SPRING FOOTBALL PRIMER: Ole Miss has experienced, versatile options in secondary
Published 1:21 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Editor’s note: This is the last of a seven-part series previewing each position for Ole Miss heading into spring football practice, which began Tuesday.
Replacing the playmaking ability of Senquez Golson, Mike Hilton and Trae Elston has been a years-long chore for Ole Miss’ secondary.
It’s a high bar, but the Rebels have the experience on the back end of their defense to at least start reaching for it.
Ole Miss returns all but two of its defensive backs from last season’s two-deep, including three starters in Zedrick Woods, Jaylon Jones and Myles Hartsfield. Woods is the anchor at rover, entering his third year as a starter after finishing fourth on the team with 64 tackles last season.
Hartsfield and Jones give the Rebels flexibility in the secondary with the ability to play either spot. Hartsfield is back as a starter at corner after making the move from safety following his freshman season while Jones started the final six games of last season at free safety after beginning his career at corner.
The other corner spot is up for grabs with seniors Ken Webster and Javien Hamilton and sophomore D.D. Bowie all drawing starts a season ago. Hamilton’s three interceptions tied C.J. Moore for the team lead a season ago while Webster shuffled in and out of the starting lineup as he worked his way back from major knee surgery.
Bowie immediately joined the rotation as Ole Miss’ highest-ranked signee last year and will be counted on to take the next step in his progression this fall. The 6-foot, 180-pounder had five tackles and a pass breakup in eight games last season.
A.J. Moore manned the nickel corner in coordinator Wesley McGriff’s 4-2-5 scheme a season ago, but he’s out of eligibility. C.J., his brother, could fill in there after making four starts last year while junior Montrell Custis is also an option. Junior college transfer Vernon Dasher is also working there after signing with the Rebels as a linebacker.
Sophomore C.J. Miller, who will be limited this spring after undergoing rib surgery, redshirt freshman A.J. Harris and senior Cam Ordway will also compete for snaps in a secondary that’s in need of more impact plays. The Rebels ranked 52nd nationally against the pass a season ago, but only four SEC teams had less interceptions than Ole Miss’ eight.
Gary Wunderlich made more field goals and scored more points than anyone at Ole Miss during his four years, leaving a major void for the Rebels to fill in the kicking game. Sophomore Luke Logan made two of his three field goals and went 9-for-9 on extra points filling in when Wunderlich nursed a hamstring injury early last season.
Sophomore Mac Brown is in line to take over punting duties for the departed Will Gleeson.
A.J. Brown and Jones are back to return punts and kickoffs. Jones averaged 25 yards on kickoff returns last season with his longest going for a 97-yard touchdown.