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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Nkemdiche, Jones are ones to watch

By Edward Aschoff

The Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry is one drenched in tradition and hatred. Neither side likes the other, and they'd compete over sweetest ice cream flavor if they could.

Robert Nkemdiche
Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche could be poised for a big season in 2014.
Get ready for another competition between these two programs that won't necessarily deal with wins and losses.

Both of these schools, who will enter the 2014 season with higher expectations than last season, will have two über-talented defensive linemen who could become household names in the SEC before their times are done in the Magnolia State.

For Ole Miss, it's former No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche. At Mississippi State, it's relative under-the-radar stud Chris Jones. Both are looking for super sophomore years in the SEC.

At season's end, Jones had three sacks and seven tackles for loss, while Nkemdiche recorded two sacks and eight tackles for loss. Both collected more than 30 tackles, too. Neither had earth-shattering debuts, but their respective freshman seasons give both players something they can build on going into 2014.

And both have shown that they can be truly special. Jones might not have received the hype that Nkemdiche did before he made his home in Starkville, but he's a freak. Teams started to respect him as the season went on, bringing more double-teams his way. He's quick off the line, powerful and extremely athletic. Jones can line up inside or outside for the Bulldogs and probably lined up around 60 percent end and 40 percent tackle.

Chris Jones
Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones, a former top-50 recruit, had three sacks as a freshman.
Versatility, my friends. It's essential in this sport, especially when you're playing the SEC. Jones doesn't have Nkemdiche's name, but he has the talent to be a real monster in this league. He's an excellent pass rusher when he's on the edge and can clog the middle with his 6-foot-5, 305-pound frame.

Like Jones, Nkemdiche is extremely versatile. Heck, the 6-4, 277-pounder lined up at running back at times last season. He likely won't be doing as much damage in his own backfield this fall, but he could be more of a pain for opposing backfields with him moving around on the line for the Rebels. Nkemdiche is working exclusively at tackle this spring, but he will likely see time at both positions this fall.

Despite the off-field distractions he's dealing with, the hope is that Nkemdiche can immerse himself even more in the Rebels' defense and start working more off knowledge, as opposed to just his instincts.

Nkemdiche and Jones have what it takes to be total packages for their teams. Both are rangy and have high football intelligence. They are extremely powerful and have barely tapped their potential.

It's going to be fun watching them, and you better believe they're both watching each other. Why wouldn't they be?