Spring look ahead: Linebackers

Key players return among the linebackers as with most positions.

Linebackers by nature are to be around the ball making plays. Many times defensive linemen are tying up blockers just to aid their teammates in that effort.

The 4-2-5 allows for only two linebackers on the field, but those two – Denzel Nkemdiche and Mike Marry – were among the top three tacklers on the team.

They should fill those starting jobs again in 2013.

Nkemdiche started the season with a bang against Central Arkansas and never let off the gas. He became the Rebels’ top play-maker, and his energy and out-going personality quickly made him a fan favorite.

He was the team leader in tackles (82), tackles for loss (13) and forced fumbles (4) and shared the team lead in interceptions (3).

Nkemdiche should be better with a season under his belt.

Marry was third on the team with 78 tackles and second to Nkemdiche with 10.5 tackles for loss.

Marry is a physical player, but his speed is a problem in pass coverage. He shined in the bowl game against Pittsburgh, which wasn’t among the fastest teams the Rebels faced in 2012.

There are two losses at the position in Joel Kight, a senior, and Ralph Williams, a third-year sophomore who announced earlier this month he would not return.

Williams had 49 tackles and four tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman – including a big play near the goalline at Fresno State — but couldn’t stick on the field last year whether at linebacker or in his defensive end experiment. He appeared in 10 games but had only four tackles, fewer than walk-on Carlos Davis had in six games as a special teams player.

Serderius Bryant, a rising junior, is a good tackler, and Keith Lewis provides a bigger body when the Rebels go to a 4-3. They will again provide depth. Bryant had 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss last year, and Lewis had 22 tackles.

A player to watch here is D.T. Shackelford, an emotional leader and all-conference caliber player who is trying to make a comeback after two years away because of knee surgeries.

The spring may tell us a lot about how much Shackelford can contribute.

It may also tell us about how much Channing Ward develops at end. If it’s a big jump for Ward, and if freshman Robert Nkemdiche is a quick study and early contributor, it wouldn’t be shocking to see C.J. Johnson line up more at linebacker.

The signing class includes three-star linebackers Marcus Robinson and Ray Ray Smith.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to Kory Keys and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

Posted in Football
  • REBELCUZ

    PEOPLE NEED TO GET OFF OF KENNEDY BACK.WHAT COACH COULD DO A BETTER JOB WITH WHAT HE HAS TO WORK WITH IN A RUN DOWN PLACE TO PLAY IN.

    • JB

      You mentioned a run down place to play in, well Cuz apparently you are not old enough to remember what a palace Ole Miss once had to play in.and further more Mr Kennedy has far more talent to work with than did coach Country Grantham. Anyway it only take five players to make up a team, plus the water boy. This could be Mr Kennedy’s last season at Ole Miss so I will take it easy on him and get off his back and wish him the best. JB

      • JB

        Now all said, but today is spring training coming to Florida and other site for MLB, reviewing the teams, I found six (6) former Rebels listed on team rosters, Two (2) pitchers,a SS,.and three(3) OFers, all potential starters for their respective teams… JB

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