The Ole Miss faithful awaits the 2014 Rebel football opener against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kick-off game Aug 28, less than 100 days away.
After looking at the offense post-spring practice, HottyToddy.com is ready to analyze what type of a defense will coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels put on the field?
The Rebels lose eight members from last year’s defense. But many key pieces return, including Cody Prewitt, Deterrian Shackelford, Denzil Nkemdiche, Robert Nkemdiche just to name a few.
During the 2013 season, the Rebel defensive excelled in key match-ups against Vanderbilt, Texas and LSU, resulting in thrilling victories.
All-American safety Cody Prewitt comes into 2014 looking to improve upon his break-out season from a year ago. The physical Prewitt recorded a total of 71 tackles, six interceptions for 52 return yards and forced two fumbles. During the Grove Bowl, fans witnessed the same on-field tenacity that Prewitt displayed last season as he led the defense with 10 tackles.
This season’s Chucky Mullin’s Courage Award Recipient Deterrian Shackelford has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and the Rebel defesne will be the chief beneficiary. Two of DT’s campaigns have been sidelined by two separate knee surgeries.
Last season, Shackelford saw action in all of the Rebels’ 13 games. He has the maturity and the athletic tools to be a real force. Shackelford had 44 tackles last year.
Robert Nkemdiche has developed into one of the SEC ‘s most dominating defensive player. Coming to Ole Miss last season as the country’s No. 1 high school recruit, he got better as the season progressed. Now playing primarily at defensive tackle, Nkemdiche ended last season with 34 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman. Nkemdiche is coming into 2014 looking to take those numbers to another level and the fear of his offensive line opponents off the charts.
With how fast and physical SEC offenses play, the defense has to react with aggression and create turnovers. At this point, an improved pass rush with edge pressure coming from ends C.J. Johnson and Fadol Brown could greatly enhance The Rebels’ chances in the SEC West.
Another defensive strength would be the speed and physicality of the defensive backs. In addition to Prewitt, his safety mate sophomore and all SEC freshman last year Tony Conner returns on a journey that seems destined for the NFL. Corners Trae Elston, Senques Golson and Mike Hilton may be small, but their quickness and hitting ability can cause turnovers at any time.
It’s been said a great defense wins championships. Here’s hoping Ole Miss and its defense can rise to that lofty standard.
—Adam Brown, sports editor of HottyToddy.com
Photos by Andy Kneff, HottyToddy.com editor