After a full week of fall practice, players on every level of the Ole Miss defense are settling into their roles in a new defense.
Mike McIntyre’s 3-4 scheme gives unique newcomers like Sam Willams and Lakia Henry room to grow while verterans like Momo Sanogo and Donta Evans adjust their focus.
Lining up behind that shifting front is a defensive backfield with an even mixture of experienced starters and young talent all over the field.
“It’s seven of us in the room,” senior corner Myles Hartsfield said. “I would say we have the depth even though they’re young, but they showed they can play at a high level. Coach is expecting them to be able to go day one.”
Hartsfield is one defensive back that has seen plenty of time on the field along with Vernon Dasher, Jon Haynes, Jalen Julius and Amani Linton. That core is regaining two starters in Jaylon Jones and Montrell Custis, who both suffered season-ending injuries early in the 2018 season.
Behind them is a heap of underclassmen looking to force their way into the rotation.
“The thing about corner, it’s kind of like quarterback,” McIntyre said. “You don’t really know until you get in the game because they’re on an island. They’re going to get beat every once and a while, so who do they respond?”
As the most tenured starter for the Rebel defense, Hartsfield is being asked to do several things in the secondary this year. While learning both the outside and nickel corner positions, he’ll also be playing in a new “shark” position that puts him inside as a hybrid interior defender.
“At any time, I can go in at shark, which is a nickel going in but we’re still in a 3-4. I just go in and be an outside linebacker,” Hartsfield said.
Shuffling Hartsfield around from the outside in gives the defense some versatility in how they defend a balanced offense with several personnel groupings.
“If teams are spreading you out in 10 personnel, you can still play that front and be good with it and be able to play some more tight coverage,” McIntyre said. “He (Hartsfield) does a good job in there at that nickel spot and if they’re running he can set the edge and he can cover so that helps us when we use him in that situation.”
That secondary has had to play opposite a deep and talented receiving core everyday in practice, which is a major benefit according to Hartsfield.
“You’ve got Tylan Knight and Elijah (Moore), two shifty people in the slot so we’ve got a safety rolling down on one of them and it’s not someone that’s used to guarding them,” he said. “They’re just too quick for some of the safeties that we have, but our safeties are definitely working on it. It’s just different for them.
“You don’t get wide receivers like that everyday so just being able to work against them, they’ll be ready day one.”
McIntyre will depend on his veterans and newcomers to change the reputation of a defensive backfield who struggled with injuries throughout last season.
“Right now they’re all competing,” McIntyre said. “They show good athletic ability so we’ll see as the games go along, but I’ve been pleased with their competitiveness, I’ve been pleased with their ball skills and their ability to stay close to the receivers”