Replacing Whigham: Ole Miss has plenty of talent up front to absorb DE loss
It’s always an annual challenge trying to replace an impact player, but in the SEC, coaches are paid to recruit and develop the next standout athlete in fear of the impending hot seat should seasons turn sour.
Over a two-week period, we’ll take a look at a key player loss for each program in the conference and break down that position’s potential replacements. Rest assured, a few of these guys will be household names by season’s end.
- SOUTH CAROLINA
- TODAY: Ole Miss
- Sunday: Kentucky
- Monday: Texas A&M
- Tuesday: Vanderbilt
- Wednesday: Alabama
- Thursday: Florida
- Friday: Missouri
- Aug. 16: Mississippi St.
- Aug. 17: Tennessee
- Aug. 18: LSU
There are times when productive starters, like Ole Miss pass rusher Cameron Whigham last season, aren’t necessarily impact players but are essential to a defense’s overall value. Whigham, a physical 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, went undrafted this spring but made 19 starts over his final two seasons in Oxford with 64 tackles, four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
With depth in the trenches, the Rebels will be able to absorb his departure without worry this fall, but replacing Whigham’s leadership qualities as a four-year letter winner is a challenging task.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack welcomes back a slew of noteworthy standouts in the front seven including the Nkemdiche brothers, C.J. Johnson and Serderius Bryant, but it remains to be seen if any of those four players can step up as leaders.
Denzel Nkemdiche and Bryant were suspended from the team during the offseason after disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct arrests, a headache for the coaching staff and a needless black eye for the program.
Bryant, the Rebels’ leading tackler last season, and Nkemdiche have regained the trust of Hugh Freeze and appear on the right track with their transgressions behind them. Nkemdiche won’t play in the opener, but his coach expects him back for Week 2 against Vanderbilt and has noticed a more mature player.
“Couldn’t be more pleased,” Freeze said after Tuesday’s practice. “(Denzel’s) attitude and leadership out there thus far — he’s so positive. He’s accepted what his punishment is and gone through it very nicely. When any person in life that makes mistakes, which we all do, you got some decisions to make … he has made the right ones thus far.”
Much of the hype surrounding the start of the season for the Rebels has been centered on Bo Wallace and Laquon Treadwell, but Ole Miss’s shot at a Western Division title will hinge on the other side of the football, a defense that returns nine starters.
The secondary, led by league interceptions leader Cody Prewitt, is one of the SEC’s best. Sophomore Tony Conner is a rising playmaker and the Rebels plan to utilize him in a variety of ways this fall including a few snaps off the edge in blitz situations.