OXFORD, Miss. – Junior Breeland Speaks was one of the stars of spring practice for Ole Miss, so it was a bit surprising earlier this week to find him running with the second-team defensive line.
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke downplayed the move. Ebb and flow of the depth chart is expected in preseason camp. Plus, the move was less about Speaks and more about the effort to create depth through competition.
New defensive line coach Freddie Roach praised his inexperienced reserves last week.
“In that room, it ain’t no days off because those guys behind (the starters) are just as good. They’re going to push them every day,” Roach said. “Like anything else, they’ve got to understand that if I mess up or I’m not consistent, there’s a guy behind me that’s trying to take my job. That’s the best thing that can happen in our whole unit, guys pushing other guys.
“I’m not afraid to put a younger guy in front of an older guy. I don’t care.”
Still, Austrian Robinson played in zero games last season and Josiah Coatney redshirted as a junior college transfer. Garrald McDowell and Ross Donelly played in more games, but their roles were minimal. And those are the key reserves.
The remainder of the first-team defensive line has held steady, with sack specialist Marquise Haynes and Syracuse transfer Qaadir Sheppard at end and sophomore Benito Jones at nose tackle.
Speaks, a four-star recruit, showed promise as a true freshman backup behind D.J. Jones and Robert Nkemdiche in 2015. It was hoped he would take a step forward last season. But he was unable to keep his starting job, and by season’s end seemingly had drifted even further out of the Rebels’ plan. But it was a different Speaks in the spring.
Now it is Coatney who is turning heads, and he ran with the first team ahead of Speaks earlier this week.
“We’re just trying to create competition and depth. We’re going to need them all,” Luke said after Monday’s practice. “At the defensive line, you’ve got to have a rotation.”
(You can follow Parrish Alford on Twitter @parrishalford)
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