Going into the season, Ole Miss' defensive secondary was widely considered a liability.
Through fall camp and one game, cornerback might still be a bit of an issue, but the Rebels' play at both safety spots has been nothing short of stellar. In Ole Miss' season-opening win over Memphis last Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, starting safeties Jamarca Sanford and Kendrick Lewis had exceptional games and Johnny Brown logged significant time in a backup capacity.
"I thought Jamarca and Kendrick really did some good things," Ole Miss assistant coach Kim Dameron said. "Jamarca made some really good tackles. I think he made the first three tackles of the game and ended up with 13. Kendrick had the interception and three break-ups and I thought they were really productive. I was also glad to see Johnny Brown come in and play and do some good things and make some tackles. Johnny is a physical kid, so yeah, I was happy with all three of them."
Fon Ingram has emerged as the Rebels' fourth safety, and he also did some good things against Memphis.
"Fon played a little bit in the nickel package because when Cassius (Vaughn) went down, we had to move Jeremy (McGee), who was playing in the dime position, out to corner," Dameron said. "So Fon is our backup dime and he actually played a little bit more than I thought he would. He did OK. He made some mistakes but it wasn't anything that was just glaring. It was some technique errors and things like that."
Dameron said he considers Sanford, Lewis and Brown "the three starters." He said he expects Brown will play more this week against Wake Forest than he did against Memphis.
"I meant to play him more last week," Dameron said. "With the (hamstring) injury, he got behind a little in camp and Kendrick is playing very well and Jamarca's playing very well and the chemistry was good, so I didn't want to mess with that too much. But I planned on playing all three of them anyway. I just want to make sure I get all three of them going."
A year ago, Lewis' game was hampered a bit by some struggles tackling. That seems to have improved.
"Fundamentally, he's gotten much better because he's really worked hard at it and he takes pride in the way he practices," Dameron said. "He and Jamarca both do the little things in practice to make them better tacklers. Is he going to miss some tackles? Sure he is. You can't play in this league and think you're going to make every tackle, but I'm very pleased with his progress as far as tackling.
"The thing where he's improved the most is recognizing formations and seeing the quarterback's eyes and being able to break on footballs. He's always around the ball now and that's something that wasn't always there. Jamarca's hands are getting better. I'm seeing improvement in all of them."
The Rebels' safeties _ and the rest of the defense, for that matter _ will need a strong performance Saturday at No. 20 Wake Forest. Demon Deacon quarterback Riley Skinner, Dameron said, is "a heck of an athlete. He can throw it. He can run it. He's poised. You send pressure at him and he sits there and looks at it and knows where to go with the ball, so I've really kind of enjoyed watching him play on film, not only from last year but also against Baylor."
WALLACE WOWED BY SNEAD'S ARM: Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace was wide open and on his way to the end zone against Memphis. Jevan Snead spotted the speedy Wallace and let the fly route go. Wallace never caught up with Snead's missile and it fell harmlessly to the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium turf. Wallace said he learned a lesson on that play, one that he'll remember from now on.
"I'm not used to having somebody with an arm like that throwing it out that far," Wallace said. "We're going to get our timing down from that game and we're going to get one. Guaranteed."
DEACS READY FOR HOME OPENER: Tropical Storm Hanna appeared to make an eastward jog on Thursday, which could mean little or no inclement weather for Saturday's game in Winston-Salem.
"Good weather or bad weather, I'm looking forward to going into our stadium," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "It's nice to be back home. We have a really tough opponent in Ole Miss that will be a great challenge for us. It's fun to be back home. Hopefully the weather will hold up. I think that will help our crowd if it does. It should be an exciting time."
"We're well prepared for the weather," Wake Forest wide receiver Chip Brinkman added. "We practice when we have inclement weather and that has helped us be really well prepared. It just makes us focus that much better. If it's raining come game time, I think we'll be fine. Our receivers can catch the ball and we will all be out there blocking and I think the running game will step it up."
ACC WOES TROUBLING TO WAKE: The first week of play in college football wasn't good to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson was mauled by Alabama on a neutral field. Virginia Tech lost at East Carolina. North Carolina State was pummeled at South Carolina. Other ACC teams won but performed poorly against lesser opponents.
"Wow. I sat there on Saturday and watched all of those games," Brinkman said. "In the past, you used to root against them and I was glad to see them lose. Not anymore. Everyone is coming down on the ACC and we really need to step it up. I was kind of shocked to see a good team like Clemson lose because I know they're a good football team. I think later on down their road, they're going to be a lot better."
WAKE EXPECTS AWAKENED REBEL TEAM: Wake Forest would be forgiven if it didn't take Ole Miss very seriously when it saw the Rebels on the 2008 schedule. The Demon Deacons humiliated the Rebels, 27-3, in 2006, in a game that was delayed two hours because of rain and storms in north Mississippi.
However, Wake Forest watched film of Saturday's Ole Miss-Memphis game and came away expecting a different Rebel team.
"The offensive line coach did a good job and Coach (Houston) Nutt came in there and instilled in those guys the mentality that they're going to come in here and try to run the ball on us a little bit," Wake Forest defensive tackle Boo Robinson said. "They've got a good running back and the offensive line is playing really physical now.
"We've just got to be focused a little bit more. Ole Miss is going to bring a more physical team out here. We've got to be focused and be assignment-sharp, and we've got to cut out personal fouls."
DEACS EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: Wake Forest tight end Ben Wooster said earlier this week that the Demon Deacons likely benefited from playing Baylor last Thursday. The game was the first for new Baylor coach Art Briles, so the Demon Deacons knew they'd encounter some surprises. The same could hold true, Wooster said, when Ole Miss comes to town. Nutt has 15 years of head-coaching experience at Murray State, Boise State and Arkansas, but Saturday's game at Wake Forest will be just his second at Ole Miss.
"It was great preparation in that we covered everything because we didn't know what Baylor was going to throw at us," Wooster said. "So in that, we covered a little bit of what we think Ole Miss is going to do. So hopefully we will be pretty well prepared but we still have a lot of work to do."
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