Taking a Step

Ole Miss had a number of flaws last season, not the least of which was its secondary.

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En route to a 4-8 record, the Rebels surrendered a gaudy 246.33 passing yards per game, good for 103rd in the country and 11th in the Southeastern Conference. A defensive backfield lacking in play-makers managed just six interceptions on the year, with two players tied for the team lead with a measly two apiece.

A year later, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt and staff are experimenting in the secondary to shift course from what, over the course of 11 games, became a disturbing trend.

Sophomore Charles Sawyer has been tried at safety in August practices following the emergence of junior college transfer Wesley Pendleton at cornerback. Senior Damien Jackson has rotated between safety and linebacker.

Helping matters and allowing such mixing and matching are a talented crop of freshmen, led by safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson. For the first time in a while, the team has depth in the secondary.

And it's showing.

"I tell you, the competition that Cody Prewitt has brought to our team, I appreciate that," Nutt said. "Cody Prewitt's really taken a step. I like the depth there. Senquez has really come on, for a guy who's missed a week of camp. Really physical, he's tough and plays the ball like a centerfielder, you know? Very, very good."

Prewitt, a former three-star prospect by way of Bay Springs, Miss., arrived on campus in June for the first summer semester. He said he leaned on upperclassmen and dedicated himself to the team's strength and conditioning program, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Prewitt adding 15 pounds.

Cody Prewitt
Chuck Rounsaville

The work has apparently paid off.

"It helped out a lot," he said. "I gained about 15 pounds just this summer. I built up a lot of conditioning and stamina, stuff I didn't already have. That really helped a lot, and doing 7-on-7s and stuff in the summer at our own pace, it really helped me learning."

He took off earlier this month when Ole Miss began its two-a-day practices.

Prewitt is currently a second-team safety behind Sawyer, and is in prime position to play a significant role defensively and on special teams come the Rebels' season opener against BYU Sept. 3.

"It's been going real good," Prewitt said. "I've been looking up to my upperclassmen, trying to get right in there with them, trying to compete with them. I guess my competitive nature, just trying to compete with the upperclassmen we've got. Frank (Crawford) and Charles playing above me and Brishen (Mathews), I'm trying to stay on their level, and I know if I keep watching them and keep running, I'm going to be right up there with them in the rotation."

Prewitt was named a first-team All-State selection by the (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger as a senior for Sylva Bay Academy, after recording 121 tackles and eight interceptions. Still, in a class filled with other highly-regarded recruits, Prewitt was somewhat overshadowed.

No more.

"The biggest adjustment is probably the game speed," Prewitt said. "The mental part of the game, I think I've got that. It's just the game speed; I'm not used to playing at this speed. I feel like I'm getting better and better every day. Just got to keep up the work."

Prewitt and Golson are poised to contribute immediately. Golson is at worst the fourth cornerback behind starters Pendleton and senior Marcus Temple, as well as Sawyer, when he isn't playing safety.

"Man, Senquez, he's an amazing athlete. He came in playing at the game speed that the SEC's playing at. I see that already," Prewitt said.

But Prewitt and Golson aren't the only freshmen impressing this month. Like its secondary, Ole Miss has had to rely on a bevy of newcomers for depth and meaningful playing time at linebacker.

Among those who have received valuable repetitions in practice are Keith Lewis, C.J. Johnson and Serderius Bryant. Lewis and Bryant were three-star prospects, according to Scout.com, while Johnson was a four-star prospect and arguably the top prep player in Mississippi when he signed in February.

"Keith Lewis at linebacker, he's already stepping it up. C.J. Johnson, all of us are stepping it up," Prewitt said. "(Safety) Chief Brown, he's doing an amazing job. I feel like if that defensive group right there sticks together the next four years, keeps our noses clean and stuff like that, we're going to do some great things."

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