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Youngblood confident Landshark defense is in good hands with key returnees

Youngblood confident Landshark defense is in good hands with key returnees

OXFORD – Ole Miss lost some key defensive players from last season’s team, but senior defensive end John Youngblood feels the Landsharks will have plenty of talented players to once again wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

Youngblood and the Rebels returned to practice this week following spring break, and he and his teammates seemed loose and comfortable, going through each drill with ease—and without making major mistakes. The veterans and the new players are getting to know each other’s strengths, trying to combine them their talents for what could be a defense full of speed, agility and power.

A different look to the defense

To Youngblood, things feel somewhat different because of who’s no longer anchoring the defense. Defensive end C.J. Johnson, who accumulated 180 tackles in his five-year career as a Rebel, isn’t in the middle of the defense staring down the quarterback. Two-time All-America selection defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who anchored the defense for the last three seasons, isn’t sitting behind the defensive line waiting for the snap count. Denzel Nkemdiche and Christian Russell are also nowhere to be found at the linebacker position.

Key returnees 

But Ole Miss does have some key returnees back on defense that will cause problems for opposing offenses. The Rebels return starters from last season in defensive ends Fadol Brown and Marquis Haynes who combined for 44 solo tackles a season ago. Haynes tied the single-season school record in sacks (10) last season, giving him 17.5 sacks in his career.

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Issac Gross (94), Breeland Speaks (9) and D.J. Jones (93) all return for the 2016 Rebels’ defense. (Photo credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)

At the defensive tackle position, the Rebels return Issac Gross, who missed 12 games last season due to injury, Breeland Speaks and D.J. Jones. Speaks and Jones played in all 13 games last season for Ole Miss, racking up a combined total of 72 tackles.

Speaking of tackles, the Rebels return their leading tackler from 2015 in DeMarquis Gates, who recorded 76 stops during the season. Outside of Gates, Terry Caldwell is the only other returning linebacker to make a start last season.

But regardless of the personnel the Rebels have lost, Youngblood isn’t too concerned about the defense. With a stable full of healthy bodies, Youngblood sees the defense making strides from now until the fall.

With Robert gone, I really don’t see much of a drop-off there. We have Breeland Speaks right behind him, a phenomenal player; D.J. Jones with another year of experience. I think we’re right where we need to be, just need to get guys healthy.

Ole Miss DE John Youngblood

2016 defense gets its first test against Florida State

The Rebels’ first game of the 2016 season will be in Orlando, Florida against the Florida State Seminoles, and Youngblood, a former Hewitt-Trussville High standout, understands the importance of being prepared for another power-five program with a proven track record of success.

Just like the other key defensive players who have returned, Youngblood gives the Rebels an edge they need. In 13 games last season, Youngblood recorded 19 total tackles (12 solo).

I think the first game down there in Orlando you’ll definitely see us in the backfield all night long. Marquis Haynes, he’s continued to get his sack numbers back up. He’s definitely going to be a guy coming off the edge.

John Youngblood

And what about the impact of having Fadol Brown back for his senior season with Ole Miss? “It’s good to have a great body like his,” Youngblood said. “Obviously, he has a lot of experience in big-time games. He’s used to that,” Youngblood said about the 6-foot-4 senior. “Being able to have a great athlete like him come back, it just adds to the depth of the defense.”

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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