Terry Caldwell/Associated Press

Senior linebacker Terry Caldwell set to start at outside linebacker against Florida State

National Signing Day was none too kind to Ole Miss and its linebacker recruiting. 

First came the news that five-star Mique Juarez had opted for UCLA. Not long after, four-star David Luafatasaga backed out of his year-long commitment at the last minute and flipped to Utah.

For possibly any other position group, such high-profile misses likely wouldn’t have been so painful. But the Rebels needed instant-impact players after watching C.J. Johnson, Denzel Nkemdiche and Christian Russell all exhaust their eligibility.

So, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and staff hit the transfer market, adding Oregon State graduate transfer Rommel Mageo and former Georgia linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes.

Terry Caldwell, meanwhile, continued to work.

He was somewhat the forgotten man. While Freeze was asked almost daily about the progress of Mageo and Bing-Dukes during fall camp in August, Caldwell went about his business and took the lion’s share of snaps with the first team defense. His coaches and teammates praised his work ethic and leadership.

Petre Thomas

Caldwell, now in his second and final season as a Rebel, focused only on getting better, despite the hype surrounding most everyone but him. His reward? He’ll be in the lineup at outside linebacker when the Rebels trot out their starting lineup against Florida State Monday at 7 p.m. CT in Orlando, Fla.

He’s earned it.

“For me, I just watch more film and make sure I have my eyes right and fitting up better, better tackling,” he said. “Last year, I feel like my speed is great, my coverage is great and getting to the ball is not a problem. Just better tackling and just running my feet this year.”

Mageo could very well threaten Caldwell’s job at some point this season. But Caldwell isn’t thinking that far ahead. His day-in, day-out approach has worked well enough for him this far. 

“Rommel’s he’s very determined,” Caldwell said. “He has his mind set that he wants to get a lot of reps on the field, he’s coming in watching film, he’s working hard in the weight room, on and off the field. He’s an all-around good guy. We’re glad to have him with this program.

“He’s handling it very well. I’ve never seen anyone just pick up our defense especially so fast just because we have such a complex defense, we run so many fronts and coverages. With him picking it up that fast it really says a lot and really says he really wants to come in and play and he’s trying to make the defense help out our team.”

No matter what his role ultimately morphs into, Caldwell will be needed as a stabilizing force in the middle of an Ole Miss defense with questions throughout. Put simply, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound Caldwell — with his experience and versatility — is invaluable.

He played in every game with three starts as a junior, totaling 32 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles. He helped Ole Miss rank top three among SEC teams in tackles for loss, interceptions and takeaways.

“Time will tell,” Freeze said of how his linebacker rotation could play out. “It’s hard to say right now. We’re going to need them all. Some of it kind of depends on the team you play, too. But we’ll need them all.”

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