Ole Miss Linebacker Jonathan Cornell is only a sophomore - a true sophomore at that - but he's already taking on some leadership roles, out of necessity.
"With Patrick (Willis) and Rory (Johnson) gone now, I am basically the most experienced linebacker on the team," Cornell stated. "Right now, we're working hard in the summer trying to get better and I'm trying to show the newcomers at linebacker the ropes."
Cornell is tutoring JUCO transfer Tony Fein and freshmen Scottie Williams and Isaiah Smith.
"Like all newcomers, they are hungry. And they are talented, but they seem to be picking things up faster than some guys we have had in here. It's been fun showing them what to do and teaching them the defense the best I can because you don't have to repeat a lot with them," Jonathan continued.
Cornell has an advantage as the "summer coach," when the real coaches are not allowed to view or participate in workouts.
"I've played all three LB positions so I can show them all what to do at all three," he continued. "All we are doing right now is passing. Scottie looks real good in his drops. All three show a lot of promise."
He gladly takes on that leadership role.
"It's easy because I know I don't have to take on all the leadership. We have Jamarca Sanford and Jeremy Garrett and several others who are just as much leaders as I am. Sometimes I step back and let the older guys have it and sometimes I jump in," he noted. "The thing I don't do any more, because guys are looking to me to be more of a leader, is take plays off."
Cornell said all the linebackers are rotating at every position during 7-on-7 drills.
"We are all mixing and matching. None of us really know exactly where we are going to play right now. We have an idea, but we are trying to prepare ourselves so we know the whole defense and all the linebacker slots, at least the basics," he explained.
Jonathan worked exclusively at middle linebacker in spring, but the common thinking is that with the arrival of Fein he may move outside during the 2007 season. He doesn't know if that will be the case, and, frankly, doesn't care.
"I can play inside or outside. It doesn't matter to me. I just want to play," Cornell said. "I don't really even have a preference. I'm comfortable at all three. It's in the coaches' hands where I play and I'll be fine with their decision."
Individually, Cornell is trying to make sure he gets in the lineup by working areas that need improvement.
"I have to be more technical and more assignment-sound. Once I get there, I can go out there more relaxed, have more fun and make more plays," he assessed.
Jonathan has packed on 23 pounds since coming to Ole Miss last summer, and it's been muscle mass. At 225 pounds, he looks almost as lean as when he arrived at 202 pounds.
"Coach (Aaron) Ausmus is doing his thing in the weight room," Cornell smiled. "I'm gaining good weight and I'm keeping my speed and flexibility so I am happy. Am I satisfied? No, but I'm happy with where I am right now and know I will continue to put on good weight. A shout out to Coach Ausmus."
Jonathan has high hopes for the linebacking corps in 2007.
"We have a lot of talent and potential and the coaching is certainly there. All those ingredients add up to us being pretty good," Cornell stated. "There's nothing we can do about losing Patrick and Rory. They weren't going to be here forever. We all knew that so it wasn't a shock. This is an opportunity for us to show what we can do and get experience. We'll come through."
Asked about the Rebel defense, Jonathan isn't buying into the preseason predictions of a down year for the Rebel stoppers.
"Are you kidding me? With Coach O and Coach (John) Thompson leading the way, we will be good. We have the players to be good. I feel very good about our defense," he said. "We have some ball hawks at the safety slots, we have some dogs as defensive linemen and we have some hungry linebackers.
"I'm not buying into the defense being the weak link of the team. We started coming together at the end of spring and we have done nothing but get better this summer on our own. I'm not making any promises because you never know what will happen, but I will take my chances with the coaches and players we have on the defensive side of the ball."
Cornell pointed out that the lack of depth that plagued the Rebs last year in the late going of some games may not be as prevalent as it was last season.
"We wore down some last year in the fourth quarter. This year, we feel like we will have more depth so we think we can finish off some games we weren't able to last year," he ended.
Closing games will be critical for the Rebs. Cornell wants to be the closer.
Jonathan Cornell update -
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