Ole Miss Building Depth at Linebacker

Aug. 11, 2017

by Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com

To put it simply, Ole Miss was thin at linebacker in 2016. As the season churned on, the lack of depth surfaced as an issue for a relatively young defense.

New linebackers coach Bradley Dale Peveto believes some of that has been solved. He has a deeper group this year, with as many as eight guys are currently in the mix for playing time at the three positions.

"I think our depth is good at both spots, we can switch some guys around if we really had to," Peveto said. "At the Mike and Money spot, I think our depth is really good. We have some really good competition going on, and I think competition and pressure makes us all better."

One player in particular who has made the most of an opportunity is redshirt freshman Donta Evans, who will likely start the season opener in place of Detric Bing-Dukes at middle linebacker.

"I feel like he has taken a step," Peveto added. "His leadership has been great. He has been great in the run game and really good in the passing game. His retention and leadership have been good. He's a smart guy.

"The opportunity presented itself, and he has really taken the bull by the horn." 

Evans alluded to how valuable redshirting was to his development, even if it was difficult to watch from afar sometimes.

"My understanding of football and defensive concepts improved from my redshirt year to this year," Evans said. "I want to keep focusing on film and understanding the defense better so I can communicate and be a better linebacker."

He was  able to get bigger in the weight room and gain a better understanding of the game and what comes with playing linebacker at the college level.

"I put on weight," Evans said. "I got faster, and I understood the game a little bit more. I just improved overall as a player."

Evans, like a lot of defensive players in camp, has pointed to the simplicity of new defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff's system that has allowed him to be more comfortable and play instinctively in practice against an offense that revs up the tempo regularly.

"It is not too much thinking," Evans said. "You have to know what you are doing but it is not a lot of thinking. It is pretty easy."

Ole Miss returns veterans like Bing-Dukes, DeMarquis Gates and Tayler Polk, but also has a nucleus of young players like Evans, true freshman Mohamed Sanogo, and sophomores Willie Hibbler and Brendan Williams. Jarrion Street is another player Peveto mentioned is having a good camp since being moved to linebacker.

Together, they hope to give Peveto a plethora of different options and some added depth.

"Tayler Polk has had a really good camp, as well as Sanogo, who is a young guy that has gotten some reps in there and done really well," Peveto said.

He added that there are no official starters yet, only potential ones and said the depth chart right now is "primarily for organizational purposes" as he waits to see who separates themselves.

"We have got eight guys that I feel like can really play," Peveto continued. "We just need to get a little tighter. We have our first scrimmage tomorrow, our first preseason game so to speak. I think that will be a great test for all of them."

Ideally, Peveto would like to get down to a six-man rotation, but he is perfectly okay with so many different guys being in the mix for playing time.

"We rolling with a lot of guys and they are all getting a chance," Peveto said. "If you don't do it that way, yeah you get fewer reps, but you don't really get a chance to see that guy and teach him."






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