By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Wayne Dorsey has many tests to come on the field and in the classroom for Ole Miss.
There is one test he passes by simply tying his shoes and standing up straight. He looks like an athlete.
More specifically, he looks like a football player, a run stopper and pass rusher at defensive end, a playmaker that Ole Miss needs to continue a mini-legacy on the defensive line.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has not shied away from crediting the previous administration for the talent it stock-piled along the defensive front.
Those defensive ends and tackles have been the key components as the Rebels have led the SEC in tackles for loss for the last two seasons.
That line is in the midst of transformation however. Three of the top four ends from last year’s team are gone, and the line will look much more different in 2011 when tackles Ted Laurent, LaMark Armour, Lawon Scott and Jerrell Powe are gone.
This is where Dorsey, a heralded junior college transfer, comes in, and for now, he passes the look test. At 6-foot-6 he has to look down to talk to his teammates, who aren’t small themselves.
While the look test is the first test, it carries the weight of only a pop quiz, and Dorsey is eager to get to the meat of the curriculum.
“He’s so hard on himself when he makes a mistake,” senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett says. “He’s expected to come in and do big things. I tell him he’s just got to get into his playbook. It’s going to come.”
The growth of this defensive line has created at Ole Miss a reputation of physical play up front that wasn’t there before Ed Orgeron, a former defensive tackle, took over as head coach.
As his record would suggest, there are a lot of things Orgeron didn’t get done during his time in the big chair. Coaching defensive line and recruiting to it are not on that list.
The Rebels have been so deep at tackle, that, barring injury, it’s unlikely Nutt’s signees will greatly impact the position this year. It’s the last position on either side of the ball where that holds true.
It doesn’t hold true at end, where Dorsey will be at one side, with freshman Cameron Whigham and third-year sophomore Gerald Rivers as the backups.
Whigham and Rivers score well on the look test, too. It’s been a productive spring, and you can see the extra coaching, extra encouragement, directed to players with potential but players who haven’t made their mark in SEC games.
For a couple of years they haven’t had to, but that’s beginning to change.
What does it mean?
Defensive line play has been very good in the spring, at least you assume it has. The thing about spring is, if your defensive line is really good, does it mean your offensive line is really bad?
This year it has meant the offensive line is really young, at least on the interior. The offensive line has gotten in some licks in the past few days, won some battles.
“It was going to happen,” Lockett explains. “They watch film just like we watch film. They’ve picked up what we’ve been doing to take advantage of their mistakes or weak spots. You can only beat up a person so many times without them coming back and winning one of those fights.”
The offensive line improvement has been a welcome sight for Ole Miss, but when the games arrive in September, it will be the Ole Miss defensive line that needs to administer punishment in those fist fights.
That’s where the experience on this team is, and that squad may need to set the tone to give the offense time to come around.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.