Denzel Nkemdiche returning for Ole Miss in time for Bama

Frederick Breedon

The sophomore linebacker returns early after knee surgery.

Ole MIss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, the team's leading tackler in 2012, is making an early return to the field after a torn meniscus suffered in Week 1 threatened to keep him out for six weeks.

As Bruce Feldman at CBSSports.com reported on Friday, Nkemdiche will play for Ole Miss against Alabama today, but he will not start. Here's more from the report:

Nkemdiche's return is huge for the young Ole Miss team. "He's the engine, the emotional catalyst of the defense," Freeze has said of Nkemdiche, the older brother of the former No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, a standout freshman on the Rebels' D-line.

The 5-11, 207-pound Nkemdiche had to undergo surgery two days after the Rebels season-opening win at Vandy for a torn meniscus. At the time, the Rebels didn't expect to have the speedy linebacker back in action till mid-October when Ole Miss has back-to-back games against LSU and Texas A&M.

How many snaps Nkemdiche gets still remains to be seen, of course, and whether he starts is far less important than whether he finishes. If he plays the fourth quarter of a tight game, he just might be the last piece of the puzzle for a huge Ole Miss upset.

The game kicks off at 6:30 ET in Tuscaloosa.

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