Linebackers -

During spring training, the top Rebel linebackers not only improved their individual games, but also took a stronger role in team leadership. Part VII of an 11-part series discussing spring training with the assistant coaches. Today, the linebackers and some overall defensive thoughts from Tyrone Nix.

Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Tyrone Nix concluded spring training with a number in mind – 22, but with a reality of "16 or 17".

"One of our main focal points this spring was to find 22 defensive players (two-deep across the board) we felt we could win with," he said. "We feel good about the first 11 and are about halfway there on the second 11."

It appears it's the same at the positions he personally oversees, the linebackers, as well.

"I have been very, very happy with the first unit," said Nix. "They have shown a lot of maturity and leadership and I'm happy with their play. We needed to become more consistent with our fundamentals and develop more leadership in the unit and those top guys have accomplished some of those goals.

"The main thing now is to get quality players behind those top three. We've seen progress there, but we are not there yet. "

At Will Linebacker, senior Patrick Trahan is the clear leader.

"Patrick has come into his own. He's in great shape and he has given that position toughness, leadership and tremendous speed. He's been outstanding."

The next three – Lakenwic Haynes, Brandon Sanders and Rudy Wilson – are all converted safeties trying to learn the LB ropes. Haynes and Sanders are currently battling for the number two slot.

"Both of them were safeties in high school. We have seen flashes from them, but we are looking for more consistency, more toughness and more playmaking ability," Nix noted. "Rudy also played safety at Hargrave. All three need to keep developing and we'll see if one of them can become Trahan's backup."

At Mike Linebacker, junior Jonathan Cornell – as expected – is the top gun, followed by redshirt freshman Jason Jones.

"Jonathan is as advertised – he has a chance to become an all-conference player. He provides great leadership, he's smart and he has all the tools. He can do whatever we ask him to do. He had a very good spring," Tyrone continued. "Jason is making progress. He's not exactly where I want him to be, but he continues to work on the little things and has a bright future. He's still learning and that's just part of spring and the process. He needs every rep he can get between now and the season and beyond."

Redshirt freshman Marques Jenkins adds depth to the position, but he has, as Nix stated, "keep plugging away" at his overall game.

At Sam Linebacker, junior Allen Walker heads up the position, but senior Lamar Brumfield is a valued member of the linebacking unit as well, as Nix attests.

"Allen has been very consistent and has continued to improve. He's done everything we have asked him to do this spring and I expect a bit year from him in 2009," said Nix. "Lamar is my fourth-best linebacker. I can put him in at Sam, Mike or Will and probably will until some of the others develop. If we played tomorrow, he'd be first off the bench at all three positions, and that's valuable. "

Walkons Trey Tripp and Josh Lancaster round out the position.

"They work hard and do everything I ask them to do. I'm glad we have them," Nix stated. "Like the rest of the young ones, they just have to keep on working."

Overall defensively, Nix likes the speed they possess from top to bottom.

"We think anyone we put on the field is going to have speed," he assessed. "We also have some experienced players, guys who have been there before, and that's important. I have seen a lot of leadership qualities surface this spring. I like the direction we are going."

So now, it's back to that number – 22.

"That's our challenge. We want the next 11 to have the same impact as that top 11," Nix stated. "Some of that may come down to some of our freshmen and JUCOs coming in. Who can hit the ground running and adapt to the system quick enough? "

Nix has been pleased with the emergence of the Rebel secondary in spring, but his most pleasant surprise has been up front on the defensive line.

"Jerrell Powe has stepped forward. He's had an outstanding spring. He has continued to lose weight. His challenge is to keep losing some weight and come back in August in tip-top shape," Nix said. "We have liked what we have seen from him in spring training and certainly want that to continue."

Tyrone put the number that's ready to roll at "16 or 17," without mentioning senior DE Greg Hardy, who sat out spring drills rehabbing from offseason foot surgery.

"If Greg comes back strong, we will definitely be one closer to our number," he smiled.

Overview – While there are depth concerns at linebacker and on the defense overall, the Rebels should be – barring injury, which goes without saying – a stingy unit in the fall. The emergence of Powe gives the Rebel stoppers more force in the middle on a defense that will rely on a lot of speed and movement. At LB, Trahan and Walker are different "models" than a year ago. They showed in spring they are substantially better than in 2008, in every way. Cornell had a solid season in 2008, but will be quite a bit better in 2009 due to his experience and desire to become more of a playmaker outside the boundaries of doing his job. Reaching the 22 Nix wants to hit will be difficult, but spring showed they are halfway to that goal of filling out the second 11. The prognosis for the fall is good.

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