Dissecting The Linebackers

Tom Allen, linebackers coach for Ole Miss, says staying healthy is a huge key to whatever success his troops at the position can have. But for now, he's excited and pleased with where they are.

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"We're making progress and trying to eliminate mistakes from our guys," Allen said.

That's the case team-wide, but at the linebacker spot, the names seem so familiar. It's a group that has some veterans and some quality players competing for spots.

"The guy that sticks out to me so far is Aaron Garbutt," Allen said of the senior. "His abilities over the summer to step up to the position and learn it and physically be able to; he came here as a corner a couple of years ago. I've been encouraged by him."

There are others, and again some of them with instant name recognition, which signifies veteran status.

"(Junior) Mike Marry is a guy who needs to step up and be our leader, in the box especially," Allen said. "So we just want to see him improve each day.

"Another we're trying to bring along is (sophomore) Keith Lewis. He missed all spring," Allen continued, mentioning the shoulder injury Lewis had back then. "For him it's learning the system. He's got all the physical tools. He's got all the combinations of size and speed. And he plays really hard. So we're seeing him get better and better and competing for a starting spot there in the middle.

And it doesn't stop there. There is some depth at the linebacker position.

"There are some other guys competing like (RS freshman) Denzel (Nkemdiche) and (sophomore) Serderius Bryant," Allen said. "All those guys battling and trying to get on the field. There's a little bit of depth there if they can stay healthy."

There's that code word again – healthy.

The Rebels have mainly been in a 4-2-5 scheme so far but are easing in a 4-3 package lately as well. Allen explains some of the ins and outs and personnel associated with them.

Mike Marry
Bruce Newman

"When we're in our 4-2-5 package, like right now, Mike Marry is our Mike and Aaron Garbutt is the Stinger," he said. "Behind him is (senior) Joel Kight, and also Denzel and Serderius are battling in that second stinger spot. We're just trying to create competition with those guys."

They certainly seem to be doing that. It's a position, actually a group of players, that bears watching the next couple of weeks and into the season to see who emerges and takes the spots.

"Keith Lewis is really close behind them as well at the Mike spot," Allen said. "We go to our Fortune package, he plays Wolf. It's something we've really thrown in here in the fall. We didn't do much of that in the spring.

"Ralph Williams is our No. 1 Wolf at that spot. He plays defensive end for us when we're not in the 4-3 package. We have a solid amount of depth there, but we've got to stay healthy."

Some might say Garbutt and Nkemdiche, both at 200 pounds and basically converted safeties, are small for the linebacker spots. Not necessarily, says Allen, who mentions they bring a positive flip side to the equation.

"The first step if you notice in what we do, they're covered up a lot," he said. "We call them flow players. Obviously we made a decision to move those players from safety to linebacker by design. We were looking to increase the speed at our position. That's what we were able to do. And the big challenge was to get them to play physical. Aaron Garbutt's embraced that challenge. He gained good solid weight over the summer. He's played physical in the box.

"Denzel is just like a tasmanian devil. He's not a big guy at all but he plays so hard. If I can get his eyes right, get him fitting right, then I don't worry about his weight. If you're 205 pounds in this league and you're strong and explosive, with the right scheme you can play. And he can do that."

Allen had a few more descriptive words for some of his key players.

"Mike Marry has improved and he's got to get his reads right. He's a big ole linebacker. He has improved but he's got to continue to improve to get his eyes right in the box," Allen said. "We can't afford to be taking false steps or getting out of position. Because sometimes those big guys can't recover, especially against the backs we're going to be seeing. We've got to get more consistent there.

"Keith Lewis, we're expecting him to step up and challenge for that spot. He didn't play in the spring, and so we're bringing him along. As his confidence grows, he'll be a guy that's got the best combination of size and speed out of all our linebackers."

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