Ole Miss Tuesday Practice Report: Defensive Notes, A.J. Brown Talks LSU Secondary

Ole Miss hits the road for the first time in nearly a month this weekend as a top five LSU team awaits under the lights in Death Valley. The Rebels returned to the practice field on Tuesday.

Here are some news and notes from practice.

Ken Webster to return:

Secondary coach Jason Jones said after Tuesday’s practice that senior corner Ken Webster should be full go against LSU. Webster has been hampered by a lingering hamstring injury since fall camp. Webster was running with the second team defense at practice along with Keidron Smith. Jalen Julius and Myles Hartsfield worked with the first team corners.

LSU ranks towards the bottom of the league in total offense and moves the football primarily by way of the ground. But Ohio State transfer quarterback Joe Burrow has shown the ability to complete passes downfield at a consistent enough rate to keep teams honest. Burrow is completing just under 50 percent of his passes, but has yet to turn the ball over this season. He keeps the offense under control and the Tigers do not make many mistakes.

“They do a great job of taking whatever you give them,” Jones said. “If you give them a match up outside, they do a good job of throwing the deep ball and taking shots outside. If the numbers are in the box and the best thing for them to do is hand it off, then they will hand it off and run it. He takes care of the football and does not put it in harm’s way.”

The secondary has been shuffling of late after losing corner Jaylon Jones and defensive back Montrell Custis for the season. It’s forced some guys to have play multiple positions. Hartsfield is working at corner and the star position, where Custis split time with Vernon Dasher. Javien Hamilton is working at corner and nickel.

“It is a group that has played quite a bit,” Jones said. “It is always hard to lose a guy like Jaylon and Montrell. It hurts, but it is part of the game. It is the next man up and they’ve done a great job of helping each other.”

Defensive line hoping to build on last week’s pass rush:

Ole Miss sacked the quarterback seven times in its win over Kent State. A good bit of that was merely a product of the opponent, but the Rebels were certainly more active on the defensive line. Defensive end Markel Winters and Charles Wiley combined for 5.5 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss in a game that saw the defense go with a smaller, quicker defensive line unit.

Winters worked with the first team defense on Tuesday and has come onto the scene in recent weeks. After a stint at East Carolina, Winters transferred from Jones County Junior College to Ole Miss and played sparingly last year. Success didn’t come quickly for Winters and it frustrated him. This season, he is seeing his persistence pay off.

“I am in better shape and I am stronger,” Winters said. “I got more confidence back in myself than previous years in junior college. I have a ‘why’ as well, so that helps.”

What is the “why” Winters is referring to?

“Now that I have graduated, I am preparing for life after football,” Winters said. “I know if I take everything seriously on the field it could lead to football after college. Even if it doesn’t, I have taught myself to work through adversity even when people count me out. That’s going to happen in life and that is what keeps me going is knowing I have a future family to feed.”

LSU is banged up on the offensive line and could potentially be without one or both of its starting tackles. Ole Miss being able to generate a consistent pass rush would help the Rebels immensely given the injuries it has sustained in the secondary.

“They’re an SEC team so their backups are just as good as their starters,” Winters said. “You have to prepare for their starters.”

Wide receivers aiming for a better performance:

Ole Miss sputtered as an offense against Alabama. This is no secret. LSU is not the same caliber defense as the Crimson Tide, but its strength lies in the secondary. Greedy Williams highlights an athletic secondary that has picked off six passes through four games.

The Rebel receivers were stifled by the Crimson Tide secondary and will need to perform better if Ole Miss is to have a chance in Death Valley.

“I respect each of them,” wide receiver A.J. Brown said. “Those are some great players we will be matched up with on Saturday.”

Brown has a personal relationship with Williams and knows the challenges this secondary will present. He thinks the LSU secondary is a even tougher than Alabama’s.

“It’s about us,” Brown said. “We need to be the best we can be regardless of who we are playing.”

Random Notes:

— Kevontae’ Ruggs and Mohamed Sanogo were the first team linebackers with Willie Hibbler and Jacquez Jones on the second team. Josh Clarke drew a start at linebacker last week alongside Sanogo, but is out with a high ankle sprain.

— A.J. Brown practiced after sitting out the final portion of Saturday’s game against Kent State with a tweaked right hamstring. It shouldn’t be an issue for him against LSU.

— Greg Little practiced on Tuesday after missing a couple of drives in the win over Kent State with a minor injury.

— Benito Jones was a full participant in practice and worked with the first team defense. He and Josiah Coatney had been dealing with nagging leg injuries. It is worth noting Austrian Robinson ran with the first team at defensive tackle alongside Jones. Coatney was working with the second team.

— Wiley got reps with the first team defense at defensive end opposite of Winters.