Rebels still seeking their 'true identity' on defense

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix was pleased with his side of the ball in the Rebels’ second major scrimmage in spite of a number of players who were held out or were playing at less than full strength.
For the second time the Rebels’ secondary, which allowed a 61.4 completion percentage by opponents in 2010, held the three candidates for the Ole Miss quarterback job below 50 percent.
Barry Brunetti, Zack Stoudt and Randall Mackey were a combined 5 for 15 in the first scrimmage, 15 for 32 in the second.
On Saturday, Junior college transfer Wesley Pendleton had an early interception of Mackey. Safety Brishen Mathews had 31/2 tackles, a pass break-up and a pair of sacks.
“From the base formation we played pretty well, but the thing that concerned me is third-down defense wasn’t great a time or two, and a couple of trick plays we’ve got to play better on. Overall I thought the kids played hard and we got better,” Nix said.
After a light practice on Sunday that included mostly correcting mistakes from the Saturday night scrimmage, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt singled out the play of freshman linebacker C.J. Johnson, who led all defenders with 51/2 tackles in the nearly two-hour workout.
The Rebels did not practice Monday, the first day of classes in Oxford. They will be back on the practice field today.
Nutt said in the off-season that Johnson, the state’s No. 1 recruit following the 2010 season, would have “every opportunity to play a lot of football.”
Freshman Keith Lewis of Tampa, Fla., has stood out among a group of three freshman linebackers that also includes Serderius Bryant.
Trick-play troubles
The trick plays that caused concern for Nix were misdirection touchdown runs by wide receivers Philander Moore and Donte Moncrief. Moore’s covered 24 yards, and Moncrief’s came from the Wild Rebel formation and went for 35 yards.
Among the players held out of the scrimmage were linebacker Ralph Williams, end Jason Jones and safety Damien Jackson. Others, like junior college transfer tackles Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant, played through injuries.
Nix looks forward to getting his players back but sees a silver lining in the additional practice opportunities for young players.
“It makes it harder to find out the true identity of the defense, but as far as evaluating, we still evaluate the young men who are out there. Some guys are getting more reps where normally they wouldn’t get those reps,” Nix said. “They can go out and compete on a high level. They’re going to make some mistakes, but they’re learning.”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com