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Defensive line coach Jackie Shipp a big key to Nevada's pass-rushing success

Jackie Shipp
Jackie Shipp is in his third season as Nevada's defensive line coach. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada defensive line does not consist of prized recruits.

Dom Peterson had three scholarships offers coming out of high school. Kameron Toomer was a two-star recruit with one FBS offer. Sam Hammond, Zak Mahannah, Christopher Love and Jack Powers were walk-ons. And Daniel Grzesiak and Amir Johnson walked on at Nevada as offensive players, Grzesiak at tight end and Johnson at center. Only Tristan Nichols could be considered any sort of blue-chip recruit, although even he had to go to junior college out of high school.

But that group of defensive linemen has combined to help Nevada rank second in the nation in sacks per game, and one of the secret weapons in that cause is third-year defensive line coach Jackie Shipp, who has been coaching for 30 years, including stops with the NFL's Packers and Vikings and Power 5 programs Alabama, Oklahoma, Arizona State and Missouri. Shipp's gang has been one of the Mountain West's best this season, not because of pure talent but because of hard work and technique.

"They have to have some ability," Shipp said. "You look at Grzesiak. I think he has good quicks for the first 10 to 15 yards, but you're looking at a guy that's probably 5-11 by NFL standards. Maybe 6 foot. He would tell you 6 foot. And he weighs about 235 pounds. But he's been very productive. But basically you're looking for people who have quickness and have some strength and can play with leverage and can rush the passer. Some guys don't have all those tools, but if they learn the fundamentals of the game, you're talking about your eyes, your footwork, the use of your hands, let it be run or pass, and then get a mental understanding, you can contribute and help us be successful. It's still a team game. It's 11 guys out there, and if you do your 1/11th, we have a chance to win and be successful in all positions on the field."

Shipp and Nevada head coach Jay Norvell first met at Oklahoma when both were assistants. Norvell's first stint with the Sooners lasted only a couple of weeks before he was hired by the Oakland Raiders. Shipp never forgot the fact Norvell left Oklahoma so quickly, saying they had an icy meeting when Norvell returned to the college level as an assistant at Nebraska.

"When he first came to Oklahoma, I always tell the story that his office was next to mine and we hit it off," Shipp said. "And then he left after two weeks. I think I kind of got a little upset about that. He went to the Raiders and then he came back to one of our rivals, Nebraska, and we played them in the Big 12 championship game. And to be honest, I was still pissed he left us the first time. Everybody was kind of walking out on the field before the game. It was before warmups when you first get to the stadium. He's coming from one end zone. I'm coming from another. We're probably not 10 feet apart, yet we didn't even talk to each other. I was still mad that he left. Didn't even speak to one another. We laugh about that to this day. Now things are all good and everything is better."

Norvell eventually re-joined Oklahoma's staff in 2008 and the two worked together for five seasons on the Sooners staff before Shipp joined Arizona State in 2013. They reunited at Nevada in 2019 when Norvell, then a head coach, hired Shipp as a defensive assistant. Norvell has helped turn Nevada's program around during his five-year tenure, and Shipp hasn't been surprised by that success.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Shipp said. "One thing I can say about Jay is he's a very hard worker. He's very knowledge in what he does. He's going to put the time in and be successful, and he's always been like that."

You can watch the full NSN Daily interview with Jackie Shipp below.

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