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September 5, 2008

Breaking down the Ole Miss defense

With the first home game in the newly renovated BB&T Field, Deacons Illustrated examines the Ole Miss starting defense. Due to injuries and inexperience, Wake Forest has to be feeling good about their chances to score some points on Saturday.

Defensive Line:

What was once considered the strength of the team and one of the better defensive lines in the country, Ole Miss has been ravaged by injury, losing their two best players: Greg Hardy and Peria Jerry. Jerry has all-SEC talent at defensive tackle and Hardy is another future first round draft choice for the Rebels. Their absence Saturday will have an enormous effect on the way this game plays out.

The starters at defensive tackle for the Rebels will be Marcus Tillman (6-4, 260) with a rotation of Lawon Scott (6-1, 322), Jerrell Powe (6-2, 340) and Ted Laurent (6-0, 303) seeing time at the nose and tackle spots. Marcus Tillman was a star recruit for Ole Miss a few years ago and Jerrell Powe is one of the most well-documented stories in college football with regards to his struggles to enroll successfully out of high school. Regardless, those two players are immensely talented and should provide a stiff test for an offensive line that experienced some trouble last week.

At defensive end, Kentrell Lockett (6-5, 240) and Emmanuel Stephens (6-3, 235) form a solid duo but lack the star-power and natural athleticism that Hardy brought to the table. They could end up being one of the keys to the game if the rain is as heavy as some are projecting. With a move to the ground game, Lockett and Stephens would all of a sudden have a heavy burden with stopping the run game.

Linebackers:

A lot of guys will see playing time at linebacker for the Rebel defense. The projected starters are Ashlee Palmer (6-2, 222), Lamar Brumfield (6-0, 224), and Jonathan Cornell (6-1, 225). Palmer is the star of the linebacking corps after finishing his junior season with 89 tackles. Brumfield and Cornell bring a lot of experience to the other two spots and are solid players, but don't have a lot of upside.


As for the backups, numerous guys could see playing time including Tony Fein (6-2, 245), Allen Walker (6-1, 215) and Patrick Trahan (6-3, 225). Trahan is an excellent athlete and Walker is one of the highest rated defensive recruits that Ole Miss signed during the Ed Orgeron era. He comes from an excellent high school program and is just waiting his turn to shine in the Rebel defense.

Secondary:

Another week, another porous secondary for the Wake Forest offense to face. The Rebel defensive backfield is lacking star power and is widely unproven coming into the year.

Ole Miss employed a 5-man defensive backfield for much of the game last week and I expect to see something similar in Saturday's game. They essentially started three cornerbacks with the extra corner playing the nickelback. The three corners are Dustin Mouzon (5-11, 175), Marshay Green (5-9, 170) and Cassius Vaughn (5-10, 185).

I think the best way to sum up this group is that Marshay Green, the number one corner on the Ole Miss corner depth chart, was playing wide receiver before Houston Nutt got to campus. Now that's not to say Marshay can't be a successful corner but whenever you're starting corner has never played a snap on defense before this season, that has to be taken as a bad sign.

The safeties have more experience and are looking to improve on a mediocre 2007 campaign. Jamarca Sanford (5-10, 200) and Kendrick Lewis (5-11, 192) are the starters at strong safety and free safety, respectively. They both are good athletes but are hindered by their height and are better fit for a nickelback-type position than safety.

Clearly, pass defense is the weakness of this Ole Miss defense and is probably a big reason Rebel fans are rooting as hard as they can for some heavy rain Saturday to limit Riley Skinner.

Deacons Illustrated is the premiere site for Wake Forest recruiting and athletics.


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