Ole Miss Football’s Spring Defensive Depth Chart Projection

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OXFORD — The hardest part of projecting what Ole Miss football’s defense will look like in 2022 is guessing what plan the Rebels will put in place.

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the defense ahead of the start of spring training on Tuesday. Mainstays and impact transfers like Sam Williams, Chance Campbell, Mark Robinson, Deane Leonard, Jaylon Jones and Jake Springer are gone. Co-defensive coordinator and defensive playcaller DJ Durkin left for Texas A&M.

With the departure of Durkin and the transfer of staff, the defense could take a different form. The 3-2-6 scheme worked in 2021, but unit strengths now favor the front seven more than the secondary.

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Uncertainty abounds, but it’s not impossible to predict what the Rebels will be working with this spring. Here’s the Clarion Ledger’s projection of what the Ole Miss defensive depth chart might look like. For the purposes of this exercise, players who are not yet on campus are not counted, so transfers and new signers who did not register early are not included.

Interior defensive line

Projected entries: KD Hill (Sr.), Isaiah Iton (Jr.)

Return depth: Jamond Gordon (Jr.)

Incoming: JJ Pegues (Jr.)

KD Hill was an important, if unrecognized, cog in Ole Miss’s defense last year, eating double teams and taking up space in the middle of a box that often consisted of only five or six defenders. Hill’s return, along with sophomore transfers to college Isaiah Iton and Jamond Gordon, gives the Rebels more experience in the middle than they’ve had in recent years.

The wildcard here is the transfer from Auburn and Oxford native JJ Pegues. Pegues played everywhere from nose guard to tight end at Auburn. His versatility will go a long way in letting the defense try multiple schemes. Don’t be surprised if instead of being an all-around starter, Pegues is more of a Swiss army knife that defensive line coach Randall Joyner uses in many roles.

Edge rusher / outside linebacker

Projected entries: Cedric Johnson (Jr.), Tavius ​​Robinson (R-Sr.)

Return depth: Brandon Mack (R-So.), Demon Clowney (R-So.)

Incoming: Jared Ivey (Jr.)

Replacing Sam Williams won’t be easy. More help is expected to come this summer via the addition of TCU transfer Khari Coleman. The pieces the Rebels have prepared for spring aren’t shabby, though.

Cedric Johnson is a veteran frontman who has quietly been very productive playing second fiddle to Williams. Tavius ​​Robinson is a contender to get more rushing reps, Demon Clowney needs a two-year demo spring away from the hype of his recruiting process, and Brandon Mack, who is coming off an injury that caused him to miss all of last year, is a player that this coaching staff has often exclaimed about who might finally get his chance.

Inside linebacker

Projected entries: Troy Brown (Sr.), Ashanti Cistrunk (Sr.)

Return depth: Austin Keys (R-So.)

Incoming: Reginald Hughes (Jr.)

Inside linebacker is the position where Ole Miss gains the most depth in the summer. Freshmen Jaron Willis, Tyler Banks and Jaylon White will change the way the hall can operate.

Until then, coveted Michigan center transfer Troy Brown is the expected leader in this room, bringing with him three first-team All-MAC selections. Returning veterans Ashanti Cistrunk and Austin Keys expect to have expanded roles. And the transfer from junior college Reginald Hughes could be on the same path as players like Williams and Lakia Henry who have made the most of short spells at Oxford.

Cornerback

Projected entries: Deantre Prince (Sr.), Miles Battle (Sr.), Tysheem Johnson (So.)

Return depth: Trey Washington (So.), Markevious Brown (R-Fr.)

Incoming: Davison Igbinosun (Fr.), Jarell Stinson (Fr.)

Ole Miss has a lot of body and a lot of questions at cornerback. After a first All-SEC season, Tysheem Johnson still thinks he can improve. Veterans Deantre Prince and Miles Battle have plenty of experience in odd careers involving transfers and job changes. Last year’s gigantic freshman class still has four players who can become key depth players.

But the intriguing players are incoming freshmen. Ole Miss clearly valued the cornerback, bringing in three non-transfer freshmen. Two of the three will compete this spring and are expected to play very different roles, with the 6-foot-3 Davison Igbinosun playing outside and the 5-10 Jarell Stinson competing inside.

Security

Projected entries: Otis Reese (R-Sr.), AJ Finley (Sr.)

Incoming: Isheem Young (Jr.), Ladarius Tennison (Jr.)

As was the case last year, Ole Miss is in charge of security. AJ Finley was perhaps the best defender last season. Otis Reese is as reliable as it gets. And the Rebels added Iowa State transfer Isheem Young, a former Big 12 freshman, and Auburn transfer Ladarius Tennison.

More depth will come this summer when four-star Taylor Groves joins the hall. Until then, the Rebels have four safe options, allowing them to keep the 3-2-6 pattern alive if necessary.

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or [email protected] Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.

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