As John Davis and I make our way to Lexington I’m getting back to the Look Ahead series that took a holiday break.
Here’s a look at the defensive ends.
First and foremost, next year is where the extra year for C.J. Johnson really pays off.
That’s good news for Ole Miss, which doesn’t have a lot of numbers at defensive end right now.
Johnson gained an extra year because of his injury-riddled 2013 season. In talking with him during bowl prep he’s really kind of sad right now to watch so many close friends from his signing class move on.
That will change when the pads go on and the hitting starts in the spring. Johnson had eight tackles for loss and four sacks this season.
His numbers are good, but his locker room presence is better.
At a time without much experienced depth among the ends, Johnson’s leadership will be a huge asset.
Marquise Haynes is a rising star. He was not an every-down player this year but still managed to lead the team in sacks with 8.5 and tie for the team lead in tackles for loss with nine in a freshman All-America season. Tony Conner also had nine.
Fadol Brown is back. In his first season on the field for Ole Miss the Florida International transfer had 5.5 tackles for loss and five pressures. He had only a half sack though, as the Rebels were at times inconsistent at finishing plays in the backfield.
Brown is a solid run-stopper and could see some time at defensive tackle.
Channing Ward will be a senior, John Youngblood a junior. They’re guys that have been around but haven’t gotten a lot of line of scrimmage snaps.
Ward has been a special teams star. Even if he were to take on more snaps on regular downs he’ll be a key special teams player. The Rebels likely don’t get the win over Alabama without Ward’s forced fumble on a kickoff late in the game.
Garrald McDowell was a four-star prospect at Covington, La., Victor Evans a three-star guy from Dallas.
They’re the young talent to watch after redshirting this season.
McDowell at 6-2, 245 also played some tackle in high school. He was recruited as an end. Evans at 6-2, 221 is a speed rusher in the mold of Haynes.
The Rebels are in the mix for CeCe Jefferson, a five-star prospect from North Florida who is ranked the No. 1 strong side end.
Others are mixing too, so if the Rebels don’t get Jefferson “the next big thing” has to come from McDowell or Evans.
Both are capable.