Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Tyrone Nix expects a lot out of his linebackers and his 2010 defense.
He was not disappointed in spring training.
"The defense has a chance to be really good and the strength of our team," Nix said bluntly. "I expect a lot out of them and they delivered in spring ball."
Before a brief overview of the defense, Ty discussed the positions he is most hands-on – linebacker.
"I've gotten good leadership from my seniors, Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker. Jonathan had an outstanding spring," Nix noted. "He has turned into a leader by example and vocally. I'm excited to see him play his senior year."
Sophomore dynamo D.T. Shackelford backs up Cornell, but Nix doesn't consider D.T. anyone's backup in reality.
"D.T. plays with the most excitement, dedication and passion of any of our linebackers. I smile when I think about him because he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played on a daily basis. He enjoys competing and he enjoys the linebacker position. I am really excited to see him play next fall and getting a healthy season under his belt," Nix stated.
Walker is the headliner at Sam LB, backed up by true freshman Mike Marry.
"We had to hold Allen back some due to offseason surgery, but when he came back, he was playing like a three-year starter," Tyrone continued. "He got a lot of the rust knocked off and I expect a lot of big play potential from him next season.
"Mike took advantage of the greyshirt to get off to a good start. He got a lot of reps to run with the one defense with Allen out some and that helped him grow up in a hurry. He made some mistakes, but he has the size you are looking for to play in this conference. He was at 248-250 after the Christmas break and I told him he was too heavy. In two or three weeks, he was down to 238, so that shows you a little something about his dedication and commitment to be as good as he can be. I'm excited about him. If anything happened to Allen, I feel comfortable with Mike being the starter."
Sophomore Joel Kight is highest on the food chain at the Will LB slot with sophomore Rudy Wilson currently ahead, if there was a real game tomorrow, of RS freshman Alex Williams, a converted defensive end, but Nix said the reality is that the battle for number two is a tossup right now.
"Joel is replacing Patrick Trahan and has been productive. He's a different type of player from Patrick, but what they have in common is they have both been blessed with speed," Nix assessed. "We will utilize his speed in some different ways, but he will be a weapon for us.
"Rudy is a little undersized, but he has tremendous speed. It's kind of a tossup with him and Alex. We'll see how that plays out."
Sophomore Brandon Sanders figures to fit in somewhere on special teams, while Trey Trip, a junior, is considering transferring and sophomore Josh Lancaster, a walk-on, round out the LB corps.
Overall, defensively Nix makes some fairly bold statements, with a modicum of caution.
"Our defensive front has a chance to be as strong as any defensive front in the conference. Our numbers are stronger inside than outside. I feel good about the two deep at the DT slots – I consider Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott and Ted Laurent starters - and the two-deep at Bandit with Kentrell Lockett and a much-improved Gerald Rivers," Nix stated. "Gerald can help us with the progress he has shown.
"The DE position is a little bit of an unknown. JUCO Wayne Dorsey has shown flashes, but we need more consistency and he needs to keep learning the scheme. Cameron Whigham is another greyshirt guy who has shown a lot of maturity, but he's in a learning curve too. We have a chance up front if our DE comes along like we anticipate, but that's still an if."
Nix lost some of his concerns in the secondary during spring.
"I was a little concerned with our safeties headed into spring, but I feel good about three guys back there with Johnny Brown, the leader, and either/or Fon Ingram and Damien Jackson. If Damien continues forward schematically, he could be an impact player," Ty allowed. "At corner, Jeremy McGee's injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"That gave us a chance to work Charles Sawyer more and develop him more rapidly. The end result, barring injury, is we have a chance to as strong as we have been at corner from a talent and ability standpoint. They lack experience. Sometimes experience can be overrated, but not at corner. It's kind of like quarterback.
"Our secondary will have some ups and downs, but they understand they are getting a lot of help up front with the pressure I think we can generate. We can make their jobs a little easier if we do our jobs up front."
Tyrone is confident, even bold, in his anticipation and expectations for the 2010 Rebel defense. He has a right to be. They were nothing short of terrific most of the spring, and there were days when they flat terrorized the Reb offense. Is the offense poor or the defense that good? We think it's the latter. Time will tell.