Rebel Defense Ready for Season Opener Against Troy
OXFORD, Miss. – When co-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin left Ole Miss after the Sugar Bowl, some wondered what would happen to the Rebels’ defense after his departure.
Rest assured the Ole Miss defense is in good hands.
Last year’s co-defensive coordinator, Chris Partridge and new assistant coach Maurice Crum have the situation under control as the Rebels prepare for the season opener Saturday against Troy.
Despite his new role calling the defensive plays, what remains the same is Partridge’s enthusiasm for his unit.
“I’m just as excited as last year, I just look to do my part and contribute any way I can,” Partridge said at the beginning of fall camp.
“So, I am fired up, I think we’ve got a great bunch. We’ve got 52 guys in camp and they’re all competing, they’re all hungry. We want to be violent; we want to be aggressive; we want to make plays. So, I don’t get any more excited for my role, I just do the role that is asked of me, and my role is to call the shots and call the defense and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”
That confidence translated well to senior safety A.J. Finley.
“I feel like we’re going to do great under Chris Partridge,” Finley said after Tuesday’s practice.
“The energy has shifted, and we all fly around. It’s a different defense. Saturday, it’s obviously [going to be] fun to get back out with the guys. You look forward to not beating up on the same guys over and over.”
Ole Miss safety AJ Finley
Partridge’s elevation is not the only change of the defense this season. Ole Miss was the destination for several transfers and with the freshman class, Partridge had to assume not only a primary role as a coach – he had to become a teacher.
”All those guys that have transferred, all the freshmen that have come in, Coach Partridge did a great job this summer of breaking down what defense really is, working out our scheme, the two-minute, the four minute. the game winning situations,” senior Otis Reese said.
“They (defensive coaching staff) really broke it down with football, what football really means and just game-winning situations. Our guys as a whole have a lot better understanding of football in situations we’ll be put in.”
The influx of talent on the defense could serve to make the unit better than last year — and that 2021 group is one that improved significantly from the season before.
“I think we’ve got a lot more depth than last year,” Finley said.
“We’ve got guys at almost every DB position that can rotate in and be a starter if they needed to. I feel pretty comfortable going into the first game that we’re going to be pretty good in depth.”
Those changes are not the only ones Rebel fans can expect to see this season.
“The intensity has been up since we’ve been in camp,” Reese said. “Guys are just flying around. We’ve been focusing on meetings that have been a lot longer. So, we’re prepping for game week. We still get out there every day.”
The atmosphere around Ole Miss has changed since Lane Kiffin took over in Oxford. Now the team does not have just aspirations, it has expectations.
“The expectations have definitely risen,” Finley said. “Coming into my freshman year, I feel like the expectations weren’t really that high. We didn’t have a bowl game to look forward to. I feel like the culture has changed since then.”
The Rebels and Troy kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday and the game will be broadcast by the SEC Network.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.