Rebel Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix lived through a bad dream last year.
For whatever reason(s), and many have been speculated on, the Ole Miss defense didn't get it done, to put it mildly, in 2010.
But Nix has come out on the other end of the tunnel with a new perspective, a new cog on his defensive staff and a better feeling, based on what he has seen in the spring and in the first three practices of the 2011.
"I think our work ethic is what I'm hanging my hat on right now. These kids worked hard all summer and they are working hard right now," said Nix. "We've only had three practices but we've improved each day and that's what it takes.
"Our kids understand we have a long way to go, but they're willing to work for it. They've made a commitment to get where we want to go."
The back end of the defense - the secondary, in the early going, has excited Tyrone, who is not easily excited and is normally reserved in his statements.
"When I watch what Keith Burns is doing with our secondary, watch how much more aggressive they are and how much more fundamentally sound they are becoming, it's exciting. It excites me because I know where we were a year ago and I know where we are now and I see dramatic improvement," he stated without hesitation. "Again, there's no way we are where we need to be, but we are headed in the right direction."
Nix uses the word potential to describe the linebacking corps, a group that has one returning starter - Joel Kight.
"I see potential and flashes," said Nix. "Beyond Joel and Mike Marry, I think Ralph Williams is a guy who is showing up who hasn't gotten a lot of attention. He is starter material and he's a kid who leads by example and works hard. I've got to lean hard on Mike and Joel. I think they understand what it takes to play at a high level in this conference.
"Freshman C.J. Johnson and Keith Lewis have a lot of talent, but they have to develop some consistency, which they will in time. We need them to be a physical force on our defense and they are showing they have that in them, we just have to develop them and draw that out of them on every play."
Up front, Nix says the defensive line is in good hands with Terry Price.
"The biggest thing we are trying to impress on the kids this fall camp, and we did it in spring too, is that we want to be a physical, tough, nasty defense," he continued. "Terry is doing a great job of developing that with the guys up front.
"It's hard to really know where we are up front until we get a few days in full pads and get some real contact, but I like the direction we are going in. I like the early look of some of our tackles - Carlton Martin and Uriah Grant come to mind quickly, but Gilbert Pena and Bryon Bennett have also done some good things. As well as Justin Smith."
The front will be led, if all goes according to plan, by sixth-year senior DE Kentrell Lockett.
"He's a tremendous impact and influence on this defense because of his experience and his leadership," Nix added. "We are going to demand a lot from him because he's been a part of some big wins and good defenses and he knows what it takes. He knows the quality of play it takes to win on this level. That's a valuable asset. We also need senior (DE) Wayne Dorsey to have the kind of year we know he is capable of having. His body language and his approach this year have been much better. He gets it now, I think, and that will help him perform to his potential."
Overall, Nix comes back to the "keep plugging"
"We know we haven't arrived, but I feel confident in saying we are headed in the right direction," he closed.