PARRISH ALFORD: Return to form by Shackelford will boost Rebels’ defense

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – There’s no mistaking the depth of joy for D.T. Shackelford. It bubbles over.
Shackelford is trying to regain the strength and speed that made him a candidate for All-SEC honors as an Ole Miss linebacker.
There also was no mistaking the pain Shackel-ford felt two years ago. It was in April of 2011 that he went down in spring practice. He knew the injury was serious and pounded the turf with his fist in frustration.
Two knee surgeries and two painful rehabs would follow.
Now Shackelford believes he’s almost there. He, his teammates and coaches talk about his physical level of play as the Rebels go through spring drills.
The message we’re hearing is that it’s about the mental part – learning a new defense that he wasn’t part of for the 2012 season – that is Shackelford’s last hurdle.
There’s another hurdle, though. It’s game-day speed. It’s different than practice, and try as coaches might, it’s awfully hard to simulate.
It’s a different type of speed and quickness, and it’s what helped make Shackelford so successful for two seasons. He made the All-SEC freshman team in 2009 and was among the team leaders in sacks, pressures and tackles for loss in 2010.
For Shackelford, game day speed means SEC speed in the opener Aug. 29 at Vanderbilt. No easing in with an FCS opponent.
‘Great leader’
Even in his absence from the field, Shackelford has been around the program. He’s constantly referenced as an important part as an emotional leader. In fact, the first two words in his bio in the 2012 media guide are “great leader.”
It’s always good to have leaders, but the most effective leaders are the ones with fiery eyes, dripping with sweat because they’ve just made a big play.
Players follow other players who make plays.
Ole Miss averaged 2.92 sacks last season, 11th in the nation and second in the SEC. There’s always room for more pressure on the quarterback.
What Shackel-ford is attempting is rare. Former Auburn defensive back Aairon Savage was a sixth-year senior when he made the two-year comeback in 2010. He played in seven games and totaled 37 tackles with one tackle for loss.
Ole Miss teammates expect more than that in Shackelford’s return.
“Too have another player who can come in and make big-time plays … when one leader comes out, another leader comes in. Nobody misses a step,” sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said.
Most of the heavy lifting is done, and Shackelford is gaining confidence this spring.
If he gets to the quarterback on a humid August night in Nashville, another milestone will be achieved.
Then joy will grow and spread throughout the program.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.