The second level, the linebackers, got a shot in the arm in the spring with the physical emergence, if you will, of one Deterrian “D.T.” Shackelford, who has settled in at middle linebacker after a year of playing MLB and defensive end and is the heir to a position Mike Marry held for three years.
“It probably wasn’t fair to D.T., but from my standpoint as someone who has to make those judgments, I didn’t think he was 100% at the start of last year. As the season grew, he got better and better and my confidence in him grew,” Dave elaborated. “Another thing that probably wasn’t fair to him was asking him to play Mike LB and DE, but we had to due to our injuries at defensive end. Being the team guy he is, he gladly did it and it gave us a chance to get him and Marry on the field at the same time more, which we thought was a plus.
“D.T. is a high-energy guy. Once we made the decision to move him to middle linebacker exclusively in the spring, he started to get honed in and did a very good job in spring. He is similar to Mike Marry in that he is tough and physical and he doesn’t make many mistakes. We are excited about him in the middle running our defense, not only for his ability and toughness, but for his vocal leadership and the energy he brings. It is infectious.”
JUCO transfer Christian Russell and Temario Strong are beating on Detterian’s door, however, for playing time. Both had productive springs and started to grasp more of the defense as spring training came to a close.
“It was great to have Christian here in the spring. The first time through learning the system, it’s almost like learning a new language. He made a lot of mistakes, which we expected, but we anticipate it coming together a lot more in August practice the second time around,” noted Wommack. “Athletically? We love him. He is what we are looking for from an athletic standpoint. Now he just has to get everything down pat and we will have a fine football player. Christian can run and cover a lot of ground. What’s not to like? We just have to be patient with his mental development and he will help us.
“Temario made a lot of improvement. All he needs to work on is retaining the information he learns. Sometimes he has a tendency to forget what he has learned a few days before. When he retains things, he is a weapon. He’s full throttle, he’s physical and he makes plays. He just needs to keep working on the mental aspects of the game and the position.”
At stinger, Wommack has three veterans to work with – Serderius Bryant, Keith Lewis and Denzel Nkemdiche.
“We are pretty blessed there with three to choose from,” Wommack noted. “Denzel was suspended for spring training and will probably have some game suspension penalties to work through, but he’s back with the team and has worked out this summer. When the first session of summer started, he was put back on the team and he has done very well on and off the field. I think he has matured and knows what he has to do to get back on the field.”
Bryant was the Rebs’ leading tackler last year and is, in Wommack’s mind, as “good as we have.”
“Bird really came on strong last year and did a very good job for us with Denzel injured. I think he is as good as any player we have. Would I like for him to be 6-1? Sure, but he plays like that now, in my opinion,” Dave attests. “Serderius makes plays and gets to the ball quickly within our scheme and system. When we first got here, he was a little too much of a maverick but he has learned discipline and the importance of playing within the system and it has paid big dividends for him.
“Keith had a really good spring because we were able to keep him in one position and he was able to mentally hone in on one position instead of how we had to play him last year – all over the place. Our depth has allowed us to keep him in one spot and we fully expect him to play a big role for us this year.”
Even though he is down the depth chart for now, young OLB Tayler Polk, a redshirt freshman, also received good mention from the defensive boss.
“That young man is so instinctive. He will definitely help us in the kicking game this year and then, who knows? He may be as good as any of them right now, he just doesn’t have experience and we haven’t been able to get him the reps he needs to develop quicker,” stated Wommack emphatically. “I really love the way this youngster plays the game. He will make a mark here before he leaves.”
Ray Ray Smith redshirted last year and came around some in spring, but Wommack wants to see him continue to get bigger and stronger and see if that rubs off on his physical side of football.
“Ray Ray can run and he’s smart, but he’s got to get more physical. As he gets bigger and stronger, he will,” Wommack added.
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