n It’s a crucial need at linebacker, where last year’s standouts have been badly missed.
BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron has spent the better part of his team’s open date week on the road recruiting, but you may be more likely to catch the Rebels’ coach at a track meet instead of a football game.
The biggest need for the 2008 team is speed, Orgeron says.
The Rebels were blessed with speedy linebackers Patrick Willis and Rory Johnson on their ’06 defense.
The players expected to make the greatest impact as Willis’ replacements in the middle – junior college All-American Tony Fein and heralded prep prospect Chris Strong – are physical but slower at the position.
Compton (Calif.) transfer Ashlee Palmer has given the Rebels speed at one linebacker spot. It’s no coincidence that he is the team’s leading tackler in spite of missing last week’s game with a suspension.
Fein has come on late to win the middle linebacker job, while Strong has been moved to defensive end.
Other freshmen and junior college linebackers have not made a substantial impact.
“A lot of what we need is speed, especially on defense,” Orgeron said. “Patrick and Rory averaged 20 (combined) tackles last year. We don’t have that on defense right now. We need to find some outside linebackers who can run.”
Linebacker play this season has been affected not only by a reduction in speed but, for a long time, by new players struggling be in the right place for the defensive play called.
Orgeron will gamble for a quick adjustment with former Auburn signee Alonzo Horton, who played at Northwest Community College this season.
“We definitely have some needs where we feel like some junior college guys can really help us,” he said. “We are not at a point where we can bring in a whole lot of junior college players. The key is to get guys with grades that can get in, that can meet the academic standards. You also have to realize you’re not going to be perfect on every one.”
Six of 19 current commits are junior college players.
Another position where Orgeron hopes to land a key junior college transfer is running back.
At present, Cordera Eason, a 2006 signee, and UCLA transfer Jeremy McGee would be considered the frontrunners for the top two spots.
“But we would like to find a big junior college running back,” Orgeron said.
Ole Miss also has a commitment from Venice, La., native Ken Ashley, who is averaging 5.4 yards a carry in a reserve role at El Camino College in Torrance, Calif.
In addition to the signees, Orgeron also expects help from transfer Jevan Snead (Texas) at quarterback and Jeremy McGee (UCLA) at running back.
The 2008 season will also provide the debut of defensive lineman Jerrell Powe – four years after competing at Wayne County High School – provided Powe makes the necessary academic achievement during the school year.