The Mississippi defense entered the 2018 season coming off a year ranked as one of the worst in the country statistically. The Rebel defense answered the call, however, in the team’s season-opening win over Texas Tech.
A big reason why is new linebackers coach Jon Sumrall. Sumrall brings confidence to a defense sorely needing it.
One player embracing the culture change is junior Montrell Custis. The Hampton, GA product has catapulted on the scene as of late, making seven tackles in the win over Texas Tech.
Vernon Dasher, who came to campus as an All-American linebacker out of Coffeyville (KS) Community College, was slated to receive the majority of the snaps at the “Star” position, a combination linebacker-defensive back. Custis had other plans.
Custis says he made the decision this off-season to become a difference maker.
“Seeing him (Dasher) out there in the spring actually upped my game,” Custin said. “He’s a great competitor and now it’s like we’re a two headed monster.”
The defense remains in a transition of sorts as its leading tacklers, DeMarquis Gates and Marquis Haynes, were lost to graduation. Losing them was problematic as both were leaders on and off the field. Conversely, it has allowed others to step into leadership roles in their absence.
“We had a lot of guys leave last year, a lot of leaders so I wanted to imitate them,” Custis said. “I’m a team player and I’ll play wherever I am needed.”
Sumrall believes plenty of room for improvement remains, but was pleased with what he saw from his group.
“There were some good things the guys did, and the communication was fairly spot on,” Sumrall said. “There are still some technique things and fundamentals to clean up, we can always get better. It’s a win and our guys know our standard is get better every day.”
While the Rebels came away with the win over the Red Raiders, it wasn’t without blown assignments. Chalk it up to youth and early season mistakes; Custis believes the team will continue to improve, especially at the linebacker position.
“The linebackers (and other defensive players) are really young, but I feel like we ‘got the nerves out.’” he said.
Ole Miss hosts Southern Illinois on Saturday inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford with kickoff at 3:00 CT on the SEC Network in a tune up game before hosting top-ranked Alabama the following week.
(You can follow Brad Logan on Twitter @BradLoganCOTE)
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