Carrying On

Linebackers Coach Tom Allen was very pleased with the performance of the linebacker group at the end of spring training. Now a week into August drills, he says they have picked up where they left off.

Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack has professed many times since spring training his belief the Rebel linebackers are the strength of the Ole Miss defense.

Linebackers Coach Tom Allen is going to leave that judgment to his boss, but he's quick to say he's happy with where the LB unit is after a week of August drills.

"Several of the linebackers have improved themselves physically and that excites me. They've also built off the knowledge of last year and spring training," he said. "Now, we can keep moving forward. Right now, we're in a good situation at linebacker."

Senior Mike Marry is the leader of the pack and the starting middle linebacker. He earned the Chucky Mullins Courage Award and wears the coveted No. 38 jersey signifying that honor.

"Mike is our leader. He calls our signals and he knows everything inside and out. He's very valuable to us," Allen noted. "I expect him to have a very good senior season. He's finally completely healthy and he worked hard in the offseason on his movement, which I can tell."

Returning All-SEC performer Denzel Nkemdiche is the OLB in the 4-2 set. What does Allen want from No. 4? Leadership.

"I want him to make sure he's the total package and that means leadership. He was a guy last year who made a lot of plays. I want him to be the guy this year that helps lead the pack on and off the field," noted Allen.

Tom Allen
Ole Miss Athletics

"His energy and passion has never been in question, but I want to see him lead other players in that direction, on and off the field. He needs to be the model of doing everything right, the little things, everything, that others will follow."

Allen said Nkemdiche would not surprise anyone this year and can expect offensive coordinators to scheme for him more this year.

"I think he surprised everyone last year - us included. That won't be the case this year," he continued. "That challenges him and the rest of the linebackers to step up when they do."

Allen's surprise of the group has been OLB Serderius Bryant, who has had an exceptional camp thus far.

"Bird has made the biggest jump. He's been an excellent player athletically but now his knowledge of the system is where it needs to be and he changed his body with an offseason commitment," Allen added. "He's quicker and is playing with a lot more discipline now and it's showing up on tape."

Keith Lewis will be a jack-of-all-trades this year. The Wolf LB in the 4-3 sets, the MLB in passing situations, etc.

"Keith is our first-team Wolf LB. I see him having a big role in this defense. From a size-speed ratio, he has the best combination of that," said Allen. "He'll be in all our money packages. He can play in all our packages. He will make plays for us on Saturdays."

The sentimental favorite of the linebackers is D.T. Shackelford, on the comeback trail after a two-year hiatus due to multiple knee surgeries.

Shackelford had an "OK" spring. Has he advanced since then?

"We ran him some with the number one defense today. He's growing. We met at length last night and he feels good," Allen said. "He's better than he was in spring, but it's a process with him. He's so passionate about football and this program and he wants on the field. I don't blame him. I'm excited about his progress.

"The hurdle for him is getting more reps to learn the defense thoroughly and the confidence in his knee. I think that confidence is growing daily in both areas."

D.T. Shackelford
Ole Miss Athletics

Ray Ray Smith is the lone freshman linebacker. Allen's first impressions?

"He's got a big frame and he's smooth. He's spinning right now, but I'm impressed with his athleticism. He'll help us in the future, we just have to be patient with him through the learning and development process," Allen said.

Allen was asked, while the media got a shot at him, about the return game since he is the special teams coordinator.

"Jeff Scott is the number one punt returner, no doubt. We'll use him there this year because we have more running backs who can give him breathers at tailback," closed Allen. "I think Jaylen Walton, I'tavius Mathers and Kailo Moore are the top kickoff return guys. That's a lot of speed and we're excited about them."

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