Insight To Chemistry

Last year, at times, there was an intense, and not real healthy, rivalry between Outside Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius "Bird" Bryant as they competed for the same job. Now, they are like brothers.

Being in the media, one - if one pays attention - can get inside glimpses of behind-the-scenes happenings that build or tear down a football program.

This offering will be just one example among hundreds of how good chemistry is developed and fostered, not only by coaches, but by players as well.

Outside Linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant signed with Ole Miss in 2011, Denzel as a safety and "Bird" as an undersized LB.

Bryant would rack up 61 tackles as a true freshman while starting three games. Denzel took a redshirt.

When Hugh Freeze took over in the spring of 2012, new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack installed a 4-2-5 look with one designated middle LB and one outside LB.

Denzel was moved to OLB to compete with Bryant and was a little quicker to fit into the new system. Meanwhile, Bryant struggled some to play within the framework of the system and was prone to freelance too much to suit Linebackers Coach Tom Allen.

As a result, Denzel started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman, registering 82 tackles - 13 for a loss including 3 QB sacks - and earning All-SEC status.

On the other hand, Bryant played in all 13 games, but his play was limited due to Nkemdiche's success. He did manage 28 tackles but it wasn't the kind of year he was hoping for coming off a stellar freshman campaign.

Some competitive animosity developed between the two, which happens sometimes when two young high school stars who were used to never coming off the field in their prep careers are suddenly pushed for playing time.

"During the offseason, Denzel and I had a long talk," aid Bryant. "We just came to the conclusion that for the good of the team we had to be brothers and not hating on each other.

"We both want the same thing - to make our team better - and we really don't care anymore who plays and who doesn't. We both know the coaches are going to design packages for both of us and we are both going to get a shot to play, so now we pull for each other. I am just as happy when Denzel makes a good play as I am when I do and I know he feels the same way. It wasn't always like that, but I am glad we have grown and overcome those things."

Part of that meeting of minds comes from two young players maturing. Growing up can do wonders for one's attitude and feelings toward others.

But another part of the equation was the preaching by the coaches of the team being a family. And it's not just lip service.

"They are two highly-competitive individuals who want to play. There's nothing wrong with that," said Allen, "but it has to be channeled in a positive way. I talked to both of them about how good they could be as a 'we' instead of a 'me'. They are a heckuva tag team and they can maximize each others' strengths.

"I explained to them how we wore down and lost games in the fourth quarter last year and how both of them would get plenty of opportunity and would be fresh at all times. They have bought into that and have made each other better. It is really rewarding to see how close they have become after a rocky start and I think it has helped both of them grow as men. Denzel's biggest fan is Bird and vice versa. It's very healthy now."

Serderius and Denzel, like the rest of the team, started understanding and cherishing the family theme and selfish motives slowly but surely disappeared.

Serderius Bryant
Bruce Newman

"This isn't high school. We aren't kids any more," said Serderius. "We are men and men put away petty things. We are a family on this team and we all want the team to succeed, no matter what that means individually. It's the only way it can be and we see that now."

Both players have had to deal with injury this year and have missed time. Denzel had a knee injury in the opener against Vanderbilt and completely missed three games. Serderius had a concussion against Texas A&M and missed two games as a result.

Currently, playing in just six games, Bryant leads the team in tackles with 57, including 6 for loss. Denzel has played in five games and has accounted for 26 tackles and a fumble recovery.

As this year attests, there is room, and need, for both and Bryant likes it that way.

"I've got his back and he's got mine," Bird continued. "When we are both healthy, which I think we will be for this last stretch, we can keep each other fresh and can get after it on every play because we know the other one is there to give the team the same level of performance.

"Also, the coaches have a package where we are in the game at the same time and we really like that. The bottom line is that we are like brothers now and that's important to the big picture."

Bryant was still "fuzzy" from the concussion when he came back for the Idaho game, but now he feels he is mentally and physically 100%.

"I messed up my elbow against Idaho, but the open week gave me a chance to heal up. I feel great," he stated. "Everything is good right now.

"Denzel has been struggling with an ankle problem, but he's coming back strong now."

The Rebs, it looks like, will have several players returning off the injury list for Arkansas this weekend.

"It's all about depth and confidence. The guys who played when some of us were out are now further along and playing with confidence - like Lavon Hooks, for instance," Bird continued. "All the people who stepped up against LSU and Idaho while guys were missing will be more confident now when they get in the game and having everyone back will give us that much more depth to stay fresh and sharp."

Serderius is expecting a battle royal this weekend against the Hogs, a team that comes right at the opposition and is hellbent to run the football down their opponent's throats.

"This will be man on man football. They have three good running backs and their OL is big," Bryant noted. "Their freshman tailback, Alex Collins, is very good.

"We will have to stick our noses in there and make plays. Collins has the best jump-cut I have seen. He's a special player. He reminds me of a guy like (Dexter) McCluster, quick and shifty. He's a handful."

Bryant is aware this is SEC football, despite the Hogs coming to town on a six-game losing streak.

"This is not Idaho. They need to win their last games to get into a bowl game, the same position we were in last year with Mississippi State," he closed. "We are going to get their best shot. They are going to bring it.

"Last year's game came down to a last-second field goal. I expect the same this weekend - it's the SEC. We say it every week, but it's true - anyone can beat anyone in this league. We cannot drop our guard."

Win or lose, one thing is certain - both Serderius Bryant and Denzel Nkemdiche will have a hand in the outcome.

Now brothers, going to battle for the team and each other.

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