OXFORD, Miss. — Last season’s Ole Miss linebacking corps definitely took some steps forward and improved its performance as a unit. With the hiring of new defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, outside linebackers coach Ty Nix and inside linebackers coach Jeff Koonz, along with a mix of strong veterans and talented newcomers, the Ole Miss linebackers could very well become a strength of the 2019 Landshark defense.
Along with the coaching staff changes, the Rebels will be moving from the 4-2-5 base defense to the 3-4, adding two more linebackers on the field to help stop the run and also making it harder for the opposing offense to tell if Ole Miss is bringing pressure off the edge or dropping back into coverage before the snap.
With this transition to the 3-4, Qaadir Sheppard, Chuck Wiley, Brenden Williams, and Luke Knox have moved from defensive end to outside linebacker.
The Rebels signed junior college linebacker Sam Williams, a 6-foot-3, 258-pound early enrollee from NEMCC, to help address needs at outside linebacker. He participated in spring practices with the team, taking advantage of the opportunity to adjust to the speed level of the SEC.
Williams notched 75 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, and 17.5 sacks last season playing defensive end at NEMCC, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him claim one of the starting outside linebacker spots when fall camp is over.
The other outside LB spot is up for grabs, but if Sheppard can stay healthy, we imagine he will be the favorite to be penciled in as the starter.
The inside linebacker group looks very solid with returning starter and defensive leader Mohamed “MoMo” Sanogo expected to pick up where he left off last season. Only four underclassmen in the Football Bowl Subdivision averaged more tackles per game than Sanogo last season. At 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, Sanogo led the Rebels in tackles in 2018 with 112; look for him to equal or best that in 2019.
Fellow linebacker Jacquez Jones was named to the All-Freshman SEC team last season after registering 36 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. The 6-foot, 231-pound product out of Tuscaloosa, AL will have the opportunity to battle for the second starting inside linebacker spot in the fall along with senior LB Willie Hibbler and JUCO newcomer Lakia Henry.
The 6-foot-3, 262-pound Hibbler experienced his best year at linebacker last fall, recording 50 tackles.
Henry, the JUCO transfer from Dodge City Community College in Kansas, will be an interesting prospect to watch during fall camp. At 6-feet, 235 pounds, Henry was the No. 1 JUCO LB prospect according to multiple recruiting services. He has the talent to come in and compete immediately for a starting ILB job, though he might need a few weeks of play to adjust to the speed of SEC football.
Fall camp begins soon, and The Rebel Walk will keep you posted on how the Landsharks look. The potential of this linebacker group in the 3-4 defense should excite Ole Miss fans—especially in the capable hands of Coach MacIntyre.