Ole Miss junior MLB Jonathan Cornell now has a full year of starting and being healthy under his belt after an injury-shortened 2007 season.
He spent a lot of that time learning Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix's system thoroughly.
Now, Nix's calls are second nature to him and Cornell can turn his attention more in another direction.
"I already know what to do. Now I want to focus on my techniques and doing things better," said Cornell. "Making more plays is on my agenda. I have to step up and be a leader for the defense.
"My spring goal is to become more physical and working on my technique to shed blockers quicker. I also want to set a good example for the younger guys."
In the offseason, Cornell wanted to gain some weight and work on his flexibility. Mission accomplished.
"I started last year at about 228, but I got down to 217 as the season progressed. At the Cotton Bowl, I was back up to 223," he noted. "Right now, I am at 237 and would like to stay in that range.
"I'm running good at 237 and I tested well at that weight, so I am comfortable with the extra 12-15 pounds. Some of that weight loss was on me, was my fault, during last season. I wasn't eating right and doing the things I needed to do to maintain the weight. I learned my lesson."
He's stronger now and can't wait to apply that weight and strength to the physical contact aspect of football this spring.
"Added weight and added strength should mean a heavier hit," he smiled. "I'm excited about that."
Cornell will be joined by senior Patrick Trahan and junior Allen Walker as the likely starters and senior OLB Lamar Brumfield and RS freshman MLB Jason Jones as the main contenders.
"I think we have a chance to be solid, but we have to develop some depth. I think Lamar and Jason will do real well and I also think Lakenwic Haynes is coming along," said Jonathan, one of the more articulate players on the squad. "We have experience and we feel comfortable with the direction we are going at LB and on the DL.
"We have real good chemistry. Everyone is on the same page. Patrick gelled with us really quickly. He's a funny guy and fit right in with us almost instantly last year. Our team chemistry as a whole is very good and the linebackers are very close."
Cornell has to call the signals for the defense after he gets the call from Nix.
"That's no big deal for me. I communicate real well with Coach Nix and know what he wants," Cornell continued. "He's a bright guy who puts us in the right positions to keep us from being exploited. I'm looking forward to seeing what he has in store for us this year, but I don't expect a major overhaul of the basics."
One constant every defensive player mentions as spring approaches is "replacing" Peria Jerry. Cornell, who played almost directly behind the All-American, will be as affected as anyone, if not more so.
"There's only been one Peria Jerry," he added. "But we do have good defensive linemen with Ted Laurent and Lawon Scott, who are agile space eaters.
"We have all our DEs coming back. I'm pretty excited about our potential. Peria is hard to replace, but we have enough good players that our production should not fall off. Everyone will have to raise their game to make up the difference, but we can."
Behind Cornell, at the safety slots, FS Kendrick Lewis will be taking over as the leader of the deep guys.
"I have 100% faith in Kendrick. He played with Jamarca (Sanford) for two years and he knows our defense inside and out. He can take care of that back half. Sometimes I even go to him and ask him what he thinks about certain things and take his advice," Cornell stated. "He's going to do a great job back there in taking over for Jamarca as the leader of that group."
Cornell is analytical about his approach to the 2009 season, one already filled with high expectations.
"As players, all we can do is take things one day at a time. We are going to keep our heads down and keep working," he closed. "We have to make sure we come with out 'A' game every week. We will have a bullseye on our chest so we better be prepared.
"Everyone on the team knows what faces us and we are all looking at it the same way - one game at a time."
Jonathan Cornell has already proven he belongs in the SEC at middle linebacker.
Now, the heavier, stronger and experienced Jonathan wants to show how good he can be.
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