Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt, fresh off his team's 31-13 victory over LSU in Baton Rouge, has already…
Tracy Rocker -
"If a kid is making plays in practice, we are going to give him the opportunity to make plays in games," said Rocker, who played 10 defensive linemen in the LSU victory. "If they earn my trust in practice, they are going to get a shot in games."
That part of Rocker's philosophy is pretty simple. You get what you earn.
But there's a method to his "madness."
"We ask kids to go 100 miles per hour when they are out there," Tracy continued. "That's the way the game is played these days. If you are demanding that, and they are giving you that, then they need rest.
"We've reached a point where I feel good when I send those twos in there. I don't think there's any dropoff. The ones get rest, the twos produce and then you rotate them again."
Rocker is a firm believer in a strong role for the backups.
"They are the guys who help you win championships," he stated. "When those ones have their tongues hanging out, someone else has to step up and the level of play, to win, has to be just as good.
"It also keeps competition in practice alive and it keeps everyone's spirits up. If a backup is actually playing in games, he's going to be more motivated than a number two who never sees the field. It's human nature."
Rocker started out the year being honest with everyone of the DL candidates.
"I'm very straight forward with them. I tell them from the start what they do in practice will dictate and determine what they get in the games," he noted. "When they start trusting me and trusting each other, everyone starts to push the wagon together."
When Tracy got to Ole Miss, he knew the defensive line had enough talent. The task was molding them into a cohesive unit.
"I keep up with defensive linemen in the SEC and i was just across the river last year at Arkansas," he explained. "I knew the talent was good, but I didn't know how together they were.
"I told them the first time I walked into that meeting room that we were going all going to be on the same page, no matter what. They started believing what I was selling and what Coach (Nix) was selling. They started believing in each other. It took some time, but we could see it developing. After the Vandy game, I think they started to believe we knew what we were talking about, even though we had lost the game. They could see on film if they had been more together and done what we told them more that we would have won that game."
After that, he saw the mindset of the DL, and the whole team for that matter, change, but some of the "old" still creeps back in sometimes.
"Instead of looking for something bad to happen, they started looking for something good to take place," he added. "In the South Carolina game, we were ahead at halftime and they had a look like we were losing. We had to break that habit.
"We constantly have to say that everything is going to be alright and to just keep plugging away. Even at halftime of the LSU game, when LSU had a big drive before the half, I had to tell them to leave that look at the door. I had to tell them they hadn't done anything wrong and everything was going to be alright. We were doing fine, but we have to keep reminding them of that. Sometimes they are quick to get down on themselves, even now, but I can see them slowly but surely getting out of that more and more each week."
Rocker said his job has been made easier by the leadership and example set by senior DT Peria Jerry.
"What I enjoy about Peria is that what he does in games is what he does in practice," Tracy said. "He always had the motor. All I had to do was coach him up. He was a creature of habit, where he was told to go make plays, but we have a scheme here where he had to take care of his piece of land first and then go hunt on someone else's land. That's what we do and he adjusted to that.
"Now, he's taking care of his land and doing a lot of poaching. And we want him to keep doing that."
Rocker won the Outland and Lombardi trophies in college. While those are things he will take with him the rest of his life, he wants to be known as more.
"I want to be known as a good defensive line coach, not the Outland winner," he said bluntly. "I'm proud of those things in my past, but my goals are different now. I want to one day help someone else win those awards."
If Rocker and the Rebel DL stay on their current path, that day will come.
When is the last time Ole Miss has used 10 defensive linemen in a game before this year?
We have no idea, but the possibilities that opens up - for continued production and recruiting purposes - seem nearly limitless.
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