Ole Miss still trying to build quality depth

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ole Miss rotated players throughout its 47-27 season-opening win over South Alabama on Saturday.

It made one thing clear to the Rebels’ coaching staff: There’s still a ways to go to develop the kind of quality depth the Rebels will need to get through the grind of a season.

The process is further along for the offense than the defense with more proven commodities on that side of the ball for the Rebels, who will stay home Saturday to take on FCS foe Tennessee Martin at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (11 a.m., SEC Network). With one of the deepest receiving corps in the Southeastern Conference, a versatile two-deep along the offensive line that can spell each other at any time and four running backs that first-year coordinator Phil Longo said he’s confident in playing, the Rebels don’t have a starting 11 on offense as much as they have a starting rotation.

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“It’s not a definitive first team or second team,” Longo said. “There’s about 18 or 20 players that are in our rotation, so I think it’s a little bit of a different culture on offense because there’s not a true ones or twos set.”

The separation between the starters and the backups is much wider on defense, interim coach Matt Luke said.

The Rebels forced three and outs on each of South Alabama’s first two possessions and held the Jaguars to 125 yards in the first half. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said the plan was to shuffle players in and out from the start in order to get to the fourth quarter fresh, but the Jaguars had more success when Ole Miss substituted more freely after building a five-touchdown lead late in the third quarter, racking up 147 yards on their last two possessions — both of which ended in touchdowns.

“I think the glaring thing was missed tackles and then a little bit too big a dropoff from the ones to the twos,” Luke said. “I just want to see some guys step up there when we watch the tape. We’ve really got a challenge there to build our depth.”

The defense will get a pair of reinforcements back Saturday in linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes and cornerback Ken Webster, who served a one-game suspension for their offseason arrests on shoplifting charges. Luke said Willie Hibbler and Jarrion Street also “showed flashes” of production at linebacker.

Ross Donelly, Austrian Robinson, true freshman Ryder Anderson and Charles Wiley, who lined up at defensive end Saturday but could also play inside, are players being counted on to deepen the defensive line. Converted cornerback Jaylon Jones is already running with the second team at safety while true freshmen C.J. Miller and Breon Dixon are also options at the position.

McGriff is still trying to figure out who among the next wave can help it close the gap.

“We’re going to pay attention to that and go coach that,” McGriff said. “There aren’t too many of them in that second wave that caught my eye. A lot of them caught my eye in terms of we better coach them a little bit better and get them up to speed.

“It’s a long season, we play a lot of games and at some point we’ll need those guys to come in, step in and make a play or two.”