Published March 18, 2013 - 3:15pm
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Ole Miss linebacker/defensive end hybrid D.T. Shackelford may be a forgotten man. After all, he’s missed two straight seasons in Oxford due to a lingering knee injury.
Shackelford initially tore his ACL two springs ago after emerging as one of the Rebels’ top playmakers in just his freshman season in 2009 as a middle linebacker. In fact, he grew into the Rebels’ best defensive player as a sophomore, starting the last six games, leading the team in sacks and packing a punch every time he hit an opponent. The Rebels’ Shackelford-less defense finished at the bottom of the SEC in 2011.
Shackelford has had two separate surgeries on his right knee, with the first one in April of 2011 after the initial tear and also in February of 2012. Still, his knee was just 80 percent at best in August last year, keeping him high-fiving and not a part of the 7-6 turnaround.
But the Rebels’ emotional leader is back and ready to give an underrated and young defense a shot in the arm.
Shackelford’s versatility stands out. He’s good enough to man the middle of the linebacking corps, athletic enough to play outside and strong enough to play defensive end. Shackelford was asked where he thinks he’ll end up on defense yesterday after practice, via Ole Miss Spirit.
“My whole career here I’ve been a linebacker and D-End. It don’t matter to me, man. I just want to be on the field and help contribute in any way I can.
“It just feels great to be back out here moving around. I’m full bore, just feeling great, man.”
Shackelford contests he won’t truly know how healthy he is until he puts on the pads this week.
In Shackelford’s absence, middle linebacker Mike Marry has been a rock for the Rebels’ defense. He’s registered 181 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in three years of work.
Not only does Ole Miss add arguably the two top defensive linemen in the country in Robert Nkemdiche and Lavon Hooks to the ‘13 unit, but can you imagine a healthy Shackelford making an impact this season? If anything, Shackelford will provide even more depth and experience to slew of returning starters on defense.
2013 is Shackelford’s final year of eligibility, and he hopes to end his career on a high note in whatever facet he can contribute. A 95-percent Shackelford is very valuable to Hugh Freeze and an Ole Miss team trying to take their program to the next level.
Photo Credit: Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports