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February 11, 2009
(Editor's note: For five years, Dave Childers has provided a position-by-position analysis beginning the day after National Signing Day. In an eight-part series, he breaks the class down for RebelSports.net. Previously, he has provided an analysis of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and offensive line. Today, a look is offered at the defensive line. In the coming days, the series will look at kickers, linebackers, and defensive backs.)
The skinny ? Ole Miss' defensive line was thought to be the strength of the team headed into the 2008 season, and it didn't disappoint, finishing fourth in run defense and averaging almost nine tackles for a loss per game to tie with Florida State for first in that category nationally. The Rebels did have to weather some early season injuries - namely senior Peria Jerry and junior Greg Hardy - and the full force of the defensive line didn't hit until around the end of September. Even after that, Hardy was only available for spot duty, but the line continued to grow and emerge as a force in the SEC.
The big loss that head coach Houston Nutt must deal with is Jerry, who became a key leader on the team about a third of the way through the season. The team has the talent and in-bound prospects to replace him; however, it could be his emotional leadership that will be what is missed most. Another loss that may go largely unnoticed by fans, but not by the team or coaches, is fifth year senior Chris Bowers. Bowers saw a lot of snaps at defensive end and also was a presence on special teams. The Rebels also lost former hoops star Jeremy Parnell, who saw limited action in his first year of football, and Antonio Turner, a scout team member.
The Rebels return a mountain of talent.? It begins with Hardy, who opted to return for his senior season, but must overcome a second surgery on his foot this spring, and extends to proven talent like Marcus Tillman, Kentrell Lockett, Lawon Scott, and Ted Laurent.? It gets even deeper with junior college transfer Emmanuel Stephens, who will be a senior, and continues with Jerrell Powe and Justin Smith, who contributed as a true freshman last fall.? All are proven contributors along the line.?
Overall assessment ...? The Rebels probably could have gone into the season without a signee and would have been all right.? However, what was most needed from the 2009 signing class was to bring in talent that can be groomed to replace the likes of seniors Hardy and Tillman and Lockett, a junior.? The staff did that and the key at defensive end is Chicago-native Craig Drummond, who is enrolled and set to go through spring practice after being denied early enrollment at Illinois. It's a key spring for Drummond, who missed his senior season due to injury.? Another key recruit was Tallahassee prospect Corey Gaines, a 6-foot-1, 280 pound defensive tackle out of the mold of Laurent and Scott.?
In addition to those two key "gets" for Ole Miss, they signed West Helena, Ark. native Eric Smiley, who has some academic issues and could be off to prep school or junior college.? Mike Thomas, a Mobile product could be in for a grayshirt (delayed enrollment), but it's likely that Atlanta-area prospect Cameron Whigham, a 6-foot-3, 230 pound prospect who could be used at end or bulked up to play tackle, will spend a year on the team developing while redshirting this fall.? Alex Williams, a 6-foot-4, 215 pound defensive end could see the same fate.
One area where the line will have to adjust is to a new coach. Former Auburn assistant Terry Price takes over for Tracy Rocker. Price brings a wealth of experience coaching the position and may bring some extra punch to the staff as a strong recruiter.
The ones that got away ... The Rebels really liked 6-foot-3, 230 pound defensive end Victor Gray, but Gray had already been displaced once recently in his home life and opted to stay locally with UCF over another move. The staff also pursued Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, Mississippi State signees, but when the duo spurned the Rebels early in the process, attention quickly turned to some equally capable prospects. Ole Miss also had former four-star defensive linemen Bo Tillman in town and ready to enroll before a snag with his academic status. Tillman could enroll in the fall if he gets his academics in order.
Craig Drummond, DE, 6-5, 260, Chicago, Ill. (Morgan Park) -- Already enrolled at Ole Miss and will participate in spring drills ... Named to the U.S. Army All-American team ... A PrepStar and SuperPrep All-America selection ... Rated the No. 2 player in Illinois and the No. 13 player in the Midwest by SuperPrep ... Ranked the No. 4 DE and the No. 55 player in the nation by Tom Lemming ... Rated the No. 3 player in Illinois, the No. 7 DE in the nation and the No. 119 player in the country by Rivals.com ... Listed as the No. 7 DE and No. 99 player in the nation by ESPN ... Rated as the No. 13 DE and No. 97 player in the nation by Scout.com ... Totaled 67 tackles and 18 QB sacks as a junior ... Named first team All-City and All-State as a junior by The Chicago Tribune ... Did not play his senior season due to injury ... Coached in high school by Lexie Spurlock.
Corey Gaines, DT, 6-1, 280, Tallahassee, Fla. (Godby) -- Named to the U.S. Army All-American team ... A member of theRivals.com 250 list ... Rated the No. 19 DT in the nation and No. 38 player in Florida by Rivals.com ... A PrepStar andSuperPrep All-Region selection ... Rated the No. 62 DT in the nation by ESPN ... A two-time member of the Tallahassee Democrat's All-Big Bend team ... Ranked 111th on the Mobile Press Register's Super Southeast ... Earned first team 3A All-State honors from Florida Sports Writers Association as a senior ... Considered the No. 17 center in the nation byScout.com ... Named to the Florida Super 75 by the Florida Times Union ... Coached in high school by Shelton Crews.
Eric Smiley, DL, 6-5, 280, West Helena, Ark. (Central) ? A PrepStar and SuperPrep All-Region selection ... Rated the No. 9 player in Arkansas by SuperPrep ... Rated the No. 22 DT in the nation by Tom Lemming and ESPN ... Listed as the No. 12 player in Arkansas and the No. 84 defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com ... Recorded 65 tackles and nine QB sacks as a senior ... Posted 73 tackles and 14 QB sacks as a junior ... An All-District selection as a senior ... Coached in high school by Russell Smith.
Mike Thomas, DT, 6-4, 245, Mobile, Ala. (St. Paul's Episcopal) -- A PrepStar and SuperPrep All-Region selection ... Rated the No. 24 player in Alabama by SuperPrep ... Ranked the No. 47 DE in the nation by Rivals.com, No. 76 by Scout.com and No. 88 by ESPN Posted 110 tackles, 17 TFLs, and 8.5 QB sacks as a junior ... Helped lead St. Paul's to the Class 5A state championship as a junior ... Coached in high school by Mike Bates.
Cameron Whigham, DE, 6-3, 230, Snellville, Ga. (Shiloh) -- Totaled 85 tackles, 19 TFLs and seven QB sacks as a senior ... Added 79 tackles, 17 TFLs and seven QB sacks as a junior ... Rated the No. 166 DE in the nation by ESPN ... A Member of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Georgia 150 list ... Coached in high school by Nick Davis.
Alex Williams, DE, 6-4, 215, Tallahassee, Fla. (Florida A&M High) -- Named first team All-State by Florida Sports Writers Association as a junior and senior ... A SuperPrep All-Region selection and rated No. 77 player in Florida ... Recorded 19 QB sacks both his junior and senior seasons ... Rated the No. 34 DE in the nation by ESPN, No. 50 by Rivals.com and No. 78 by Scout.com ... Averaged 19 points per game in basketball as a junior ... Brother, Boo, played for Houston Nutt at Arkansas and in the NFL ... Coached in high school by Ira Reynolds.