Ole Miss has to replace All-SEC defensive backs Trae Elston and Mike Hilton in 2016

The Ole Miss secondary will be a closely watched group in 2016. The Rebels need to replace a dynamic DB in Mike Hilton and a hard hitting, ball hawking safety in Trae Elston. Huskie Tony Conner's return from knee injury will also be a key topic before the Rebels' season opener against Florida St. on Sept. 5.

Petre Thomas

Departing Defensive Backs

Mike Hilton, Trae Elston and Chief Brown.

Returning Defensive Backs

Tony Bridges, Ken Webster, C.J. Moore, Cam Ordway, Tony Conner, Montrell Custis, Kailo Moore, Armani Linton, C.J. Hampton, Jalen Julius, Carlos Davis, A.J. Moore and Zedrick Woods.

Class of 2016 Signees

Deontay Anderson, Greg Eisworth, Myles Hartsfield, Jaylon Jones and Justin Connor.

Petre Thomas

Cornerbacks

Senior Tony Bridges and junior Ken Webster are expected to start at cornerback for the Rebels. Bridges started in eleven games in 2015, with three interceptions and 36 total tackles. Webster had thirteen starts, with one interception and 41 total tackles. Both cornerbacks showed improvement in the spring. While Bridges has improved his footwork, Webster has improved his consistency and overall performance in the weight room. Ole Miss strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson recently praised Webster in an interview with the Spirit's Ben Garrett.

"Kendarius Webster, in our spring testing, I’d say maybe on the team had the best overall performance from strength, speed, power, everything," Jackson said. "He’s incredible right now. He should be an impact player for us on defense at that corner position."

Bridges' improved throughout the 2015 season and should be able to build off his first year in the SEC.

Seniors Kailo Moore and Carlos Davis will most likely be the backup cornerbacks heading into fall practice, but redshirt freshman Jalen Julius and Cam Ordway are expected to compete for the reserve roles. Ordway played in seven games last season with six total tackles. Julius received praise in spring practice, but needs to be more consistent. 

Freshman Justin Connor was the top Miss. running back in the 2016 recruiting cycle, but Ole Miss will use him primarily in the secondary. Connor will most likely redshirt this season.

Huskies

Senior Tony Conner missed most of the 2015 season with a knee injury, but will look to make a strong return in 2016. Many NFL draft experts considered Conner a 2016 first round draft pick before his injury, and with Ole Miss coaches expecting him to make a full recovery Conner will once again be considered a top draft prospect. Conner did not play in the Rebels' Sugar Bowl victory against Oklahoma St., and sat out all spring after a second knee surgery. His absence was fully felt in the Ole Miss secondary that finished the 2015 season 47th in the FBS for team passing efficiency defense. If Connor does in fact return to full form, the Rebels will once again have a freakishly athletic defensive back that will make opposing quarterbacks think twice about throwing the ball.

The backup huskie spot will be one to look at in the fall, with freshmen Jaylon Jones and Deontay Anderson in the mix. Redshirt freshman Montrell Custis saw a lot of time at huskie in spring practice, and received praise from defensive coordinator Dave Wommack and safeties coach Corey Batoon.

"He’s done a great job in the offseason," Batoon said. "From an understanding perspective he’s really come on. A lot of young guys are still processing things and playing slow. He's not processing, he’s out there reacting and playing a lot faster than I thought he could."

Junior A.J. Moore competed with Custis for the back up spot in the spring, but also competed at the free safety position. Freshman Myles Hartsfield could also split time between huskie and rover. Batoon praised Hartsfield as well.

"He’s a physical kid," Batoon said. "He’s put on some weight since he’s gotten here. He’s about 200 pounds. He has the coverage skills you want where he could possible go back to corner if we need. He could play all five of the positions back there."

While Anderson will most likely be considered a better fit at rover or free safety, Jones is expected to start out as a huskie in fall practice for Ole Miss. Jones is more likely to be redshirted this fall than Anderson.

Ole Miss DB Zedrick Woods

Rovers

The rover position was filled with competition in the spring. Sophomore Zedrick Woods moved between rover and free safety in the spring. Woods played in thirteen games last season, picking up 25 tackles and one interception. He also played every position in the secondary except for corner back, and will be used as a versatile defensive back again. Speaking of versatility, Hartsfield will most likely compete with Woods at the rover position in the fall. Ole Miss coaches have used the safety spots fluidly, and with his athleticism Hartsfield should be expected to see some snaps at rover in fall practice. Don't forget about junior C.J. Moore, who also played at the rover spot in the spring.

Freshman Greg Eisworth saw some time at rover in the spring as well. Eisworth may compete with Anderson at rover in the fall. Similar to Jones, Eisworth is more likely to get redshirted than Anderson.

Free Safeties

Junior C.J. Hampton will enter fall practice as the starting free safety. With Conner missing spring practice, Hampton was the most experienced defensive back this spring, and split reps with Woods at the free safety spot. Hampton was a highly touted recruit in the 2014 recruiting class, but has yet to make a major impact for the Rebels. Hampton received the Jeff Hamm Award as the team's most improved defensive player in the spring of 2015, but only played in nine games last season after a two game suspension and injuries. Hampton seemed motivated in spring practice, and if he continues to develop in fall practice, he may have a breakout season.

Woods saw time at free safety in the spring and will probably see some time there in the fall. At 6-2 and 215 pounds, redshirt freshman Armani Linton is a physical specimen who played rover and free safety in the spring. Linton was praised in the spring for his athletic abilities, and is another player to watch for the back up free safety spot. Can't forget about A.J. Moore either. He will most likely see time at free safety in fall practice as well.


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