Ole Miss linebacker D.T. Shackelford, arguably the Rebels’ most important defensive player, has a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the school confirmed Tuesday morning.
Shackelford left Monday’s practice early with a knee injury, and following the workout Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said the injury “could be” serious.
MRI results later revealed the ACL tear, an injury that will likely cost Shackelford the 2011 season.
Shackelford is expected to have surgery within two weeks. The typical recovery time is six to eight months.
In a best-case scenario that would put Shackelford cleared to play in mid-October.
“He is a tremendous leader, and he will continue to be so,” Nutt said. “It hurts a lot. He is so good. He is smart. With his experience, he just took over from January on. We need someone to step in that slot. But the good thing is, he will be around. Just like when he is not in the game, he is on the sideline coaching and encouraging.
“He was very discouraged (by the news), but he has such a strong family and a lot of faith. He knows he will back, and that’s one thing you can count on.”
A junior from Decatur, Ala., Shackelford is considered the emotional leader of the defense.
Last season he posted 48 tackles, leading the team in sacks with five and in quarterback pressures with three. He was second in tackles for loss with nine.
“D.T. is second to none when you come to that (leadership) category. The first thing you do when you’re defining a leader is a guy that leads by example,” defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix told the Journal in an earlier account of Shackelford’s spring progress. “He’s an excellent example of a student-athlete, and he’s never satisfied with his performance, because he understands there’s always room for improvement.”
Shackelford becomes the defensive unit’s second player in two seasons to sustain a torn ACL.
The Rebels missed the leadership of senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett when he went down last September against Fresno State. Lockett has since been granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. He has not been ready for spring drills but is expected to be a major part of the defensive line this fall.
As a group the linebackers have performed well in spring drills, often with Shackelford setting the tone. Nix, however, has been encouraged by the play of Mike Marry and Clarence Jackson, both sophomores.
Marry has been the spring starter at middle linebacker in place of departed Jonathan Cornell, last year’s leading tackler.
Joel Kight posted 35 tackles and started seven games last year. He was injured early in spring drills with what was described as a deep bruise. He had minor knee surgery Tuesday.
“In this game, you are always a play away,” he said. “Sometimes players don’t believe that.
“We’re at a point in our program where it’s hard for us to say ‘next’ (player up). We’re not quite there yet, so we’re going to have to depend on some freshmen coming in. You’d love to redshirt them, but they’re going to have to play.”
Nutt signed four linebackers in February, including the state’s top recruit, C.J. Johnson, who played middle linebacker at Philadelphia High School.
Johnson is expected to report in June, Philadelphia coach Ted Dyess said.
Ole Miss takes today off before the final three days of spring drills start on Thursday.
After the team’s 4:05 p.m. practice, the Rebels will attend the 22nd annual Chucky Mullins Courage Award banquet at 7 p.m. at the Indoor Practice Facility.
The team’s spring game in Saturday at 1 p.m.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or email@example.com.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal