OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke called tackling a “glaring” issue for the Rebels in their 47-27 season-opening win over South Alabama. It’s been a point of focus in practice this week, and linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto promises improvement Saturday when the Rebels face FCS foe UT-Martin.
“You’ll see improvement there,” said Peveto, who joined the Ole Miss staff after coaching at LSU the past three seasons.
Ole Miss linebackers are under the microscope this season after a revolving door in the middle a year ago. The Rebels never were settled at the position. For now, they’ve turned it over to redshirt freshman Donta Evans, a three-star recruit in the 2016 signing class.
Evans did nothing spectacular but also limited mistakes in his debut. He finished with three tackles, two of them solos.
“For his first start, he embraced it. He did very, very well,” Peveto said. “I was pleased with him.”
Luke at his Monday news conference said he hoped to see Evans make strides in alignment on pass coverage.
Luke also singled out the play of reserve linebackers Willie Hibbler and Jarrion Street. The defensive staff used almost 30 players, and there was too much drop-off between the starters and back-ups. Luke is hoping this week he can identify reserves who will be more productive.
Alongside Evans, Peveto liked what he saw in starting outside linebacker DeMarquis Gates, a senior.
Gates’ production was erratic as a junior. Against South Alabama he didn’t finish a play with a sack but showed quickness when blitzing. He had two tackles and broke up a pass.
“In fall fairness to ‘D Gates,’ he played hurt last year,” Peveto said. “He played the last few games on a bum knee and had it fixed. He was hobbling most of spring last year. I called him over one day and asked him what was wrong because he was limping. He didn’t even know it. He has fought and worked himself back. It’s a credit to him.
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“He went out and had a nice game. He was physical and did well in drops with the pass game and blitzed well and communicated.”
(You can follow Parrish Alford on Twitter @parrishalford)
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