Nix, Ole Miss defense back for more in 2010

His defenses the last two years have racked up more tackles for loss than any other defense in the country.

Pedal to the metal: It’s the only way Tyrone Nix knows how to coach defense.

As Ole Miss exits the spring, the Rebels’ third-year defensive coordinator thinks his front seven rates right up there with any in the SEC.

That is, if Ole Miss can solidify the other end spot opposite senior Kentrell Lockett.

“Right now, I’d take six of our front seven over anybody else’s in the league,” Nix said. “But when you lose Emmanuel Stephens, Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman -- all in one year at defensive end -- that puts you in a little bit of a bind at that spot.

“We’re going to be stout inside. The unknown is that other end spot.”

Nix was pleased with the way junior college newcomer Wayne Dorsey played this spring, and he’s definitely the favorite to start at that other end position.

But Nix said Dorsey needs to have a big summer in the strength and conditioning program, get stronger and acclimate himself a little better with the Rebels’ defensive scheme.

If he does all of those things, then Nix is as eager as anyone to see what this defense can do in 2010.

“He looks the part and played well, so don’t get me wrong,” Nix said of the 6-6, 255-pound Dorsey. “But if we’re going to be one of the best front sevens in the SEC, he has to keep coming and learn the intensity level you’ve got to play with play in and play out in this league. I think he can get there.”

The Rebels also lost three of four starters in the secondary, but Nix said junior college newcomer Damien Jackson was everywhere this spring and that he would be comfortable with Jackson at strong or free safety.

The other guy that caught Nix’s eye in the defensive backfield was redshirt freshman cornerback Charles Sawyer.

Jonathan Cornell is back at middle linebacker and Allen Walker at strong-side linebacker. Both are seniors and will be three-years starters. Nix also likes his depth at linebacker, although he’s still looking for a backup on the weak side.

Sophomore D.T. Shackelford is listed No. 2 right now at middle linebacker, but he’s talented enough and versatile enough to slide outside if Nix thinks he’s one of the Rebels’ best three linebackers come fall.

With so many new faces on offense next season, the burden will fall even more on Nix’s defense, especially early. The good news is that the schedule is pretty soft to open the season.

The Rebels open at home against Jacksonville State, then travel to Tulane before coming home for three straight games against Vanderbilt, Fresno State and Kentucky.

Then comes back-to-back road dates against Alabama and Arkansas.

Nix said none of that impacts the role of the defense.

And it certainly doesn’t affect the Rebels’ mentality on defense.

“Our job is to get the ball back to the offense and get it back as quickly as possible,” Nix said. “We want to be the aggressor. We want to play with outstanding effort. We want to make a lot of plays in the backfield. That’s going to remain the same regardless of what’s happening on the other side of the ball.

“We have some guys on defense who’ve been through the battles. We’ll see how much they improve and how some of the guys behind them develop.”

Of the newcomers scheduled to be on campus this summer, Nix thinks defensive end Carlos Thompson, cornerback Cedric Smith and linebacker Clarence Jackson all could contribute right away. Thompson was one of the top prospects in the state of Mississippi last year and figures to give the Rebels more burst off the edge.

“He may end up being a dime defensive end for us,” Nix said. “Athletically, he’s exactly what you’re looking for.”

Speaking of looking, something Nix wasn’t necessarily doing this offseason, but three SEC schools took a long look at him, which is further testament to the job he’s done at Ole Miss.

Florida’s Urban Meyer offered Nix the defensive coordinator’s job in December soon after Charlie Strong left. Nix was queasy about how the chemistry would end up shaking out on the Gators’ defensive staff and decided to stay put. Georgia’s Mark Richt and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley also talked to Nix about their defensive coordinator openings.

Ultimately, Nix decided that he had unfinished business at Ole Miss and was rewarded handsomely. He agreed to a new deal that will pay him $500,000 annually after earning $365,000 a year ago.

It’s the best decision the Rebels made this offseason.