OXFORD – Ole Miss is back on the practice field this week, and the Rebels will begin to turn more of their attention to Boise State, their season-opening opponent on Aug. 28 in Atlanta.
Most of their work has been in the morning, but the Rebels start tonight at 7.
Among the to-do list items for the Ole Miss defense has been to pressure quarterbacks more. That goal was reflected with the defensive linemen signed in February.
Junior end C.J. Johnson says the Rebels have gotten off to a good start.
“We expect to be a lot better. We’re talking about one of the best in the SEC. That’s what we shoot for everyday that we go out and practice. I don’t think it’s a different expectation for anybody else in the room,” he said.
Simply having Johnson back is an improvement. He appeared in only four games last year after leading the Rebels with 61⁄2 sacks in 2012.
Much of the anticipated improvement will have to come from new personnel such as freshman Marquis Haynes and sophomore transfer Fadol Brown.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze says Haynes has been “swimming” mentally as he’s tried to process so much of the defense so soon in camp.
Apparently he’s retained enough to please his coaches. In spite of the return of Brown, Haynes remains first-team at the end opposite Johnson. It’s a spot Brown held at the end of spring drills.
Johnson warns against underestimating Brown, even with his time away. He and Haynes offer greatly different styles as Brown is 50 pounds heavier.
“Fadol’s a big guy. He helps us a lot in collapsing the pocket from an outside standpoint instead of always having speed rushers going and sometimes we leave running lanes for the quarterback, so to have him back to collapse the pocket is huge.”
Ole Miss averaged just 1.54 sacks per game last year, 12th in the SEC and 96th among major colleges.
Losing three members of the secondary – Chief Brown, Tee Shepard and Carlos Davis – to season-ending injuries doesn’t make improvement more difficult, Johnson said.
“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, because it’s something that everyone on our defense expects.”
The Rebels are also without junior nose tackle Issac Gross right now.
The injuries have stretched the increased depth, but Johnson says the veteran leadership on the defense will help it reach goals.
“I think the way that me, D.T. (Shackelford), Denzel (Nkemdiche) and Cody (Prewitt) come out and practice every day makes people want to practice hard. I don’t really think it’s pressure. It’s just more of an attitude, the way we carry ourselves,” he said.