then about the intensity of Hamilton. You could sense desire and “want to” more than in most players. I’m not with these guys in weights and see them for very little of practice, so judging whether Woodrow Hamilton carries that with him all the time is not something I can do, but I figure that to be the case.

I believe Hamilton would have impacted a little more last year had he been healthy all the way through. It was not surprising to hear praise for him last Friday. That praise came from more than one direction but came with emphasis from defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.

Hamilton, now a third-year sophomore, is up to 300 pounds now, and he’s running first team.

After Gilbert Pena’s junior year when he struggled with conditioning and an injury I didn’t think I’d be writing about him as a guy the Rebels would have trouble replacing, but I was wrong. Pena was a big part of what went on the middle last year and a necessary complement to the down spots when one of your key players, Issac Gross, weighs around 250.

Hamilton and juco transfer Lavon Hooks (6-4, 302) give the Rebels the beef to go along with quicker down linemen like Gross and Bryon Bennett, who is down to 278.

Gross hasn’t practiced yet and may not be ready for Vanderbilt, so Hamilton, Hooks and Bennett could get a lot of snaps.

There’s more speed at the ends this year with the addition of Robert Nkemdiche. Channing Ward brings a lot of speed too, but he needs to increase his lateral quickness and reaction time. He’s an interesting part of the equation to keep an eye on.

So is Carlos Thompson. There was a lot of excitement for Thompson, a speed rusher, when he signed in 2010. He’s had trouble getting on the field and was redshirted last year. He made some gains in the spring and is getting some first-team snaps right now.

Senior Cameron Whigham is the returning starter opposite CJ Johnson. Whigham brings a lot of experience, but his two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks through 13 games are numbers that need to increase.

The excitement about Nkemdiche is justified. He certainly looks the part and will be a big part of the plan this year.

But there’s no question this group needs CJ Johnson, needs him healthy and needs him to turn good numbers (8 TFLs, 6.5 sacks) into great ones. He has the potential.

A darkhorse for playing time to keep an eye on his redshirt freshman John Youngblood. He signed as a tight end and was moved to defensive end in the spring.

I haven’t seen him overwhelm anyone in practice, but I keep him in the back of my mind, because Wommack says he doesn’t make mistakes. That says to me there are a enough mistakes being made by others. There’s always a place for the fundamentally sound player. Lots of times plays are made by being in the right position. Youngblood won’t dominate opponents with speed and strength, but he may be able to give the Rebels some quality snaps.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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  • JB

    will Robert Nkemdiche grab one of these starting positions?

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