Cornell Crunch

Senior Middle Linebacker Jonathan Cornell is directing the traffic on defense, a defense that has Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt smiling in the early stages of spring training. Read about it inside.

Good Friday was indeed good for the Ole Miss defense in the first scrimmage of spring training.

And at the heart of the matter is senior Middle Linebacker Jonathan Cornell, who will be starting for the third year in a row.

"We are doing very well right now," said Cornell. "We did a good job in the scrimmage. We want to get a lot better, but we came out here with the right mindset - to improve - and I think we accomplished that."

Cornell, like all the defensive coaches as well, is pleased to be playing behind a veteran defensive line, a group that includes Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent, Kentrell Lockett, Lawon Scott and rising newcomer Wayne Dorsey.

"They make life really good for a linebacker," he smiled and said economically.

Cornell is a pretty even-tempered young man, but his ears perked up and his eyes brightened when asked about the progress of his understaudy, D.T. Shackelford.

"He's improved exponentially," Cornell stated. "He's starting to see everything I'm seeing and seeing it quickly. He's not thinking as much - he's just recognizing and reacting and that's the most important thing for a linebacker.

D.T. Shackelford

"Pretty soon, he'll have all the concentrated information that will allow him to focus in on the task at hand. He will be able to see it all and tell guys exactly where to be. He's approaching a different level."

Jonathan is used to Ashlee Palmer in 2008 and Patrick Trahan in 2009 flanking him at the Will LB slot. Now, it's sophomore Joel Kight.

"There has been no dropoff. Those two young linebackers are the hardest working young men I have ever seen come into this program," said Cornell. "They are always where they are supposed to be, they are always picking my brain and they are constantly picking Allen Walker's brain. They are model student-athletes."

With Walker sitting out the full contact portions of scrimmages and team drills due to rehabbing from an offseason sports hernia surgery, true freshman Mike Marry is filling his spot with the number one defense at Sam LB. Cornell thinks highly of him too.

"Mike is a little further behind because he just got here, but he's very bright and he catches on quickly. He's a lot like Joel and D.T. Linebacker will be in good hands when Allen and I leave," Cornell stated.

While the front seven on defense was expected to be stout, the back four are somewhat of an unknown with two new corners and one new safety.

Cornell says not to worry.

Johnny Brown

"Johnny Brown has come a long way and Fon is a veteran. Our corners are doing a nice job. Certainly, our front has something to do with that because the quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball in a hurry, but our back end guys are playing well," he explained.

Jonathan said the defense is not having much mercy on the offense right now, but he believes they are on the right path and will get better with time.

"Our job is to break them down if we can. We are developing our own personality on defense, but I think guys like Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie and some others will bring them along," Jonathan assessed. "They have some good things going on, but they are still trying to piece everything together.

"Our quarterbacks are young and are learning on the run. We are messing them up a little on defense, but they are working hard and improving. It's just a process. It's not going to come overnight and everyone knows that. The coaches are being patient while still pushing them."

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