There isn't a position the Rebels need more help in than defensive back this past season. After posting the worst pass defense in the SEC and perhaps the worst pass defense in modern Ole Miss football history - a significant statement when considering our typically poor pass defense - Houston Nutt and staff needed cornerbacks, safeties, and generally athletic warm bodies in the worst way.
As perhaps the biggest recruting priority of the offseason, the coaches performed well, but not outstandingly, inking three excellent high school prospects and three junior college stopgaps. Regardless of our opinions, though, these are guys who are going to be expected to contribute early and often for a defense which seems to be lacking of any real identity after this past season.
Senquez Gholston is an absolutely athletic talent who excels both on the gridiron and on the diamond. A Clarion Ledger Dandy Dozen selection in both football and baseball, Gholston is the latest star to emerge from the Pascagoula Panther's program. As a baseball prospect, he fields well, is adept at getting on base, and scoots around the basepath. As a football prospect, he has elite speed and ample size for a cornerback. A longtime Ole Miss commit who has expressed an interest in playing ball for both coaches Bianco and Nutt (worry not, he has both of their blessings to do so), Senquez could legitimately not at all see time for the Rebs in either sport if the major leagues dangle a large enough sum in front of him. He is considered by many to be one of the best professional baseball prospects in Mississippi this year, meaning that he could be a long shot to end up in Oxford at all.
Chelarvez "Chief" Brown must be good at football, becuase you don't just get the nickname "Chief" for sitting on your ass and sucking at what you do, right? Right? Chief's a two-way star out of Winona High School who excelled at both halfback and safety for the Tigers, who will more-than-likely play defense in college. He is 6'2" and around 190 pounds which is a frame more suited for a defender in this league than a rusher, and reports have told us that, while a good halfback in high school, he was an outstanding safety. He has fine hands and hits very well, making him one of the more exciting defensive prospects signed this season.
Cody Prewitt out of Sylva Bay academy is another guy who committed to the Rebs early and never wavered. The Dandy Dozen selection was, with Senquez and Chief, a star in multiple areas, excelling as a halfback and safety in high school. While he played against mostly lesser MAIA (or MPSA or whatever) talent, his athleticism was the type you cannot feign. The guy's got an excellent frame (6'3" and just over 200 pounds) to boot, which could see him end up at outside linebacker if he adds enough weight. Regardless of wherever he ends up, whether it be on offense or on defense, his athleticism will help tremendously.
Though the high school prospects inked this year by the coaching staff are laudable, the defensive backfield needed help immediately, leading to the signing of three junior college stars who, hopefully, are capable of contributing right away. Aaron Garbutt is a prospect out of Fullerton Community College who should add depth to a safety unit which seemed desperate at times last year. Rotating amongst "seasoned" veterans like Johnny Brown and newcomers like Brishen Matthews isn't a key to success in this league, especially when considering the offensive capabilities of many of the Rebels' opponents. Garbutt likely won't be an impact player and is certainly unlikely to start, but he's big enough to play right away
Ivan Nicholas is a guy we recruited to get Gilbert Pena. There, I said it. As a teammate of Pena at ASA College in Brooklyn, NY, Nicholas was a lightly recruited and somewhat undersized safety (5'11" 195). I'd much rather see him at corner if he's quick enough to play it, because he could actually add some decent size and athleticism to that spot. Let's just hope that, wherever he ends up, that he sticks around and forces me to eat crow.
Wesley Pendleton will need to contribute immediately, if only for his speed. Out of Co-Lin CC by way of Natchez, Pendleton didn't play much ball in high school, but was a standout track star. Because of his limited experience on the gridiron, he wound up at community college for football. He has a good build for an SEC corner (5'11" 185) but, as his track background would suggest, has made a name for himself because of his speed. The guy's an absolute burner and has been clocked running a 4.3 second forty. In a defense which lacked elite speed last year, I expect Pendleton to get significant playing time.
With one-time commitments of Floyd Raven, Andrew Johnson, Gerrod Holliman, and Jermaine Whitehead (sorta), this defensive back class could have been an absolutely elite one. But, with those all committing elsewhere, the Rebs are left with a cornerback who will likely play wideout (Nickolas Brassell), a corner who could very easily end up in professional baseball, a safety who will likely play linebacker, and a halfback we may need at safety out of desperation. Oh, and three juco guys.
Perhaps I'm being dramatic here, but this could have potentially been the best defensive back class the Rebels have ever signed (which would have gone along nicely with such a stellar receiver class). Instead, it's meh.