NCF Nation: Jason Jones

The moment outside linebacker D.T. Shackelford’s injury proved to be season-threatening, distress signals circulated throughout Ole Miss’s football team.

Offensive coordinator David Lee said the severity of Shackelford’s knee injury, which is expected to sideline him for his senior season, felt like a shot to the figurative heart of the football program.

Not only was he an outstanding linebacker -- and arguably the Rebels’ best player -- he was a tremendous leader. On a team lacking a ton of seniors, losing an emotional leader like Shackelford is devastating.

However, in the weeks since Shackelford’s freak ACL tear, coach Houston Nutt has found some potential candidates who could step into Shackelford’s leadership role.

Right now, Nutt is relying on veteran defensive ends Wayne Dorsey and Jason Jones. Dorsey, a senior, enrolled at Ole Miss last January and played in nine games in 2010, starting four.

Jones, a junior, played in 12 games last season, starting four.

[+] EnlargeKentrell Lockett
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireSenior defensive end Kentrell Lockett is a strong candidate to fill the leadership void left after D.T. Shackelford's injury.
Neither is a household name for the Rebels, but Nutt said he saw both step up in place of Shackelford shortly after he went down.

“They showed real signs [of becoming team leaders],” Nutt said.

Sophomore Mike Marry, who worked some in Shackelford’s spot after he went down this spring, also took on a leadership role for the team during that latter parts of spring practice, Nutt said.

One guy who could provide that leadership spark this fall is senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett. Lockett, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after tearing his ACL last fall, missed all of spring practice, but is someone Nutt said he’s really hoping steps up soon.

It shouldn’t be hard for Lockett to grab the attention of his teammates. He’s the most experienced guy on Ole Miss’ roster and has great locker-room presence.

While each of these players could become dynamic leaders for this team, finding someone with the same electricity Shackelford possessed seems like a long shot.

“D.T. just took complete ownership,” Nutt said. “It was just unbelievable the way he went about things.”

That won’t easy to replace.

As for finding someone to fill his playing shoes, besides a little work from Marry, the Rebels also rotated sophomore Clarence Jackson and redshirt freshman Ralph Wilson in at Shackelford’s position this spring.

The player to keep an eye on this fall will be incoming freshman C.J. Johnson, who was the top recruit out of the state of Mississippi in 2010. He accumulated 149 tackles and two interceptions as a high school senior and despite playing inside linebacker he should be able to move outside.

Johnson has the skill to come in and immediately contribute, but developing his leadership qualities will be the next step in his maturation process.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Ah, bowl time. I feel like I've missed out on a lot of the early fun from a lot of great games already.

The Big 12 finally starts on Monday night when Missouri faces Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

We'll have Oklahoma State and Oregon Tuesday in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl in San Diego and Kansas and Minnesota in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Dec. 31.

  • How Missouri handles the stinging disappointment of another Big 12 championship game loss: The Tigers say they are intent on finishing strong, becoming the first team to win 10 games in back-to-back seasons in school history. But they have struggled defensively at the end of the season, allowing 102 points in losses to Kansas and Oklahoma. Northwestern's offense shouldn't prove troublesome, considering the Wildcats scored at least 28 points in a game only once in their final nine games of the season. What Missouri defense will show up in its bowl game?
  • The end of an era at Missouri: Chase Daniel and Chase Coffman will end illustrious careers with the Tigers, along with offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, who is off to his new job as head coach at Wyoming. Jeremy Maclin likely could be playing his final college game. This potent offensive mix has been the most productive offense in the school's recent history. Could they have one more huge outburst left in them in their final game together?
  • Better health for the Jayhawks: Key players like Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and Todd Reesing were banged up most of the second half of the season for Kansas. After a month of rest and playing in the warm Arizona climate, will the potent Kansas trio be ready to take advantage of slumping Minnesota? The Gophers arrive with a four-game losing streak, compared to Kansas' excitement after a thrilling upset victory over Missouri in the Jayhawks' season finale.
  • Can the Jayhawks protect Reesing?: When Kansas was at its most successful offensively this season, Reesing was afforded protection and Sharp was a consistent runner. But the Wildcats often struggled to do that against the Big 12's power teams. It will be critical for Kansas redshirt freshman tackle Jeff Hatch to protect Reesing's blind size from Minnesota defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who led the Gophers with nine sacks.
  • Oklahoma State's defense without Tim Beckman: The Cowboys' former defensive coordinator left immediately for his new job as head coach at Toledo, leaving Mike Gundy without a coordinator for the bowl game against Oregon. First-year defensive line coach Glenn Spencer takes over Beckman's job of coaching linebackers. A game plan has been formulated with his work along with that of cornerbacks coach Jason Jones and safeties coach Joe DeForest. It could provide a big challenge against an Oregon offense that ranks fourth nationally in rushing, seventh in scoring and eighth in total offense.
  • A Holiday Bowl of points: Want to see a bowl game where the two teams combine for triple digits in points and into the thousands in yards between them? This could be your game. Oklahoma State features a talented array of offensive weapons like quarterback Zac Robinson, wide receiver Dez Bryant, running back Kendall Hunter and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Oregon will counter with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running backs Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount and tight end Ed Dickson. Considering that both teams have scored at least 40 points six times apiece this season, brace for a shootout in San Diego. Who needs a San Diego delicacy like fish tacos when you can gorge yourself on a delicacy like this?

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