The defensive position where depth is strongest is linebacker.
That’s somewhat of a tricky statement, though. There are only two linebackers on the field as compared to five safeties. It’s easier to build depth with just two.
That being said, there’s a nice blend of returning production and potential at linebacker.
Mike Marry, a senior, returns to start in the middle. Speed is not his friend. Marry was phenomenal in the bowl game, which underscores how good he can be when an opponent lacks great overall team speed.
Still, Marry is a physical player who knows the game and had 10.5 tackles for loss last year.
The speed and quickness at the position come from sophomore Denzel Nkemdiche, second-team All-SEC last year. A year ago Wommack didn’t know what he had with Nkemdiche. Nobody did. What Nkemdiche showed is hustle and all-our play to make up for a frame that is just 5-11 and 203.
The great potential here comes from D.T. Shackelford. He hasn’t been on a game-day field since 2010. He made it through spring with no real problems from his knee, twice surgically repaired. If he can for 15-17 plays a game be the player that he was two years ago, he’ll be a big lift for this defense. If he is that player, Shackelford will also line up at end and give the Rebels some explosiveness there.
Wommack said he didn’t get to Shackelford’s end package as part of the spring installation.
There are experienced backups with Serderius Bryant (28 tackles) and Keith Lewis (22 tackles). Redshirt freshman Temario Strong drew praise from Wommack in the spring.
There are two linebackers in the signing class – Marcus Robinson of Memphis and Ray Ray Smith of Florence, Ala. Both are three-star prospects, and this is not a position where newcomers need to play quickly.
This is a position where Marry, Nkemdiche and Shackelford will get a lot of snaps if all goes according to play.