HOOVER, Ala. _ Peria Jerry got a new workout partner this spring.
He wasn't exactly a new face, however.
Jerry, the Rebels' 6-foot-2, 290-pound senior defensive tackle, knew Michael Oher plenty well already. He'd opposed him plenty of times on the practice field. This summer, he was assigned to push Oher to get stronger in the weight room.
"He probably outweighs me by 30 pounds," Jerry said, laughing. "But he knows every time, I'm coming. I like it. He's getting stronger and I think that's a big thing for Mike."
From all accounts, Jerry was successful, and in more ways than one.
"He's catching up with me almost," Jerry said. "I feel like he's getting strong right now. I feel like if he's with me, he's going to want to get where I'm at. That was a great move for him."
Jerry said he's bench-pressing about 450 pounds right now. Oher, Jerry said, is in the 400s now.
"I'm going to try to not let him catch me," Jerry said, laughing once again. "That would be a big thing for him. If he caught me, he'd never leave me alone."
While Oher's improved physical strength should help the Rebels' running game this fall, Jerry's improved play could give Ole Miss a dominant defensive front.
"(Ole Miss strength and conditioning) Coach Don Decker found out all my weaknesses and I've been working on those. I think I'm going to be a better ballplayer this upcoming season. I needed to get stronger with my core, get faster and get in the best shape of my life. I'm in great shape.
"I expect a lot from our defense. We have a lot of returning starters. We're pretty solid up front. We're looking forward to getting Jerrell (Powe) in pretty soon. I think we can be pretty talented on that side of the ball."
More importantly, perhaps, Jerry said he has sensed a change at the core of the Rebels' program this summer. After four straight seasons without a trip to the postseason and a winless SEC campaign and a coaching change last fall, Jerry said there is "a whole new energy level in Oxford right now. Since Coach (Houston) Nutt came, everybody's running with it. Everybody's putting in the work. I just feel like we're coming in to have a great season.
"We have a lot of talent at Ole Miss. We feel like we could have beaten a lot of those teams last year. We're working hard and we're looking forward to changing that around this upcoming season."
Jerry had 58 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a junior, giving him 83 tackles and 4.5 sacks during his career. He said Thursday he's as healthy as he's ever been during his Ole Miss career, adding that last season he played his way into shape during the season and this fall he's planning to come into the season in shape.
"I'm going to show everybody what I'm capable of doing," Jerry said. "It's just all about running to the ball and how much you want it. We have a bunch of guys who run to the ball pretty good. On defense, it's all about attitude. Something has to be wrong with you to play defense. You have to love to tackle."