Ole Miss linebackers seek help from newcomers

Published 6:03 am Thursday, August 4, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh in a 10-part series breaking down each position on Ole Miss’ football team entering fall camp. A different position will be featured each day leading up to the Rebels’ first day of practice on Aug. 8.

Attrition and recruiting misses leave a player who has yet to start a full season as the seasoned veteran of Ole Miss’ linebacking corps entering fall camp.

Denzel Nkemdiche was a mainstay on the outside for the better part of four years while C.J. Johnson moved back from defensive end last year to spend his final season of eligibility providing some stability in the middle, but both are gone. Rising junior DeMarquis Gates finds himself as the leader on the second level of the defense with just four career starts to his name.

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The versatile Gates, who’s listed as the starter at middle linebacker on the preseason depth chart after spending most of his first two seasons on the outside, is a good place to start as the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder has been productive with the chances he’s had. He stepped in for the departed Nkemdiche toward the end of last season and ended up leading the Rebels with 76 tackles.

“A lot more responsibility is on you,” Gates said in the spring. “You’ve got to step up to the plate and be a leader. I like being the leader of the defense.”

Terry Caldwell, Temario Strong and Tayler Polk are also back after spending most of last season in reserve roles. Redshirt freshman Willie Hibler has moved over from tight end while true freshman Donta Evans enrolled early to give the unit some much-needed depth.

Help on the way

But the biggest contributions outside of Gates this fall could come from players who were playing for other teams last season.

Ole Miss hit the transfer market in its latest recruiting class to bring in help at the position in Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes. Mageo, a graduate transfer from Oregon State, led the Beavers with 87 tackles a season ago as the team’s middle linebacker and could emerge there for Ole Miss, allowing Gates to slide back to the outside.

“Both of them (Mageo and Bing-Dukes) are coming from other colleges, so they’ve been in college play before,” Gates said. “I’m sure they won’t have any problems learning the defense and getting accustomed to how things work around here. If they come in with a working mindset, it should be no problem.”

A late addition to the Rebels’ recruiting class, Bing-Dukes recorded 76 tackles at Iowa Western Community College last season. At 6-1 and 232 pounds, Bing-Dukes, a former Georgia signee who has three years of eligibility left, could play inside or out.

Ole Miss is counting on both to make an immediate impact at a position where it’s needed.

“We missed out on recruiting on a couple there, and we’ve got to nail next year’s recruiting class for linebackers because of the need there,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said at SEC Media Days. “Fortunately we were able to get Bing-Dukes out of junior college, who had some experience in the SEC, and get Rommel on a graduate transfer from Oregon State.”