Notes: Johnson confident, Battle likes scheme, Dasher loving new defense
OXFORD – He’s has waited for a fair amount of time, but junior center Eli Johnson is ready to fill the shoes of those who paved the way before him.
After the sixth practice of the 2019 spring campaign, the Taylor, Mississippi, native took some time to discuss what it is like replacing the four major offensive line departures from last year.
“I definitely think it’s a process” Johnson said. “Losing guys like Sean (Rawlings) and Jordan (Sims) along with Javon (Patterson) and Greg (Little), it’s going to be tough. So I think we’re able to use some of their examples that they set the last three or four years and try to replicate that.”
The former Lafayette High School standout has worked his way through both an ACL tear and a wrist injury to put himself in the position to finally see the field as a starter for Ole Miss this coming fall.
“We have had some guys, like myself, who haven’t seen the field much the last couple of years” Johnson conceded. “So, it’s a real big opportunity to kind of get a chance to step into those bigger roles and fill those positions out while trying to compete and help Ole Miss win football games.”
With Ben Brown and Alex Givens looking to shore up the right side similarly to last season, Johnson will split the middle between those two and a mixture of guards and tackles that will likely include such players as Bryce Mathews, Royce Newman, and Chandler Tuitt.
“We all have had our struggles, myself included” Johnson said on the first few weeks of the spring. “But I think everybody is kind of in that boat where we need improvement across the board but we’re also doing some really good things.”
Similarly, redshirt freshman Miles Battle has found himself in the mix of the starting lineup after the big three receivers from last year headed towards the NFL.
“It feels great” Battle said with a grin. “I came in and got to learn from all three of them, how they played and what they brought to the game. That was really one of the main reasons I came here was to learn from the best and take their place.”
Battle played in only four games this past season, which allowed him to maintain his redshirt coming into the 2019 season. In those four games, he tallied a mere two receptions for a combined 18 yards, but his 6-foot-4 frame will allow him to be a true outside threat with the help of Matt Corral’s arm.
“I’ve put on about 18 pounds so far, from 188 to 206, and I’m still gaining” Battle said. “It has helped me a lot, especially with press coverage and everything. I also feel a lot faster than I did when I first got here.”
With the installation of new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez’s system, one clear difference from last year’s offense versus this year’s offense is that instead of finding open space, according to the wide receivers, they are instead relying more on reading the defense and implementing a more stringent route tree.
“More now, it’s about reading coverages and knowing what to do whenever you see the proper coverage, then finding the space,” Battle said.
On the opposite side of the field, a player tasked with covering Battle in practice, Vernon Dasher, is adjusting to a recent switch from the nickel position to safety as a part of Mike MacIntyre’s new defense.
Dasher spoke about the newly added system saying, “I’m loving it. The system that we’ve been putting in and stuff, everybody has been able to play fast and not think while just going. Everybody is having fun with it.”
Last year, Dasher made a total of 11 appearances while he totaled 36 tackles plus an 88-yard pick-six from what they had called the “Star” position.
“I don’t feel like it was that hard” Dasher said on the switch. “It’s just I’m a little deeper now. I got to use my peripheral vision and stuff like that. Other than that, it’s not too hard.”
The senior out of Baxley, Georgia, was originally recruited as a linebacker from his previous school, Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College. The former three-star was asked if he expected such a change of position when he came to Ole Miss over a year ago.
“I thought I was just going to be down in that box area” Dasher said, laughing. “But I’m willing to play anything so it really don’t matter to me; just happy to be on the field with my guys.”