For obvious reasons there has been a lot of attention on quarterbacks, offensive line and injuries mid-way through spring football practice at Ole Miss.
Hugh Freeze has also learned something else about his Rebels. They should be pretty strong on defense.
Ole Miss led the nation in scoring defense last year (16.0 points per game). They were No. 16 in pass efficiency defense, No. 11 in red zone defense, No. 13 in total defense. They least impressive category was against the run where Ole Miss was No. 29 in rushing defense, fifth in the SEC.
The Rebels are scheduled for a full scrimmage tomorrow.
“Defensively we’ve been really, really pleased,” Freeze said earlier this week. “We have a chance to be really good on that side.”
He noted the “speed and length” of his defense.
Mid-year junior college additions cornerback Tony Bridges and defensive lineman D.J. Jones, a 300-pounder who should help against the run, have been impressive, Freeze said.
He also singled out offensive lineman Javon Patterson, a freshman who enrolled early.
We’ve not seen any of spring practice, but I’m thinking Freeze would be more reserved with his praise if he did not see good things from two new starting cornerbacks, Bridges and Tee Shepard, a former Notre Dame signee who sat out last year with torn ligaments in his toe.
There are a lot of key players returning defensively but also a few moves to keep an eye on like C.J. Johnson to middle linebacker and Mike Hilton to safety.
Ole Miss is replacing free safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson, both AP All-Americans.
Freeze announced before spring that Hilton, who has played every position in the secondary, would move to safety. Hilton told us earlier in the spring that he was practicing at rover, and senior Trae Elston had moved to free safety where he was competing with sophomore C.J. Hampton.
Freeze said Hampton is playing physical and tackling well right now.
Bridges and Shepard are both over 6-feet tall. The key to making this whole thing work will be how well the corners cover.
It looks like things have gotten off to a good start in that regard.
“(Bridges) is long and athletic and physical. He and Tee are both playing really well. They’re a little too aggressive sometimes when they’re on an island, but they’re both very aggressive and long.”