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February 10, 2010

Signing day analysis: Linebackers

(Editor's note: For six years, Dave Childers has provided a position by position analysis beginning the day after National Signing Day. In a multipart series, he breaks down the class for RebelSports.net. A look has been provided for quarterbacks, tight ends running backs, and wide receivers (see links below) and today the linebackers are reviewed.  In the coming days, the series will look at the offensive line, defensive line and defensive backs.)

The skinny … 

In 2009, Ole Miss had some major re-building to do at the linebacker position with the loss of the Ashlee Palmer and the late Tony Fein.  Rebel defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Tyrone Nix met that challenge head on thanks to the emergence of Allen Walker and the the all-SEC play of Patrick Trahan.  Nix will have to do some more re-building this fall with the loss of Trahan and the versatile Lamar Brumfield, who could play any of the linebacker positions.  While Trahan will be sorely missed, it's not quite the challenge it was two years ago and Nix has a bevy of talent on hand and in-bound to reshuffle his linebacker corps.

Returning starters include middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell, who returns for a fifth year thanks to a season ending injury suffered early enough in his sophomore year for him to be granted a medical redshirt, and Walker, who will also be a fifth year senior.  Also returning are two sophomores - Joel Kight and D.T. Shackelford - who saw extensive action in their true freshmen seasons last fall.  Both those players are potential SEC stars and Shackelford was on track for several major post season honors before he injured an ankle and missed playing time and never seem to be full speed the remainder of the season.  Beyond those four, jockeying for playing time should be interesting, but there's no lack of candidates.  Sophomore Jason Jones (6-foot-2, 220) offers good size, while redshirt freshman Alex Williams (6-foot-4, 205) may have some work left to do physically before he'll be a factor.  Williams wasn't helped along by missing most of last season with a broken leg.

Three new names figure to be in the mix immediately.  First there's Mike Marry, a tackling machine from Dexter McCluster's hometown of Largo, FL., who enrolled this semester after signing in 2009 and taking a grayshirt season (delayed enrollment). Marry hit the field during Cotton Bowl practices (conducted on campus) and struck such an imposing physique (6-foot-4 range, 240 pounds) that there was immediate speculation that he might be moved to defensive end.  Also expected to join the roster next fall are two serious prospects in Clarence Jackson and Ralph Williams.  They need to take care of academics, but both are in the 6-foot-1 or 2 area and around 220 pounds that indicate not a lot of time will be required to get them ready physically for SEC play. 

The ones that got away ...  While it may sound unreasonable, there really wasn't a significant linebacker that Ole Miss targeted or recruited hard that it didn't get.  The staff looked at others and extended some soft offers to prospects like Michael Taylor, Nigel Terrell and Quayshawn Neely, but in the end, didn't seriously recruit those prospects.  They targeted Jackson early and received an commitment last May and then waited until they made sure they had room for Williams and plucked him off Tennessee's commitment on signing day.

Overall assessment ...  Linebacker was a strength for Ole Miss last season and figures to be equally as good in 2010.  The Rebels will miss the play of Trahan, a potential NFL player, but has youth with talent and experience in Shackelford and Kight who are clearly ready for an expanded role.  Walker and Cornell offer senior experience and leadership and a group of youngsters that includes Marry, Jackson and Williams are talented enough to keep Ole Miss' linebacker corps among the best in the SEC for years to come.

Grade: A

The signees…

Clarence Jackson, LB, 6-2, 220, Atlanta (North Clayton HS), GA. A SuperPrep All-Region pick and rated the No. 66 player in Georgia ... Named to the PrepStar and SuperPrep preseason All-Region teams ... Listed as the No. 16 athlete in the country by ESPN.com ... Earned first team All-Region 4-4A and Player of the Year honors from the league's coaches as a junior and senior ... Named first team Class 4A All-State by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a senior and listed as the No. 50 player in Georgia by the paper ... Rated the No. 73 player in Georgia and the No. 74 LB in the nation by Rivals.com ... Ranked the No. 56 player in Georgia and the No. 85 LB in the country by Scout.com ... Rushed for 1,954 yards and 31 TD's as a senior ... Ran for 1,800 yards and 32 TD's as a junior ... Posted 58 tackles and 15 QB sacks on defense during junior season ... Also played basketball in high school ... Coached in high school by Rodney Hackeney.

Ralph Williams, LB, 6-1, 220, Miami (Southridge), FL. A SuperPrep All-Region pick and rated the No. 60 player in Florida ... Named to the PrepStar and SuperPrep preseason All-Region teams ... Ranked the No. 66 player in Florida by the Orlando Sentinel ... Listed as the No. 39 LB in the nation and the No. 92 player in Florida by Scout.com ... Earned second team All-Dade honors from the Miami Herald as a senior ... Named Class 2A first team All-State by the Florida Sports Writers Association as a junior ... Recorded 89 tackles and 18 QB sacks as a senior ... Posted 81 tackles and 18 QB sacks as a junior ... Coached in high school by Pat Burrows.

Previously signed and enrolled ...

Mike Marry, LB, 6-3, 225, Clearwater, Fla. (Largo) -- A PrepStar and SuperPrep All-Region selection ... Rated the No. 34 LB in the nation and the No. 78 player in Florida by Rivals.com ... Listed as the No. 28 LB in the country by Scout.com ... Earned first team All-Suncoast honors from the St. Petersburg Times as junior and a senior... Also named the Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and senior by the St. Petersburg Times ... Earned second team All-State honors from theFlorida Sports Writers Association as a senior .... Totaled 100 tackles and seven QB sacks as a senior ... Posted 152 tackles, four QB sacks, three interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovered as a junior ... Coached in high school by Rick Rodriguez. 

Post-signing day analysis: Quarterbacks | Tight Ends | Running backs | Wide receivers 


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