October 23, 2008

Walker, Palmer leading defensive charge

It wasn't that long ago that [db]Allen Walker was worried about his Ole Miss career.

After a strong spring, Walker was cited for DUI. Suddenly, he was no longer thinking about playing time. He was wondering about his future.

"I was in the doghouse," Walker said. "I really was. I'm still on thin ice. I have no room for error at this point in my career. I'm just trying to get ready every day. When I did come back, there wasn't an awkward vibe. I did what I had to do to get back straight.

"I would've had to transfer, meet all new people, pack up everything and start all over."

Instead, Walker has evolved into one of Ole Miss' better defensive players. His transformation, along with those of several teammates, has bolstered an Ole Miss defense that contained No. 2 Alabama on Saturday and will be challenged by Arkansas' balanced attack this weekend in Fayetteville.

"Our D-line is full of monsters," Ole Miss linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. "I don't believe there's an offensive line that can block it. One-on-one, it's not happening with this defensive line. If you double-team them, it's leaving gaps for us linebackers to make tackles. Our safeties are hitting hard and our corners are covering. We have a great defense. I like it. Every week, we've gotten better."

Palmer, who was challenged directly by defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix earlier in the season, said he has gotten more physical in recent weeks.

"I just came out with a different attitude and started knocking heads," Palmer said. "There's no room for softness in this conference. I believe this is the toughest conference in America and if you're soft, it's noticeable. I didn't want to be the weak link, so I came back with a different attitude."

"We're trying to simplify," Nix said. "I put too much in and had them thinking too much."

REBS ENJOY BRISK WEDNESDAY: Ole Miss worked in shells and shorts again Wednesday, enjoying a beautiful north Mississippi afternoon that saw temperatures drop through the afternoon. The Rebels, coach Houston Nutt said, showed a high level of energy, in part due to the weather.

"It sparked some of that and it should," Nutt said.

Much of the media attention this week has been on Arkansas' offense, but Nutt said the Razorbacks' defense has gotten better in recent weeks.

"There are about six of them that won 18 games the last two years," Nutt said. "That's the thing. They've been to Atlanta. They understand it. They're going to be aggressive. It's a four-man front, sometimes a five-man front. They'll play zone, play some man. They'll mix it up."

REBEL RUMBLINGS: Ole Miss alumnus/Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman was in Oxford Wednesday to present Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin with his Grey Cup championship ring and watch. Austin was the Roughriders' head coach last season. ...Defensive tackle Lawon Scott appeared to have moved into the Rebels' starting lineup ahead of Ted Laurent on Wednesday. …Offensive guard Darryl Harris (elbow) was back on the practice field but working behind Reid Neely at left guard. …Greg Hardy's right foot was heavily taped, but he was going through some drills.

"(Hardy) did good today," Nutt said. "He went through some fundamentals. I'm pretty encouraged. I think he's going to be available Saturday. (Harris) did just about everything we asked him to do. …You're talking about a senior really wanting to play. It'd be easy to say, 'Nah, I can't play.' Man, I really appreciate it."

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