OXFORD • Sam Williams became synonymous with big plays at Northeast Mississippi Community College last season, most of them involving terror for quarterbacks.
His 17½ sacks shared the national lead at the two-year level. He had 11 other tackles for loss and also forced four fumbles.
Ole Miss coaches would love to see the same measurable production from Williams, but they want to see something else too.
They want to see him drop in pass coverage.
A defensive end at Northeast, Williams, the No. 7 overall junior college recruit, is now a stand-up outside linebacker in the Rebels’ new 3-4 alignment.
Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre calls the outsider backers “quarterback disrupters” for the way he can disguise their intentions.
Williams signed last December and went through spring drills.
“Spring was fun. It was a learning experience. I used to be just a pass-rusher, now I’m a dropper too,” he said.
Going backwards instead of forward in the pass game didn’t come naturally for Williams, 6-3, 258. Confidence came in time.
“It was like the third day when I got a pick, an interception in practice, and after that it just came easy,” he said.
“It made me not think about it so much, just do it.”
The outsider backers will get more pass coverage opportunities against spread passing teams – like Memphis in the season opener on Aug. 31.
“It all depends on what’s working in the game plan, and coach MacIntyre’s going to do a great job of mixing it up,” outside linebacker coach Tyrone Nix said. “It could be both guys involved in coverage, it could be both guys rushing the passer. That’s the beauty of the 3-4 defense. It keeps you guessing on who’s the fourth, fifth or sixth rusher on any given play.”
Williams and senior Qaadir Sheppard, a defensive end with a hand in the dirt last season, are listed as the starters as camp begins.
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke says the new position is a more natural fit for Sheppard, who led the team last year in tackles for loss with 10 and in quarterback pressures with eight.
Nix says the OLB competition is “wide open” and says senior Brenden Williams, another former Northeast standout, junior Charles Wiley and redshirt freshman Luke Knox are also in the mix.
Nix says his priorities as camp begins is helping players eliminate mental busts and play with more consistency.
“We have to make major improvements from the spring to the fall before our first game. With our attitude and our work ethic those things are possible.”