Rebels to increase pressure this year

Mike Hilton, who is expected to start at cornerback, expects Ole Miss to blitz more due to an improved front seven and confident secondary. (Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss)

Mike Hilton, who is expected to start at cornerback, expects Ole Miss to blitz more due to an improved front seven and confident secondary. (Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss)

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

OXFORD – If Dave Wommack had been coordinator for Baskin-Robbins and not the Ole Miss defense, he’d have felt the same way.

Wommack didn’t have all 31 flavors at his disposal last year. In fact, the Rebels’ defensive schemes were much more vanilla than he would have preferred.

“We’d always been somewhere around 35 to 40 percent with pressure, which means bringing five or more. We absolutely want to get back to that,” Wommack says.

Whatever pass rush Ole Miss might have gotten from its front four last year was weakened when it lost end C.J. Johnson for the season.

Secondary play also wasn’t stellar enough to blitz frequently and made bringing pressure a higher-risk proposition than Wommack wanted.

He estimates that he sent an extra pass rusher about 27 or 28 percent of the time in 2013.

Results were predictable. Ole Miss averaged just 1.54 sacks per game, 12th in the SEC and 96th nationally.

A conservative approach was what the Rebels needed then. It’s not what Wommack believes they need now.

With more confidence in his front end and his back end he expects to be more aggressive in his play-calling beginning with next week’s season opener against Boise State in Atlanta.

“I think Boise’s going to see some things they haven’t seen us doing the last two years,” Wommack said.

“I feel like we’re going to blitz a lot more,” says Mike Hilton, a junior who is expected to start at cornerback and also play Huskie, the Rebels’ fifth defensive back that plays closer to the line of scrimmage. “He trusts us in the back end, and we’ve got a front seven that can hold it down too.”

Growing confidence

This abundant confidence comes not because a lot of experienced players have spent multiple seasons at one position. It’s a hodge podge of ability, age and placement that lead to the optimism.

Also, there are enough talented players to withstand the loss – so far – of a couple of very good ones.

Junior nose tackle Issac Gross has missed most of camp with a neck injury. His future is unclear. Unfortunately, the future is clear for junior college transfer cornerback Tee Shepard, and he won’t play this season because of a torn toe tendon.

Johnson, though, is back and healthy. Robert Nkemdiche moves from end to tackle says he’s devoted himself to learning a new technique and the playbook.

Veteran Bryon Bennett has moved to nose tackle and is playing the best ball of his career, Wommack says.

Senior Senquez Golson and Hilton, plus reserves Derrick Jones and freshman Kendarius Webster have helped absorb Shepard’s loss.

“We weren’t able to bring pressure last year because of the pass rush we didn’t have and the corners … we lacked the corner play that we needed,” Wommack said.

End Marquis Haynes, linebacker DeMarquis Gates and Huskie A.J. Moore are three more freshmen Wommack expects to play roles.

He feels better about this secondary than either of his first two at Ole Miss.

“We’ve got some guys that can cover. We’ve got some smart guys,” Wommack said.

“We can create different packages with those guys. I think this is a better defensive team than has been around here the last couple of years.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com