OLE MISS

Closer Look At D. Nkemdiche, Rebel Defense

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Sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who hasn't played since tearing his meniscus during the season opener against Vanderbilt, returned to practice on Tuesday.


"He's close. I didn't see all of it," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "... You can tell he has a slight hitch when he tries to burst. He's better than I really thought he would be. Tomorrow morning will be a big test. Does it blow up? If things progress like that, he will make the trip. 


"If our staff feels like he knows the plan and it's not swelling up or giving him much trouble, I expect to see him on the field. Tomorrow morning will be a good test."


Nkemdiche, an All-SEC performer last season, led the team with 82 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions, and it's not just that production, but the overall depth at the linebacker position, where the Rebels have missed him this season.


"We have missed him a lot," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "In some spots, we don't have much depth. When that happened, we had to move a guy that was playing Mike linebacker over to Stinger linebacker. D.T. (Shackelford) had to catch up on all the things that we got a thousand reps on."


In Nkemdiche's absence, Bryant has started the last two games at Stinger linebacker and leads the team with 26 tackles and four tackles for loss.


"We knew all along that through fall camp that was one of our strongest two-deep positions with those two guys there," Wommack said. "We actually created some defensive packages so they would both be on the field at the same time because Serderius has come so far. Having them both back would be huge for us.


Last season, Ole Miss ranked second in the SEC, tied for 11th in the nation, with 38 sacks. Through three games, the Rebels have just four sacks, which is by-product of their defensive scheme. Wommack said they have played a lot more zone coverage and haven't pressured as much as in the past. As a result, they haven't given up as many big plays, an area of emphasis this season. 


Through three games, Ole Miss has allowed 32 plays of 10+ yards, which ranks second in the SEC and tied for 14th in the nations, and just 9 plays of 20+ yards, which is tied for second in the SEC, tied for 20th in the nation.


Looking Back On Last Week's Scouting


In last week's Monday press conference, Freeze said they spent part of the week studying other teams. 


On Tuesday, Freeze said he watched film of Oregon, which ranks second in the nation in both total offense (672.0 ypg) and scoring offense (61.3 ppg), while the defensive staff watched film of TCU, which runs a similar 4-2-5 base defense.


"We got two good things that I hope add to us," Freeze said... "I picked up a couple of things that we're going to try."


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