Without Denzel

Linebackers Coach Tom Allen lost start OLB Denzel Nkemdiche to a knee injury for 4-6 weeks during the Vanderbilt game, but he says his linebackers - albeit a little thinner now - have kept on trucking along.

Back in spring training, Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack said the one player the Rebel defense could not afford to lose was All-SEC OLB Denzel Nkemdiche.

The unthinkable happened: Nkemdiche hurt his knee in the second quarter of the opening game and has since undergone surgery. He's expected to be our "4-6 weeks."

A major blow, no doubt, but one LB Coach Tom Allen thinks the Rebels can survive thanks to Denzel's capable backup, Serderius Bryant, who had 15 tackles against SEMO.

"It went well. Denzel's energy is unique and special, but we have other guys who can, and will, step up," noted Allen. "Let's face it, Denzel is a special guy and when you lose a guy like that, it makes a difference.

"But this gives other guys an opportunity and, in the end, when he comes back, we will be that much better because of it (the injury)."

Bryant had a stellar coming out party as a starter in Nkemdiche's place.

"He was all over the place. He actually missed two tackles and should have had 17 tackles," Allen said. "Honestly, he played the way I expected him to. He had a great camp and we just saw in a game what we, as coaches, have seen since spring training.

"Bird was very productive, he had his eyes right and he played very disciplined."

With Bryant doing well at Stinger, it allowed Allen to let Keith Lewis, who was moved to back up Bryant in an emergency and in relief, keep functioning as the linebacker who comes in for special situations.

Tom Allen
Josh McCoy

"Keith has an important role. We just added a little to his plate by having him back Bird up as well as his other duties," Allen explained. "With the length of a season and the way LBs get beat up, it's important to have someone of Keith's talents, a guy who can do it all, on the squad. He is vital to us."

Saturday in Austin, it's supposed to be hot and both teams like to go fast on offense. A lot of snaps are predicted. Is depth a concern for Allen?

"Being honest with you, yes," he answered. "I feel better this week with Keith getting more familiar with Stinger with more practice reps, but it's going to be a challenge."

Another player Allen will have to lean on more heavily is D.T. Shackelford, who prior to Nkemdiche's injury was playing more defensive end than middle linebacker. Obviously, that has changed and Shackelford is almost exclusively at MLB for the time being.

"It was great for us as a defense to have him playing both positions. He's versatile and can help you in different ways," Allen noted. "It's going to take a week or two for him to get comfortable back at Mike, but last week was good for him and this week's practice has made him more settled. It's just a matter of reps and him gaining confidence in running the show and making checks and such."

As a linebacking unit, Allen has been "OK" with the results overall the first two weeks, even though he was not happy with the Vandy production.

"I was disappointed in week one. I look back though and Denzel was hurt in the second quarter and we didn't know how seriously. His production was way off because of that," Allen allowed. "Last week, I thought we played the way we were supposed to.

"The first game created a lot of unknowns and we didn't respond to some of them very well, but it's a process and we got out with a win. We will get better as a unit. We will improve weekly."

One reason Allen is sympathetic to the play of the LBs in the first two games is because of the offenses the Rebs faced.

"They were unique offenses. We won't see the things Vandy does up front the rest of the year and then SEMO ran the option," Allen said. "Vandy was challenging because of the unknown - it took us until we could get to the locker room to adjust to the things they were doing.

"We won't see anything like what SEMO did the rest of the year. It's not an excuse, but there were reasons we had some issues from a linebacking standpoint."

Allen is ready to get back to "normal" football this week against Texas.

"Texas has a very good offense, don't get me wrong," he ended, "but I think my guys will be more comfortable this week going against a more conventional offense. We will have to play lights out, but at the same time, I don't expect as much hesitation from my guys as I have seen in the first two games."

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