Spring practice highlights key players for 2016 season

Posted on Mar 30 2016 - 8:06am by Cody Thomason

It’s been a busy spring for the Rebels’ defense so far. With plenty of new players to incorporate into the system, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has taken things slowly, but is trying some new things at in the defensive backfield— namely, moving sophomore Zedrick Woods to free safety, freshman Myles Hartsfield to rover and junior A.J. Moore back to husky.

One of the biggest highlights of Wommack’s defense last season was the emergence of junior DeMarquis Gates, who went on to lead the team with 76 tackles despite only starting in four games.
“He’s by far the best linebacker at this point, but he’s the most experienced linebacker,” Wommack said. “I’ve got him running both mike and stinger to cover ourselves at both ends. He’s been very steady and very consistent for us out there.“

Eric Swinney breaks a tackle during practice on Monday. (Photo by: Ariel Cobbert)

Eric Swinney breaks a tackle during practice on Monday. (Photo by: Ariel Cobbert)

After seeing time at both linebacker spots in the past, Gates said he’s comfortable at either and feels he has a better understanding of the defense as a whole. This spring, Gates also embraced a leadership role on the defensive side.
“You can really control where the team is headed,” Gates said of his new role. “A lot more responsibility is on you, so you have to step up to play and be a leader.”
Gates said he feels due for a big season this fall if he can continue to improve.
“I’ve just got to take what I learned from last year and make an effort for this year to step it up a little bit, take more upon myself to do more,” Gates said.
The Rebels will have a new addition at linebacker for next season, as Rommel Mageo is signed on as a graduate transfer from Oregon State after leading the Beavers in tackles last season.
“I just saw a guy, talking to him on the phone, that, leadership-wise, could do some things,” Wommack said. “I thought he was a good tackler, and (after) talking to some people, he runs the show back there and is a strong physical guy.”

Wommack said he was also excited by some younger contributors who have stepped up at defensive tackle this spring, saying Benito Jones looked good for a freshman.
“His motor runs, difficult to block. He’s very physical for a young guy like that,” Wommack said. “I’m proud as I can be. I think he’s going to help us next year, without a question.”
Wommack said he liked the development he’d seen from redshirt freshman Austrian Robinson and from a sophomore also in the defensive tackle mix.

“I think he’s come along too,” Wommack said.  “We need to work on his stiffness a little bit. He needs to get in that weight room and get some more flexibility, but he’ll give us some reps here and there and I think he’s made some improvements.”

– Cody Thomason