Fifth in a series
The last position that bears the fingerprints of former coach Ed Orgeron, in an unusually positive way, is the defensive line.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has repeatedly credited Orgeron and his staff for recruiting to and coaching the ends and tackles.
With Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott, Ted Laurent and LaMark Armour, the Rebels are two deep with four seniors at tackle. They can withstand an injury here probably easier than any other position.
Ends are a different story.
Senior Kentrell Lockett is the only experienced player returning. Junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey showed strength and ability in the spring – and quickness that would seem unfair in a 6-7, 255-pound frame. He also showed the wide-eyed look of a newcomer.
That's something he'll have to work through, all newcomers do, but expect Dorsey to make an impact.
The key to defensive line success the last few years, and there's been a lot of it, has been the ability to rotate and keep players fresh without a drop in quality.
Whether that plan continues remains to be seen. Third-year sophomore and true freshman Cameron Whigham have little or no game experience. They had good springs, showed quickness, showed the ability to make plays, but how they'll do when the lights are on is something that simply won't be known before September.
The Rebels had a “special” defensive tackle in Peria Jerry two years ago. Jerell Powe could have a Jerry-like year this season.
In fact, he needs to. The defensive line has played a big role in helping Ole Miss lead the SEC in tackles for loss the last two seasons. Two years ago the Rebels led the SEC in sacks, and they ranked second last year.
But Ole Miss was more susceptible to good running games last year. The Rebels gave up just 85 yards a game two years ago, second in the SEC, but gave up 140 yards a game last year.
Three times last year Ole Miss gave up 200 rushing yards or better including 317 at Mississippi State.
To rebuild some attitude in the run game Powe needs to own his real estate, tie up blockers and not only allow linebackers to make plays but make plays himself. If he commands the type of attention it looks like he might – and if the young ends hold their own – the Rebels will make gains in stopping the run.
Everything else defensively just builds from there.