OXFORD, Miss. – Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff doesn’t have any qualms putting younger players on the field if they can help the Rebels win games.
While playing juniors and seniors with experience is a plus for any program, at the end of the day, McGriff is prepared to utilize incoming freshmen, as well as sophomores who haven’t had many snaps, because he knows he needs them in order to withstand the grind of an SEC West schedule.
“If they prove in practice they are ready to play, put them in and let them play,” McGriff said earlier this week.
“Of course, we will be smart with the situations we put them in, but if you earn playing time in practice, you will get it. They may make mistakes, but we can correct those and their effort will make up for those plays,” he added.
So get ready to see a lot of faces in Saturday’s season opener against South Alabama Saturday night (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).
For the second straight season, the Rebels will have young products on the field in many key positions. McGriff suggested defensive backs D.D. Bowie, Breon Dixon, and C.J. Miller, along with defensive end Ryder Anderson are four true freshman who could play Saturday.
Other freshmen linebackers in addition to Dixon who could get some reps this season include Zikkerion Baker, Mohamed Sanogo, and Josh Clarke.
Redshirt freshman Donta Evans is set to make his first start at Mike linebacker Saturday.
Coaching for depth
During fall camp, McGriff acknowledged depth is a concern for this season’s Rebel team, and it led him to come up with a plan to prepare every single defensive player since one never knows when it will be necessary to put the next guy in.
“We need at least 22, 23 guys to win in this league,” McGriff said. “So, there’s no such thing as ‘This guy is a sole starter.’
“We have to make sure we coach for depth because you get in those games and you’re playing eight snaps, and that young man tells you ‘Coach, I can play 80 snaps.’ But you get to about 50 (snaps), and you look at him and he’s not the same guy,” McGriff continued.
“So, we have to make sure we roll those guys in the game because at key points in the game—red zone, third down, end of game—we want to make sure we got the best guys in the game that are fresh.”
Coach Wesley McGriff on playing younger guys on defense
This season, getting stops on third down and holding opponents in the red zone will be vital for the Rebels’ success. A season ago, Ole Miss opponents converted on 75 of 180 attempts on third down, and 45 of 48 attempts in the red zone, with 35 of the 45 red-zone scores resulting in touchdowns.
And since at any given moment, McGriff may have to rely on a true freshman to play on a critical third down or in the red zone, he expects his freshmen to be ready to go out and play.
“It’s a challenge, but we told them if they were ready, we are going to play them,” McGriff explained.
“We are not looking at age – we are looking at production. I told them all if they wanted a redshirt, go buy one and put it in the closet, because if they were ready to play, they were going to.“
Coach Wesley McGriff
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)