Shack to Square One

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix called D.T. Shackelford Monday night, not long after an MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Shackelford's right knee.

Nix said Shackelford, who will miss six to eight months, was expectedly disappointed. He was hurt. Shackelford had emerged as Ole Miss' unquestioned leader this spring. He was vocal both on and off the field. His teammates were responding.

"He's a little disappointed, but he understands everything happens for a reason and something positive's going to come out of this situation," Nix said following practice Tuesday. "He's willing to accept the position that he's in. He's going to rehab and do everything the way he does on the field and off the field, and that's go 100 miles per hour, as fast as possible, and do everything the doctor recommends.

"I'm sure we'll see a new and improved D.T. Shackelford."

A once deep linebacker corps is now thin. Along with Shackelford -- listed atop the team's depth chart at weak-side linebacker -- fellow starter Joel Kight underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a lateral meniscus tear.

Tyrone Nix
Chuck Rounsaville
Tuesday, the starting unit consisted of middle linebacker Mike Marry, sophomore Clarence Jackson and redshirt freshman Ralph Williams.

"The thing you have to do is accept the challenge and move on," Nix said. "D.T. will still be around, and I think he'll be an inspiration to a lot of guys, because he'll show the character that he has and the determination to get back as soon as possible and encourage his teammates to be the best that they can be."

Still, the task of replacing the vocal presence of Shackelford will surely be difficult. Nix admitted as much, naming senior defensive end Jason Jones, Marry and senior safety Damien Jackson as possible candidates for leadership roles.

"I think it's going to take a unit," he said. "Jason Jones is the guy that comes to mind. Mike Marry is another guy that comes to mind. Who knows in the secondary? I see a guy like Damien Jackson taking more of a leadership role. It's going to take a numerous amount of individuals to increase their leadership role on the defense, but I think it'll be done."

Nix experimented with Marry at outside linebacker today. He plans to do more of the same as the weeks wear on. Ole Miss is in its final week of spring practices, ending with the annual Grove Bowl Saturday.

February signee C.J. Johnson of Philadelphia High School in Philadelphia, Miss., is another name who could fill the void left by Shackelford. Johnson, a four-star prospect and former U.S. Army All-American, totaled 149 tackles over his senior season.

"We signed the best linebacker in the state of Mississippi, if not the best in the country in C.J. Johnson. It's an opportunity for him to be smiling as well, because he has a chance to see more playing time. I don't know what the situation holds right now. We're just going to put the best 11 on the field and give us a chance to win."

"I wanted to cry"

Williams said he wanted to cry upon hearing the news of Shackelford's injury. Shackelford is a player he has looked up to in his only two seasons at Ole Miss, a player he models his game after.

"He always keeps me going," Williams said. "When I found out the news, I wanted to cry, really. He says he's going to bust his butt to get back out here as fast as he can. I know D.T., the kind of worker he is, he'll be back out here."

Williams said the team responded about how one would expect them to. He likened it to an accident. "Everybody's sad," he said, admitting it seems, at the moment, like Shackelford is lost forever.

For now, though, he and his fellow linebackers can only move forward. As previously noted, Williams ran with the first team Tuesday. He is one of a handful of players often mentioned by Nix and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt as a standout player this spring.

Williams, a high-energy player in the mold of Shackelford, said he hasn't changed his approach, despite having taken on an advanced role with the defense.

Ralph Williams
Chuck Rounsaville
"I tried to bring that same energy when I was going with the twos," he said. "Coach Nix always told me that's my huddle. He expects a lot from me, so I tried to bring that same energy with the twos as I did today running with the ones.

"Me and D.T., we're kind of the same. We have a lot of excitement when it comes to this game of football. I bring a lot of energy to this team."

The 6-foot, 235-pound Williams said his redshirt season in 2010-11 was for the best, but was hard to take at first. He wanted to give up. He questioned how long he would be at Ole Miss, with thoughts of returning home to his native Miami, Fla., even crossing his mind.

"When I first found out I was getting redshirted, I was kind of down. I didn't think I was going to be here long. But after looking back at it, it flew by. I really needed it to be honest. That redshirt year gave me a lot to get a lot stronger, bigger and more smartness for the game."

"I sucked it up," he continued. "I'm glad I sucked it up. I don't want to be nowhere else."

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