Where He's Needed

Damien Jackson is a safety. Or a linebacker. Or some hybrid of the two.

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Call it what you want. Jackson said he is a safety. But is he really? His new position requires the senior to be closer to the line of scrimmage. He said he has less freedom compared to last season when, as a true free safety in eight starts and all 11 games, he flew from one play to another.

Now he's "fitting" a gap, a responsibility held by a linebacker. He could very well be listed as a linebacker on the official depth chart, which is scheduled to be released next week. But don't call him a linebacker. Or do.

It doesn't matter to Jackson.

"I don't think of it as linebacker," he said. "I've got to make plays to help this team win. It don't really matter. It's very different. The main thing is to get wins, so if what we did last year didn't work, we've got to get wins somehow."

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt and staff are mixing and matching defensively, all in an attempt to improve on a defense that finished near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in most statistical categories last season.

And the mixing and matching includes Jackson, who finished first on the team in 2010 in solo stops with 44 and second in total stops, good for 21st in the conference.

Houston Nutt
Chuck Rounsaville

"He's an excellent safety," Nutt said. "There's some things that we do with him that help him. He's so aggressive. He likes to come down there quick anyway. Just mix him up a little bit, just trying to create some things for him for him to be a better play-maker."

"I think he's had to become a leader in our defense because of the injuries. I feel he has become a leader," injured linebacker D.T. Shackelford said. "He's a hard hitter, a hard player. I really like the way he plays the game. I think he's a good player for our defense."

As far as Thursday's practice, Nutt was happy with the team's effort on another hot day in full pads on the practice fields. Still, Nutt can tell the players are "really ready to hit somebody else." Ole Miss opens its season Sept. 3 against BYU.

"They're ready for game week," he said. "We haven't backed off any. I think if you'd ask them, we haven't backed off any. So they're a little tired, a little hurt, bruised. But they'll have enough time to recover."

Random Notes:

* Junior wide receiver Melvin Harris was back in street clothes Thursday, a day after Harris had practiced with the team in full pads. Harris, who has been up and down between the second and third teams due to limited time on the practice fields, has been battling a lingering lower back strain. Harris reaggravated the back injury Wednesday. "I'm just not counting on him right now," Nutt said. "We've gone without him for about a week now. The guys who are out there, that's who we coach. If he comes back, that's a bonus."

Melvin Harris
Chuck Rounsaville

* Walk-on wide receiver Josh Pinkston attended practice today, but didn't participate. Rather, he was in shorts and shirts with a backpack draped on his back as he observed from the sidelines. When the team began its stretching exercises, Pinkston was seen talking with wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer and his teammates, most notably fellow freshmen wide receivers Tobias Singleton, T.J. Worthy and Nick Brassell.

* Ole Miss' starting four along the defensive line is settled for the most part. Kentrell Lockett and Wayne Dorsey are starters at defensive end. Dorsey is in place of the injured Jason Jones, who said he is feeling better, though it's obvious he is still a long way away from returning to the field. He didn't practice with the team Thursday.

At defensive tackle, veteran Justin Smith seems to have a pretty strong hold on one starting spot, even if Carlton Martin is pushing Smith for playing time. But a competition is brewing between Bryon Bennett and Uriah Grant for the final starting job. Grant opened practice with the ones. However, Bennett has been given a number of reps with the first team this week. Both have had solid camps, hence the reasoning behind defensive line coach Terry Price rotating the two with the first team.

* After Randall Mackey was arrested Monday night and ultimately suspended for the team's season opener against BYU, Nutt said the junior quarterback would have to work his way back up, and that the first-team reps would be evenly divided between starter Barry Brunetti and Zack Stoudt, who will also play against the Cougars. That was the case Thursday. Mackey, at least in stretch, was lined up as the fifth quarterback behind Brunetti (first team), Stoudt (second team), Evan Ingram (third team) and Robert Ratliff (fourth team).

* Sophomore wide receiver/running back Korvic Neat has had a rather quiet month of practices so far. Neat is competing with a talented group of freshmen wide receivers for playing time, and we all know the depth of Ole Miss' stable of running backs. But he is finding other ways to contribute, including a serious hit he laid on freshman safety Cody Prewitt during kickoff drills. After Prewitt brushed himself off, Neat joined in a celebration with, among others, teammates Jeff Scott and Philander Moore, who had raced from the opposing practice field to congratulate him.

* Tight end Ferbia Allen, as expected, didn't practice, after hyperextending his knee earlier in the week.

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