Shack's Back

D.T. Shackelford was dripping with sweat in the sweltering Mississippi heat, another day of Ole Miss preseason practice in the books. And he loved it.

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Shackelford, sitting out the last two years with knee surgeries and rehab, has continued to have an upbeat and positive demeanor as he waited his turn to play football again. Now it looks like he may have some options. Linebacker and defensive end.

"I enjoyed it," he said of playing some defensive end on Thursday. "I played there my sophomore year before I got injured. So I felt comfortable there."

Back in spring, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said we might see linebacker D.T. Shackelford some at defensive end. Thursday was that day.

"We played him exclusively at DE today," head coach Hugh Freeze said after Thursday's practice. "He plays with a wide open motor. He is such a great leader. Guys rally around him. His movement is a lot better than it was in spring. I think he's getting more and more comfortable."

Shackelford said it's all about being on the field for him. Either position is fine.

"I don't care if I play linebacker or defensive end. I just want to be on the field. I just want to be able to contribute. I feel good at both. I feel good at end. I feel good at linebacker. I'm just ready to play."

He said since spring he's made some strides, especially with the playbook and getting back out on the field in another role than motivator and cheerleader.

"Just more comfortable with the defense. Going over plays more," he said. "Just different things on a daily basis. Conditioning. All those things have a vital role in how I'm going to be able to perform."

There might always remain some effects of going through so much with his knee – there's still a brace he wears in practice.

"I feel well, but of course the wear and tear of two a days, you're going to have some soreness," Shackelford said. "It's every day grinding. But overall I feel great."

But there is the continual process of getting better every day and staying in shape, which he is doing.

D.T. Shackelford
Bruce Newman

"Conditioning always helps. Just stay in condition and mentally ready. If you stay in shape and mentally ready, you can always play faster," Shackelford said. "Your knowledge of the game has to always increase for you to be effective. I think that can help. It's just me and my process of continuing to come back."

D.T. likes what he sees from the defense, now that his view is not from the sidelines and he is actually back on the field.

"I see maturity. I see guys in the back like Trae Elston. He's got a year under his belt. Guys at linebacker like Keith Lewis, Bird (Serderius Bryant), Denzel (Nkemdiche), Mike (Hilton), all them guys are strong. On the D-Line. Woody (Hamilton) has really been showing flashes. And then we'll get Issac (Gross) back. We have a lot of positives right now, but two-a-days are the grind. Gotta keep on keeping on. Unfortunately you get a few injuries. But I feel like we'll be ready when game time rolls around."

Shackelford admitted it was harder to lead when he was on the sideline than when he's actually on the practice field and working toward playing in a game again. But he did what he could while he waited.

And he became a go-to guy, even though he was not on the field. Others with injuries confided in him and asked his advice on how to handle things – from rehab to the mental aspect.

"I deal with a lot of guys with injuries," he said. "It wasn't by accident at all that I had to go through this for two years and am able to come back now. I see people going through the same things I went through, and they're coming to me for advice. That makes me feel good, that they see how I handled it and I was able to affect them in a positive way. Just give them an encouraging word, that it won't last always, and you'll come back stronger."

Spoken by a man with experience. Makes the sweat and grind of a hot Mississippi August practice all the more worth it for D.T. Shackelford.

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