We examine today where the Rebels ended up coming out of spring in terms of their strongest and weakest positions.
Strongest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: Senior end Kentrell Lockett (39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, 13 quarterback hurries), senior tackle Jerrell Powe (34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks), senior tackle Lawon Scott (24 tackles), senior tackle Ted Laurent (12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss), senior tackle LaMark Armour (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks)
Key departures: End Marcus Tillman (31 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks), end Greg Hardy (16 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, five sacks), end Emmanuel Stephens (22 tackles, 7.5 tackles, 5.5 sacks)
The skinny: The Rebels have tackles coming out of their ears, four seniors to be exact who’ve played a lot of football. Powe is the leader of the group, and this may be the season that he becomes an every-down, dominant force. He showed signs of that last season. The best thing Ole Miss has going for it up front is that it will always have an experienced guy inside on the field. Powe, Scott, Laurent, Armour and Justin Smith all know their way around this league. Lockett returns as the Rebels’ top pass rusher from his end position. They were second in the SEC last season with 36 sacks and led the league with 96 tackles for loss. Finding a complement to Lockett on the other side was one of defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix’s concerns, but he feels better about that after watching junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey come into his own this spring. There’s still another level Dorsey needs to get to. Physically, though, he’s exactly what you’re looking for in a defensive end in this league.
Weakest position: Cornerback
Key returnees: Senior Jeremy McGee (19 tackles, one interception), junior Marcus Temple (16 tackles, one interception)
Key departures: Cassius Vaughn (56 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups), Marshay Green (29 tackles, four pass breakups)
The skinny: One of the Rebels’ priorities going into the spring was to solidify their cornerback positions, particularly after losing their two starters from a year ago, Vaughn and Green. Nix was encouraged by redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer's performance this spring, and Sawyer put himself in a position to be a starter. He has very good ball skills and had a pair of interceptions in the Grove Bowl spring game. Of course, it’s never ideal in the SEC to be breaking in a first-year starter at cornerback. McGee played a good bit last season and will likely start at the other cornerback position. Temple will also battle for a starting spot and factors in as the Rebels’ nickel guy in passing situations. Nix will hold his breath and hope nobody gets hurt at cornerback. There’s very little depth and even less experience. One guy to watch is incoming freshman Cedric Smith of Prattville, Ala. Smith has a chance to come in and play right away, and the Rebels may need him to.