Though they’re not quite “The Walking Dead,” the Ole Miss Rebel defense has taken another body blow with the loss of starting defensive end C.J. Johnson. The Rebels announced Thursday Johnson will undergo surgery and is out for the remainder of the season.
Johnson, a junior, is eligible, however, to pursue a medical redshirt that would allow him to play two additional years for the Rebels.
The Philadelphia, MS native broke his leg during the first week of spring practice, but was able to return when workouts began this fall. He then suffered a leg injury in the Rebels’ 25-0 loss to Alabama on September 28 and has not played in either of the last two games against Auburn and A&M.
Rebel fans may recall that Johnson was also injured in the Alabama game when a flag thrown by an official hit the defensive end in the eye.
Johnson finishes 2013 with 12 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. Cameron Whigham, a 6’3” 255 lb. senior will continue to start in Johnson’s absence.
The Rebels head into the game against No. 6 ranked LSU (6:00 pm, ESPN) severely weakened on defense. The list of injured includes:
- Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who has a hamstring injury and will not play for several weeks.
- Linebacker Serderius Bryant, who suffered a concussion in the A&M game and is listed as day-to day.
- Defensive back Mike Hilton, who has an injured hamstring and is “not probable” to play.
- Defensive end Carlos Thompson, who is definitely out for LSU.
However, there was a bit of good news after Wednesday’s practice, as Coach Freeze said linebacker/defensive end Temario Strong, “surprised us today and is moving around quite a bit better than we expected.” Freeze also indicated that defensive tackle Issac Gross is recovering more quickly than anticipated and will try to play this weekend. Safety Chief Brown is also injured but is “likely” to play.
The injuries come at an especially challenging time, what with the high-powered LSU offense heading to Oxford. QB Zach Mettenberger has the most passing yards (1890) in the SEC; wide receiver Odell Beckham is second in the SEC (733 yards) in receiving yards; and running back Jeremy Hill leads the SEC in yards-per-attempt (7.3).
Nevertheless, Coach Freeze and his staff are working to get the backup players ready to go. “You’re going to see some kids playing that have not played a lot of snaps for sure,” Freeze said. “We’re certainly doing everything that we know to do to make sure our kids are ready to go.”