Last Line of Defense

In the last in a series with Ole Miss DC Dave Wommack, we take a look at the Rebel secondary.

At Husky, the Rebels had some misfortune in summer. Chief Brown, who was moved from safety to Husky in spring and had nailed down the second spot and quality playing time behind incumbent Tony Conner, went down to an Achilles tendon tear and will miss the entire season.

“It’s said for Chief. One, because he is a great kid; two, because he had really found a home at Husky and I thought he was really going to be special there for us in a lot of situations,” said Wommack. “Having said that, in this game injuries happen and you have to adjust and move on. Fortunately for us, we still have Tony there.

“The first part of spring, Tony had put on a little too much weight, but he shed some pounds early in spring and when he is focused and tuned in, he’s exactly what we want. He is so athletic and he does such a good job. Last year, he had to think too much at times and it slowed his reaction time. He’s so athletic that he was able to overcome that. In spring, he was doing a lot less thinking and more instant reactions and it just made him that much better.”

Now the big question – who backs up Conner?

“We may have to go small there and rely on Mike Hilton and Cliff Coleman, who have played Husky before, in some situations, especially third downs,” Wommack answered. “We are comfortable with that because they know the position, but it kind of puts us back in the not-enough-depth in certain areas situation again. We may be asking Hilton to do multiple things this year.

“Mike has a lot of football savvy. I don’t really worry about him at all, no matter what we ask him to do, and Cliff has really come on strong. He had a very good spring. I have to be honest – I did not think Cliff would ever help us in a significant way, but that’s why you shouldn’t pre-judge someone as a coach. He has proven me wrong. I trust him and he has earned that trust.”

At the safety slots, there’s an All-American returning at free and a real battle going on for playing time at rover between returning starter Trae Elston and now-eligible athlete deluxe Anthony Alford, who sat out last year due to transfer rules.

“The deal with Trae and Anthony just goes to show you how important competition is. Anthony has really flipped Trae’s switch and he’s taking advantage of two years of experience to stay out front in that race, but Anthony is probably a little better athlete and is nipping at Trae’s heels,” Wommack smiled. “That’s a great situation for us and them. Their competition will make both better and keep that position healthy for a long time.

“Both will play substantially and both will have big roles in our defense. I am going to double-train Trae for free safety and he can handle that because of his experience.”

At free, Cody Prewitt had a banner year last year and is setting himself up for even more this, his final, campaign. Meanwhile, he’s grooming freshman C.J. Hampton, who, like Haynes, participated in spring training and excited Wommack with his progress.

“Cody is attacking his senior year with a chip on his shoulder. Some players who get the type of recognition he has received will rest on their laurels. Not Cody. He is very driven and is working on every aspect of his game, physically and mentally,” Dave attests. “There’s no question that he is the leader of the secondary and there’s no question he will do anything for his team to be successful.

“With C.J., I can’t express enough how important it was for him to go through everything in spring. I saw the flashes I was hoping to see. He made mistakes, like Christian Russell, but he got exposure and he got help from Cody. I think he will be terrific in time and when he gets everything down. It’s easy for me to see why he was so highly-recruited. Again, patience with his development is key.”

At the corners, conditions are still not ideal, but Wommack has more choices and there is help on the way in the form of JUCO transfer Tee Sheperd and freshman Kendarius Webster.

Sophomore Derrick Jones, Hilton, Senquez Golson, Coleman, Kailo Moore and Carlos Davis were the top candidates coming out of spring.

“Derrick is what we are looking for athletically and he gives us the length we are looking for there, but if there is a drawback it is that he needs to get stronger,” assessed Dave. “In his defense, he is going against the best receiver in the country (Laquon Treadwell) every day and that guy knows how to push and is very strong. D.J. is figuring it out and working on his strength.

“Behind him, Cliff and Carlos give us good depth. I liked what Cliff did in spring. He’s steady, he’s strong, he knows what we are doing, he doesn’t make mistakes and he’s a competitor. If Carlos was 6-foot tall you couldn’t keep him off the field. He’s tough, he can run like the wind and he competes. We put him on scholarship this year because we know he is going to help us in the kicking game and in a six DB package which we haven’t been able to use much, if at all, in the past.”

On the other side, Hilton and Golson will anchor things, but as already explored, Hilton may have to do double duty at Husky as well.

“Mike is a football player, period. His speed? As fast as he needs to be. His toughness? As tough as he needs to be. You don’t measure anything with Mike except production. He’s a winner in my book,” Wommack said. “When it comes down to who is the best corner since we have been here, the answer is Senquez. I go back and look at past film and he just doesn’t give up much and rarely does he give up a big play. He’s simply a productive football player.”

Dave also likes what Moore did in his first session at corner after moving over from offense in spring.

“To be honest, I really didn’t want Kailo at corner. I thought he was stiff and wouldn’t hit anybody. I was dead wrong. He was the surprise of spring for me. He will hit you and he can run. Once he learns technique, I look for him to be very, very good,” Wommack closed. “The good thing is that we have three more years with him to bring him along.

“Tee was as good as there was out there in recruiting. I am very excited to get him here. Kendarius was our number one guy at corner, without a doubt, but Tee is in that class and is older and more mature physically. Tee also has the length and strength we are looking for. We expect big things from Tee once he learns everything.”

The bottom line for Wommack is that he is anxious to get going on 2014.

“When I look at our depth chart, it certainly looks better than it did when we got here,” he smiled. “I won’t say we have the depth of some of the established programs in the SEC, but we are deeper than we ever have been and are where we need to be after what we consider 2 ½ year of recruiting.

“Our numbers are better across the board at each position. We are headed in the right direction. It all comes down to health. If we can stay healthy, we will be better. If we don’t, we will be relegated to mix and match again and that’s not where we want to be.”

More depth for the Rebel defense bodes well. Keep your fingers crossed on continued good health.


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