Marry Way

Mike Marry led Ole Miss in tackles last season, and he did so on a bum foot.

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He's battled injury over his career. He was sidelined a few practices in April due to a recurring hamstring injury. One thing after another. Despite it all, he's proven durable over his career. And when he plays, he produces.

Marry has direct goals in mind as he enters the team's off-season strength and conditioning program. New strength coach Paul Jackson is working with the junior linebacker on strengthening his hamstrings, among other things.

The end game is a healthy 2012 season, one filled with tackles and sacks and mobility, not nagging injuries.

"I feel I'm almost back to full health," he said. "Coach Jackson works with me every day on my hamstrings and things, so I feel my hamstring's a lot stronger. I don't have any problems like I've had in the past."

Marry finished with 81 tackles last season. He recorded three double-digit tackle games, including a career-high 13 tackles in the Rebels' season-opening loss to BYU. At the end of the year, he was named All-SEC third team by Phil Steele and earned sophomore All-America honorable mention distinction from College Football News.

Mike Marry
Associated Press

But he felt he could have been better. There were tackles he missed because he couldn't get to the point of contact in time due to his foot.

"I feel like it slowed me down some. Some of the tackles I should've made, my injury prevented me and slowed me down a little bit," Marry said.

"In the SEC, being one step slower can change the game and cause a big play. I feel like I get back healthy this year, I'll be playing that much faster."

Ole Miss was 2-10 a year ago. The defense was a big reason why, finishing near the bottom of the conference in a number of statistical categories.

Enter Hugh Freeze, who replaced Houston Nutt as Ole Miss head coach in December. He brings with him from Arkansas State his defensive coordinator, Dave Wommack, a veteran of college football.

The scheme is relatively the same, a 4-2-5 base set with a few wrinkles thrown in. The biggest difference, Marry said, is the enthusiasm and effort of the players.

"I feel like the defense will be a strong part of our team this year," he said. "We have fun doing what we're doing, but we also work hard. When you're working hard and having fun, it really doesn't feel like work. I feel like that's the key to having a successful defense.

"Our practices have so much energy to make things fun. This year in the spring, I could see a big change in our pursuit of the ball, no matter if it was a two-yard run or a 50-yard pass down the field. The whole defense chases the ball."

Trust among teammates is improving as well, though there's almost four months to go until Ole Miss lines up against Central Arkansas to open the 2012 season. There's plenty to be done between now and then.

"That was one of my biggest problems last year, trying to do someone else's job rather than depending on them to do their job," Marry said.

Mike Marry
Bruce Newman

"When you try to do someone else's job, it hurts you in the long run. This year, we're all relying on the person next to us and believing that they're going to take care of their business. That just makes us that much closer as a unit."

Marry will wear many hats in his junior season, and he won't just be leading the defense. He's a team leader, too, expected to keep order both on and off the field.

Marry said leadership comes naturally to him, and he learned how to carry himself from such former players as Jonathan Cornell.

Cornell showed Marry the way, the work ethic required to be a productive player in the SEC.

"I like for the younger players to look up to me," he said. "That makes me have to focus on doing the right things more and making sure I'm taking care of my business.

"I can't be messing up. Then they're going to mess up. They're going to think that's the right way to go. Being a leader really just helps me focus on my responsibilities."

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