NOTEBOOK: Evans making move on Rebels’ DL

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Ole Miss defensive line coach Chris Kiffin believes his unit will be just as deep as it was a season ago in large part because of the development of some of his younger pupils.

One that’s made significant progress this spring is Victor Evans.

Evans is running as the Rebels’ third defensive end and would be a part of the two-deep even with a healthy Fadol Brown, who’s out this spring recovering from foot surgery. Evans, who will be a third-year sophomore in the fall, saw action in 11 games last season in a reserve role but has worked himself into position where he could be a much bigger part of the rotation next season.

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“Victor has kind of stepped up this spring, and that’s a positive for Vic,” Kiffin said. “He will be the fourth end if Fadol is healthy with Fadol, Marquis (Haynes), John Youngblood, and Victor will be the fourth guy in the rotation.”

Coaches were high on the 6-foot-3 Evans when he signed out of Dallas’ Skyline High in 2014, though he needed to add weight to his wiry frame. He redshirted and played last season behind Brown, Haynes, Younglood and Channing Ward, notching 16 tackles.

Evans is now pushing 240 pounds, and Kiffin is comfortable enough with Evans’ progression to have him be a more consistent part of a defensive front that he said will once again shuffle as many as 10 players in and out during a game.

“He flashes out there and really does some good things at times when you see him where you’re like, ‘Man, that’s why we recruited him,’” Kiffin said. “He’s an SEC player, but he’s still a redshirt sophomore. I still think he has a really bright future here.”

Blessing in disguise
Another young defensive lineman, rising sophomore tackle Ross Donelly, never expected to play last year, but circumstances left Ole Miss with no other choice.

Donelly’s redshirt was burned after Herbert Moore and Issac Gross were lost early in the season to injuries, and he filled out the rotation on the interior in the Sugar Bowl with Robert Nkemdiche suspended. The 6-foot-1, 309-pound Donelly got snaps in just seven games and finished with six tackles, but what little unforeseen playing time he got has helped accelerate his development, he said.

“There’s nothing better than experience,” Donelly said. “I got some experience to actually see what it’s like so I could be ready for this season.”

Breeland Speaks and D.J. Jones have firm grips on the starting tackle jobs, but Donelly is another player Kiffin is counting on for support.

“You can’t put a price on (game experience) to where now all of a sudden you get into spring and some blocking schemes he’s already seen,” Kiffin said. “I’ve been very pleased with Ross. He’s a very smart player in there, and he adds quality depth for us.”

Liggins coming on
Jeremy Liggins has found a permanent home at offensive tackle after tinkering with the position for the last year, and coaches are noticing more consistency.

Liggins, the former Lafayette High standout who’s spent the last two falls at tight end while experimenting at tackle last spring, has been taking most of the first-team reps at right tackle this spring with Robert Conyers (knee surgery) unable to participate. He has also seen some time on the left side.

Conyers, Alex Givens, Michael Howard and incoming five-star signee Greg Little will give Liggins plenty of competition in the fall, but Kiffin, who watches his linemen go against Liggins every day in practice, said Liggins’ game is at a point now where he can put up a realistic fight.

“Every year, he continues to get better,” Kiffin said. “Now he’s going into his senior year. That position, he’s just kind of embracing it. He just really wants to get on the field, and I really see improvement in him. He should be able to help us.”

Frosh WRs have ‘chance’ to play
The departures of Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core didn’t put much of a dent in the Rebels’ depth at receiver, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their heralded trio of signees are headed for redshirts.

Ole Miss in February added Tre Nixon, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf to a group that still includes Damore’ea Stringfellow, Quincy Adeboyejo, Markell Pack, Derrick Jones, DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson as well as tight end Evan Engram. Brown and Metcalf, the former Oxford standout, were ranked by every major recruiting service as Mississippi’s top two receiving prospects last year while Nixon was a four-star recruit out Viera, Florida.

Receivers coach Grant Heard said they will get their chance just like everybody else in the fall.

“I’ve only redshirted one kid since we’ve been here. They’ll have all the opportunity they’ll need,” Heard said. “If they’re the best, I’m going to play them. … I tell those guys every day, ‘Don’t think coming in to redshirt. Think coming in to play.’”