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VOL. 130 | NO. 160 | Tuesday, August 18, 2015

College Football Notebook: Preseason Spotlight on Memphis Tigers Defense

By Don Wade

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The University of Memphis lost eight starters from a defense that played a huge role in last year’s 10-win season.

Returning defensive players such as No. 34 Jackson Dillon are being counted on to lead 2015’s younger Tigers defensive unit.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But they also lost coordinator Barry Odom, who returned to alma mater Missouri as defensive coordinator.

Tigers head coach Justin Fuente promoted linebackers coach Galen Scott, who has been at Memphis since 2010, into the head defensive job. The presumption heading into this season: The offense will be the team’s strength and the defense will play catch-up. After all, three of those missing starters are in NFL training camps.

Reggis Ball, the only returning starter in the secondary, has grown weary of the talk already.

“Yeah, I’m a little tired of it,” he said. “But you have to expect that. You lose players, you gain players, too. We have all the physical ability in the world.

“My personal opinion: My job in camp is to get my guys to understand the game mentality, to be mentally tuned in and disciplined.”

As senior dawg, a hybrid defensive line/lineback position, Jackson Dillon is generally considered the top returnee on defense after making 43 tackles, nine of them for loss, in 2014 along with 3.5 sacks.

“We have the talent,” Dillon said of the defense. “Everyone says we’ve fallen off, but we’re very talented. We’re tough, we’re gritty, we’re hitters.”

Ole Miss QB derby still a three-man race

In the first season A.B. – after Bo, as in Wallace – the contenders for the Ole Miss starting quarterback job are bunched together.

So much so that head coach Huge Freeze has indicated he might even use the first two games of the season vs. Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State to sort things out. He will definitely need clarity by the end of week two, because the Rebels’ third game of the season is at Alabama.

The hope was that junior and former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly would have seized the job by now, but that hasn’t happened. Sophomores DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan remain in the mix.

The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., recently asked a couple of Rebel players for their take on the QB competition and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo gave Buchanan the top mark for accuracy, but said Kincade and Kelly had more “zip” on their throws.

Offensive lineman Robert Conyers played diplomat: “That is above my pay grade.”

Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson says his time is “now”

Tigers coach Gus Malzahn knows who is quarterback will be: strong-armed junior Jeremy Johnson. He threw for 436 yards with three touchdowns and no picks in limited duty behind Nick Marshall in 2014.

Now, the job is all his.

“Nick Marshall was one of the better zone-read quarterbacks in recent history,” Malzahn said. “Jeremy has that ability. He can flat-out throw it; he can make every throw that you ask him to do. But he’s a better runner than people think.

“We didn’t ask him to run the past couple of years, but he’s a big (6-5 and 230) guy. He probably runs a 4.6. So he will allow us to call all of our offense.”

Said Johnson: “I’ve been in this system for three years now. Even when I wasn’t playing, I’ve always been competing. My time is here now and I’m blessed. I’ve been preparing to start since I got to Auburn, and now my time is here and I can release everything that I had inside me while I was sitting out those two years.”

Quote, unquote

“I ran with the fast guys this summer.” – Memphis QB Paxton Lynch on his off-season strategy to improve his speed while putting on more weight and muscle.

“He’s a mastermind of play-calling.” – Alabama RB Kenyan Drake on Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

“He is hands-down the best running back in the SEC.” – LSU RB Leonard Fournette on Georgia RB Nick Chubb.

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