Ole Miss Rebels: Defensive Prospects Who Should Play Early

By Rick Stavig
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As we discussed yesterday, the Ole Miss Rebels signed the greatest recruiting class in the history of the program on Wednesday.  Many are viewing it as program changer, and in fact it might be.

We also discussed yesterday which offensive signees have the best chance of playing right away, and not surprisingly, most of the biggest names on that side of the ball should see early playing time.

But what about the defense?

Along the defensive line, Ole Miss added three very talented players.  Two of them, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks, were rated as the number one players in the country (high school and junior college ranks).  Nkemdiche, at a fully developed 6’5” 270lbs, offers tremendous versatility.  He has a starting job right away at strong side end.  I would also expect him to move inside to a three technique on passing downs to offer more speed on the interior, thus enabling the Rebs to put another excellent pass rusher on the field.

There’s a chance that incumbent end C.J. Johnson, who was a 5-star recruit merely two years ago, could move back to linebacker, where he was originally recruited.  He only switched to end because of the roster numbers.  If he moves, Channing Ward (a top 50 recruit last year) could play at the other end spot opposite Nkemdiche.

On the inside, Hooks is more than likely to get the starting spot opposite Issac Gross, who had a remarkable freshman campaign last year.  Expect defensive tackle Herbert Moore to redshirt.  Overall, a small, but unbelievably talented defensive line haul this year, that will completely change the face of the front seven.

Both linebackers coming in (Marcus Robinson and Rashawn Smith) will more than likely redshirt.  The Rebels have used a lot of 4-2-5 looks to get more speed and versatility on the field, so their numbers at linebacker are decent right now.  Mike Marry, D.T. Shakelford (who’s coming off two knee surgeries, and is still the heart and soul of the defense) and Denzel Nkemdiche (yes, Robert’s brother) offer more than enough talent and versatility at the position.  In fact, with those three, it’s going to be hard not running a 4-3, at least on first and second downs.  Thus, there’s no need for Robinson or Smith to burn a redshirt this year.  No doubt they’re talented guys, but a year of learning and lifting will do them good.

The defensive backs were another good haul for the Rebs.  Nickolas Brassell, who took a one year academic hiatus, is returning to his starting cornerback spot opposite Senquez Golson.  Brassell is a terrific talent, and will definitely be playing on Sundays in the near future.  Safety Tony Conner was the other big name who signed with the Rebs, but he might not play right away.  The Rebs are pretty stacked at safety right now, with senior Charles Sawyer (all-SEC) and junior Cody Prewitt returning.  Not only that, Trae Elston, who starred in the time he saw last year as a true frosh, will also be returning.  Elston could even beat out Prewitt for the starting strong safety job.  Conner could see some snaps on special teams, but it would take a lot for him to beat out one of the current guys.  Cornerbacks Bobby Hill and David Kamara will more than likely redshirt.

The defensive prospects the Rebels signed are talented, no doubt about it.  The numbers on this side of the ball aren’t quite as high as on the offense, but the quality is easily as high.

All in all, this is going to be one very exciting team to watch as we enter year two of the Hugh Freeze era.

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