The 'other' LBs

When you flank an All-American, sometimes you get lost in the hype shuffle. Thus is the case with SLB Garry Pack and WLB Quentin Taylor, who play next to Ole Miss All-American Middle Linebacker Patrick Willis. Read about them inside.

Junior Sam Linebacker Garry Pack and sophomore Will Linebacker Quentin Taylor, who will start Ole Miss' season opener against Memphis a week from Sunday, like the fact that they play next to Middle (Mike) Linebacker Patrick Willis.

It makes their jobs easier.

They also don't mind that Willis has to handle a big chunk of the media load.

But none of us need to forget that Willis is only one player, albeit a great one, and he can't stop opposing offenses by himself.

That's where Pack, who started last year, and Taylor, who played some last year as a true freshman as Kelvin Robinson's backup, come in.

"We know he's there, and that's a big comfort, but we know we have a job to do too," said Pack. "Patrick can't do it all. We have to hold up our end of the bargain. He's a guy who can cover a lot of ground, but for our defense to be good, everyone has to do their part."

That is the goal of Pack and Taylor - and the other Rebel linebackers, including recently declared eligible Rory Johnson: to take care of their business, regardless of who is at MLB.

"It's all about responsibility, accountability and production," said Taylor. "I learned that last year when I was a freshman.

"This is a one-gap defense. That gap is yours. We can't wait around for Patrick to take care of it - he's got his own gap to handle."

So how is this pair of likely starters doing?

"Garry is having a good camp. I see him making progress toward being a LB in the same echelon as Patrick. He's capable of being an excellent linebacker and he's trying to be," said LB Coach David Saunders. "Patrick raises the bar pretty high for our other linebackers, but that's a good thing. They have something to strive for and attain. I think they can.

"Quentin has come a long way since spring. He's more accountable, responsible and mature. The phyiscal tools have always been there. He's always liked to mix it up. Now he's starting to understand the importance of excuting his assignments perfectly."

Pack said he feels much more comfortable this year than he did last year - his first as a starter.

Even though last season started with a bang for him - he intercepted the game-ending pass in their end zone that sealed the win over Memphis - he had some moments when he was not comfortable in the then-new system.

"A defensive system is not easy to learn for a linebacker," Garry continued. "Linebackers have run responsibility and coverage responsibility and that's not easy to grasp instantly. Last year was a learning experience, but now I feel like I have the system down and can play with no indecision.

"I feel like I can just turn loose and play now where I was doing a lot of thinking last year."

Taylor agrees, but he said he's not as far along as Pack because he didn't play as much as Garry last year.

"I'm trying to play catchup a little, but I feel good about my progress," Q.T. noted. "Last year was so fast. I still can't relax, but I'm getting a little more comfortable in the system and with myself every day.

"I feel like I can turn loose and play rather than thinking so much."

The wild card in the linebacker equation is the arrival of JUCO transfer Rory Johnson. How quickly can he pick things up and be effectie playing within Coach Ed Orgeron's system?

That remains to be discovered, but Orgeron has already declared he will play "some" against Memphis. How much? At what position? It's just a guess right now.

Also, frshman Jonathan Cornell has been moved from Sam LB to Will LB behind Quentin. He's also pushing for quality playing time at this juncture.

Neither Pack nor Taylor are "worried" about that.

"I'm just going to do my job and see what shakes ou. There's a place for me in this defense. I'm going to prove that," Taylor ended.

Pack and Taylor don't get the ink Willis does, and they won't. But they are likely to play just as many downs and be just as crucial to the outcome of games as P-Willie.

"The coaches always say the defense will only be as good as the weakest link. We aren't going to be that weak link," Pack closed.

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