David Saunders -

When looking for bright spots on the Ole Miss football team this year, the linebacking corps quickly comes to mind, but this week there's been a shakeup when starting SLB Garry Pack was dismissed from the team. LB Coach David Saunders believes the Reb LBs will keep right on trucking. Read about it inside.

Even though the Ole Miss Rebels are 2-6 on the campaign, there have been some positions that could easily be called strengths.

Tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis has over 700 yards rushing and is one of the top ground-gainers in the SEC. The offensive line has continued to improve steadily. The score (punt return/block) team has given us cause for applause.

And then there are the linebackers. Would anyone associated with Ole Miss trade MLB Patrick Willis or WLB Rory Johnson for any linebacking tandem in the SEC? No.

But this week the third "stalwart" in that group - junior Garry Pack - was dismissed from the team for off-the-field shenanigans, which - on paper - puts a dent in that team strength.

As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friends. Not necessarily true, according to Rebel LB Coach David Saunders.

"We are moving forward. We expect the linebackers to continue to be productive," said Saunders. "We are looking at some guys to take his place who we feel can do the job. Jamarca Sanford will start there this week against Auburn."

Saunders admitted Pack's absence damages the Rebs from an experience standpoint - Garry is a two-year starter and was one of the more productive tacklers on the team.

"The obvious pitfall is losing his game experience. He has played and produced in a lot of SEC games, but I feel good that the combinations we are looking at can produce the results we are looking for," David added.

When Pack was dismissed from the team, it was logically assumed true freshman Jonathan Cornell would move into Pack's spot. Cornell was Pack's backup and has played fairly effectively in a couple of games.

"We are pleased with what Jonathan is doing. He did a nice job against Georgia and Arkansas. We feel comfortable with him going in the game," Saunders stated. "We expect him to get more and more game reps as the season progresses.

"Every week, his preparation has been good. When you are number two on the depth chart, you have to prepare as if you are a starter and he has done that. But we didn't feel he needed the pressure of being the starter yet."

Saunders said Jamarca will get the nod due to his experience.

Sanford played linebacker when Orgeron first came on board at Ole Miss, but was switched to SS after a couple of weeks.

"Moving Jamarca is not a tremendous adjustment because in our defense everyone has to know what the other guy is doing anyway," Saunders said. "We have fits for the run game and safeties and linebackers know what all the fits are.

"With Jamarca, we feel the familiarity to a different position would be a fairly smooth transition. He's done well this week in practice."

Saunders said the premimum for some backups who haven't been used this year to step up their games is also a factor.

"Brandon Thomas is now a backup. He's done a good job this week. He has to be ready to go into the game if something happens," Saunders said. "There are one or two more in that boat as well."

If you look at the Rebel schedule objectively, there may not have been a worse time to lose a starting linebacker with the seventh-ranked Auburn Tigers and their here-we-come rushing attack headed this way.

"They are very multiple with what they do with their shifts and motions, but when all is said and done and they get set, they are a running football team with experience," Saunders explained. "Kenny Irons is a back in the same mold, in terms of being effective, as Ken Darby at Alabama and Darren McPhadden at Arkansas.

"We will have to be on top of our game, but that is not unusual in this league. In this league, teams come right at you every week with their running games and premiere backs, just like we do with BenJarvus."

And Auburn is definitely a stop-us-if-you-can offense, but not strictly a running team.

"They will try to run over you, but they also have diversity in their passing game," David added. "You have to understand they are not a one-dimensional team.

"While you have to stop the run first, you have to respect their passing game too and the linebackers are involved in that as well."

The Rebel coaches have had to adjust on the run all year. Key players have been in and out of the mix with injuries and now a key player is no longer on the team.

The coaches seem to take it all in stride.

"All you can do is work with what you have," Coach O said recently. "We've been thin, but we have a systemand we have stuck with it."

In other words, the Rebel coaches can only worry about the players they have to work with, not the ones they don't.

Garry Pack is no longer in the mix.

The battle cry is simple to see. Who's next? What are our options? Jamarca Sanford? Let's roll.

There's no other choice.

OM Spirit Top Stories