OXFORD, Miss. — New Ole Miss linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto, in an effort to allay the fears of his base, says “They’ve played good defense around here for a long time.”
That is an accurate statement.
However, history is little comfort when its most recent chapter includes poor tackling, coverage mix-ups and other issues that led to the massive restoration project at hand.
Linebackers were ground zero for those issues, but no position group was strong enough to compensate for others.
Like the linebackers, defensive line needs a reset. It’s there that new assistant coach Freddie Roach inherits an odd mix of promising talent and question marks.
Roach was the last of five assistant coaches hired – after Signing Day – when Tray Scott, himself a new hire, left for Georgia after a couple of weeks on the job.
Freeze helped Scott get his start as a graduate assistant at both Arkansas State and Ole Miss and described him as a star in the making. He was stung by Scott’s departure.
Ole Miss is Roach’s first Power Five conference job, but his resume is impressive. He’s coached defensive line at Murray State and South Alabama, but his move from Mobile to his alma mater in Tuscaloosa for an administrative position illustrated a couple of things: His personal drive and the trust he gained from Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Roach inherits an all-conference level talent in defensive tackle Benito Jones and an All-America level talent in defensive end Marquis Haynes.
The rest is sketchy.
Roach will have to coach up his inexperienced depth at defensive tackle the rest of spring and through August. As the Rebels transition from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, Roach is cautiously optimistic.
“Any time you start something new there are going to be mistakes,” Roach said. “Obviously we’ve got work to do. They guys up front, they’ve have worked, they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do at this point. It’s our job to coach them up, correct the mistakes, move forward and continue to try to play fast.”
In the first year after freakishly athletic Robert Nkemdiche, big things were expected from sophomore tackle Breeland Speaks. Speaks, though, experienced bizarre in-season weight loss and didn’t meet those expectations. When on top of his game, Speaks is good. He tied for the team lead with eight quarterback pressures last year but had only one tackle for loss.
Roach has praised Speaks’ work in spring drills.
Haynes had 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks and eight pressures. There are interesting possibilities with defensive ends Charles Wiley and Quaadir Sheppard, big guys who can move. Wiley was an early enrollee as a freshman last year, but an off-field incident led him to a redshirt. Sheppard sat out as a transfer from Syracuse.
Junior defensive end Victor Evans has improved each season.
There’s no next big thing in this most recent signing class, and the returnees are a mix of veterans who haven’t contributed much to this point.
(You can follow Parrish Alford on Twitter @ParrishAlford)
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