An Ole Miss team lacking speed and athleticism at linebacker is losing two of its quickest and most athletic players at the position.
As I was leaving town for the graduation swing last Thursday news broke that linebacker Kevontae' Ruggs, a sophomore, will transfer. Ole Miss coach Matt Luke tells me Josh Clarke, a redshirt sophomore, will transfer too.
The news is disappointing, but not surprising.
Ruggs impressed in August camp last year and earned a starting job at outside linebacker as a true freshman in the season opener against Texas Tech in Houston.
He sustained a concussion on a kickoff early in the first quarter and missed the following week against Southern Illinois. He started in Week 3 against Alabama but not in Week 4 against Kent State. His final start came in Week 5 at LSU where he made some aggressive mistakes, including a hit out of bounds.
He kind of vanished after that.
Clarke moved up and down the depth chart in the spring and August.
He worked his way back into a starting role for the Kent State game but injured his knee early and did not play again last season.
Both players were suspended in the spring for unspecified team rules violations and were not around the team to learn a new defense being installed.
That's not good, though it's not an insurmountable hurdle.
I don't know the details of either suspension, but suspensions can be an indicator that guy's head's not in the right place.
If Ruggs or Clarke were distracted by their circumstances the suspensions put them at a crossroads, and you can see the paths they chose.
In their brief Ole Miss careers neither got on the field enough to impact games, but there's lost potential here for Ole Miss. Depth too. Luke was excited to report on his Rebel Road Trip stops that the team, after working through NCAA sanctions, was back to 85 scholarships. Now it's at 83.
I believe the Rebels will be better defensively this season, because they’ll be better coached. I expect they’ll be in the right places and will line up correctly more often and that they’ll tackle better.
These departures won’t change that, but both are players could have helped had they toughed it out through some difficult times.