Ole Miss' Denzel Nkemdiche could return vs. Alabama

Frederick Breedon

The Rebels' defense would receive a big boost with the return of one of their top talents.

Ole Miss redshirt sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche could return for the Rebels' Saturday showdown with the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, head coach Hugh Freeze said in the SEC Teleconference (with transcript via 247sports).

"He went through practice yesterday," Freeze said during the teleconference. "The big test was this morning to see if there would be a lot of swelling in the knee. We were pleased to find he didn't have hardly any. So, we feel very good about it.

"He'll go through practice again tonight and we'll check it again Thursday morning. If Thursday morning he looks like he did this morning he'll be ready to go."

Nkemdiche's return would be huge for an Ole Miss defense that already ranks 33rd in the nation in total defense. The linebacker was injured in the team's opener against Vanderbilt and was expected to miss four to six weeks, putting his recovery on the shorter side of that window if he plays against the Tide.

The game will be a tough test for a Rebels team that has jumped out to an impressive 3-0 start and a No. 21 ranking in both polls. Alabama are 15-point favorites in the game, but while the Tide have scored more than 38 points per game, they rank just 85th in the country in total offense.

The return of Nkemdiche could exacerbate any potential offensive problems for the Tide, who certainly have not had troubles outscoring opponents. The linebacker was a preseason all-conference selection after recording 82 tackles (13 for a loss) with three interceptions, four fumbles forced and five passes broken up last season.

Junior Serderius Bryant has started at Ole Miss's Stinger position (strong outside linebacker) in place of Nkemdiche, and is still listed as their starter in the school's latest depth chart. Bryant leads the team with 26 tackles on the year, including four for a loss, and the Rebels would love to be able to utilize both linebackers against T.J. Yeldon, A.J. McCarron and the Alabama offense.

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