July 23, 2008

Sanford expects defense to be a strength

Jamarca Sanford has started 31 games in an Ole Miss uniform, so while it might seem like he's been playing for the Rebels forever, the senior strong safety said recently his career has flown by.

"It comes quick," Sanford said. "When I first made it, everybody used to tell me, 'I'm a senior. Better enjoy it while it lasts. Your senior year is going to come quick.' Now it's here. I wouldn't change anything. I'd just win a couple more games since I've been here. Well, a lot more games, but I've enjoyed it."

In three years, Sanford has recorded 205 total tackles, 1.5 quarterback sacks, two caused fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 10 pass break-ups. Those statistics don't mean much. Instead, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Batesville, Miss., native is hung up on the fact that the Rebels have won just three Southeastern Conference games. Going into his senior season, Sanford wants that to change, and he believes that it will.

"The last three or four years I've been here, we've been feeling confident," Sanford said. "But I feel we have something special going. We feel like we can go in this year and put together the pieces we're missing from the puzzle."

Asked for specific reasons why he believes 2008 will be different, Sanford didn't hesitate.

"We have a good quarterback that we feel is getting the plays down and doing a great job," Sanford said. "There's been great leadership by Jevan (Snead) and everyone's doing a great job. We just feel like we're working harder and everyone's believing in (strength and conditioning coach Don Decker) and what's going on and we just have to get together as a team and play together hard. I feel like with Coach (Houston) Nutt and the system he's brought in, I think it will work.

"Last year, a couple of guys had negative attitudes and a lot of guys didn't like Coach (Ed Orgeron). You're always going to have a couple of guys who aren't going to agree with the head coach, but it seems like everybody has bought into Coach Nutt. Everywhere Coach Nutt has been has had a winning program."

Sanford is the anchor of a defensive secondary that is being criticized and questioned going into the start of fall camp and the 2008 season, one that opens on Aug. 30 with a home date against Memphis. Sanford and Johnny Brown have the safety spots locked up. However, former wide receiver Marshay Green is an untested starter at one corner opposite Cassius Vaughn or Dustin Mouzon.

"Everyone is always going to have their opinion," Sanford said. "I feel like we can go out with the guys we've got and go out and compete with anyone. We go out and compete with our receivers and from my standpoint, I feel like we've got some of the best receivers in the nation and if we can compete with them, we can go out and compete on Saturdays."

One of those receivers, Mike Wallace, agrees with Sanford's assessment.

"At first, we didn't think they could cover us," Wallace said. "Now, we're like, 'Man, we've got to come with it every day,' because we're still going to talk a lot of trash but those boys have been looking real good. …I feel that Coach (Tyrone) Nix has a real good scheme. I just feel like they're doing a lot more coverages and a lot more blitzes. They're ready."

And if they are, Ole Miss' defense could be a surprise.

"We've got a great front four," Sanford said. "They've been together for awhile. They're just really coming together and working hard. The secondary is coming together and the linebackers are learning their stuff. Once we come together as a defense, the sky's the limit on what we can do.

"Coach (Tyrone Nix) just wants you to make a play out there. Coach Nix is real aggressive. He plays the route. He wants to pick the route. He's not just trying to play it safe. He wants everything shut down. We're robbing and everything."

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