Pushing Ahead

Clarence Jackson is making a habit of turning interceptions into touchdowns this spring.

The sophomore linebacker, who missed most of last season due to a suspension for a violation of team rules, recorded his second interception in as many days during Saturday's full-contact scrimmage inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Jackson tipped and snagged an errant Zack Stoudt pass attempt and raced 67 yards to the end zone.

"I felt good about it. I've been working on it the whole spring," he said of the interception. "Matter of fact, I got the same interception (Friday). As far as the coaches helping me recognize the offenses and stuff, that's what put me in a better position to get it."

The emergence of Jackson has been a positive for the Ole Miss defense and a crop of linebackers now without departed seniors Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker.

Clarence Jackson
Chuck Rounsaville
Jackson has mostly run with the second-team defense throughout practices, but was with the first team Saturday -- opposite Mike Marry and D.T. Shackelford -- as starter Joel Kight stood on the sidelines in street clothes with an injury.

"I like him. I wish I'd had him last year, but that's over with now," defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Tyrone Nix said. "I think the kid's getting better and better every day. It's going to be difficult to keep him off the field. As long as he continues to improve and do the little things right, I think he'll be a good football player for us."

"Towards the beginning, it was kind of slow getting back out here," Jackson said. "It's going real good, though, as far as defensive-wise. Coach (Nix) is making me a lot better on my plays, as far as recognizing offenses better. I've come a long way."

Jackson acknowledged his importance to the linebackers. The unit is sorely lacking in depth behind its three starters. Jackson is needed and, to his credit, has responded with a strong showing in April.

Jackson had four tackles to go along with his interception in the near two-hour scrimmage.

"It's real important. I feel like I let my team down last year," he said. "I've got to come in even stronger, and I'm trying to better the defense and then better me, on and off the field."

Quarterback race enters critical final week:

As Ole Miss turns the corner to the final week of spring practices and the annual Grove Bowl April 16, focus remains on the four-man race at quarterback, where Randall Mackey, Stoudt, Barry Brunetti and Nathan Stanley are vying for the starting nod.

Each quarterback got his turn Saturday, but the numbers were far from stellar. Mackey, who seemed to distance himself a bit last week, completed just 3 of 9 passes. He misfired on each of his first four throws, finishing the day with only 39 yards and no touchdowns.

"I played pretty good," Mackey said afterwards. "The offensive line did a good job today of pass blocking and all that. Offensive-wise, it was a good scrimmage. The run game was real good, the passing game was good, but we still got some more work to do."

Randall Mackey
Chuck Rounsaville
Stoudt, meanwhile, was the most efficient passer. The junior college transfer completed 7 of 11 passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had two interceptions, including Jackson's interception returned for a touchdown.

Brunetti and Stanley combined to go 3 of 10 for 106 yards, one interception and one touchdown.

The group's lackluster showing can be somewhat attributed to the pressure applied by the Ole Miss defense, which recorded four sacks and four turnovers.

"The pressure really doesn't bother us too much," Mackey said. "We're always taught to keep our eyes downfield and just feel the pressure, so I don't think the pressure really affected us much."

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee said collective inconsistency in the passing game -- from the quarterbacks to the wide receivers -- has made the evaluation of his quarterbacks difficult.

Ole Miss, Lee said, could even institute a two-quarterback system if no one player steps up and takes the job.

"They're all in different places in their development," he said. "None of ‘em's just jumped out and said, ‘I'm the guy.' That hasn't happened yet."

Mackey said the team is nearly done installing its new offense under Lee. However, kinks are still being worked out across the board. "We're close, but we're not there yet," he said, admitting the offense has a long way to go.

For the final week, Mackey said the goal is simple: To pull all 11 starters together as one.

"Just try to get our whole offense as one, and see what we really could do," he said. "We got almost everything in right now. The playbook's about to be almost thrown out now. Everybody should know everything by now."

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