OLB Joel Kight, Des Wayne Dorsey and Gerald Rivers, DT Carlton Martin, DE Kentrell Lockett, CB Marcus Temple and SS Damien Jackson are all potential starters on the Rebel defense for 2011.
They all had one thing in common Saturday during the Rebels' second full scrimmage of spring training.
They were watching from the sidelines, out with injury.
But even at that, Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix did not have any major complaints with the results of the 100-plus-play scrimmage.
"We flew around and created some turnovers, which was very good to see," said Nix. "That's a big positive for us because we didn't create a lot of turnovers last year and that's a big part of defensive football and of every game.
"We gave up a couple of big plays, but we are starting to cut down on those a little as well."
From 10 days of practice, it appears the group that continues to get the most acknowledgment from Nix is the linebackers, led by, of course, D.T. Shackelford.
"Everything starts with him due to his leadership. He is challenging himself and his teammates to play at a higher level and to be more consistent and I think we are getting that out of our guys," Nix said. "Leadership is huge and D.T. is a very good leader and player. You have to have great leadership to be successful. When you can have an extension of the coach on the field, it helps everything. It's not always the coaches' voices that are being heard, sometimes it has to come from your peers and D.T. is excellent at leading by example and vocally.
"I also like what I am seeing out of Mike Marry and Clarence Jackson. Jack is getting better and better every day. It will be very difficult to keep him off the field. As long as he continues to keep working on his fundamentals, he's going to be a fine player for us. Mike is steadily improving. He's getting overshadowed a little bit, but that's OK. I know what he's doing – he's producing and getting better daily."
At defensive end, with the aforementioned out, Nix has been pleased with the progress of Jason Jones and Cameron Whigham.
"The biggest thing is that you can turn all those injuries into a positive, that being that Cameron is getting a lot of reps and he's responding. He just needs more and more reps and he's getting them now," Nix continued. "Jason played the second half of the season last year and gave us some quality reps. He's fundamentally sound and he's making plays this spring. That is very promising. I have a lot of confidence in him. He could be a starter. I think he's also leading and can provide a lot of production."
During the week leading up to the scrimmage, redshirt freshmen DTs Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett were elevated to the top of the depth chart. Martin suffered a concussion Thursday and sat out of the scrimmage, but Bennett maintained his top spot.
"Carlton and Bryon are exactly what we thought they were when we recruited them. They are very explosive, they came from a good high school program and they understand the importance of work and of the game," Nix noted. "They are getting better every rep. I am very happy with them. If we started right now, they would probably be the starters. They are living up to their expectations."
Nix's attention turned to the safeties and what he's seen from them.
"I think Brishen Mathews is getting better. He is showing up in every practice. Right now, he'd be the starter. With Jackson out, Frank Crawford is getting valuable reps and is improving," Nix said. "I'm glad Ivan Nicholas is here, but he's trying to catch up with the speed of the game on this level. By the end of spring, he will be further along and we'll evaluate him further then. He's just got to keep studying and working hard."
At corner, one player got mention from the scrimmage from the defensive boss.
"I like the progress Cliff Coleman has made. He's a battler. He's going to fight for playing time," Nix added. "He's starting to figure things out and get the job done more and more often."
All things considered, Nix likes where the Rebel defense is and the direction they are going.
"I like the way we are working and the way we flying around. I like the leadership that is developing," Nix closed. "We have some guys injured, but the ones taking up the slack are doing a good job and getting valuable reps. We really need to take advantage of our last five practices and keep coming, but so far, not bad."
LBs catch Nix's eye
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