UPDATE: Tee Shepard confirmed in a statement on Wednesday that he's leaving the team.
In the immediate aftermath of allowing a redshirt freshman to throw for four touchdowns and complete 83 percent of his passes, a struggling Ole Miss secondary appears to be losing a cornerback that just two months ago looked poised for stardom. The Ole Miss Spirit is reporting that Tee Shepard is contemplating quitting the team and "appears to be gone."
Back and forth. Now hearing CB Tee Shepard is thinking about staying after indicating he was quitting yesterday.— Chuck Rounsaville (@SpiritChuck) October 6, 2015
There were earlier indications this afternoon Tee Shepard wasn't quitting. For what it's worth, he wasn't at practice Tuesday.— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) October 6, 2015
Hugh Freeze said on Monday that Shepard, whose supposed triumph over a hearing impairment was the feel-good story of the offseason, has been limited by communication issues and had particular trouble in the raucous environment at the Swamp.
He's really struggled in getting the checks. In that kind of environment, [Florida] used a lot of shifts and a lot of motion. A lot of teams have been doing that to us. It has nothing to do with his physical skills. When they do that, we have to make a check, and that is very difficult for him.
With the games that we are playing, it's much easier to play at home than on the road. That is an issue for him. While all of us hate that, there is part of that to it. If there is any short motion or shift, he has to look back to see it. And when you turn around, all of a sudden, the ball is snapped. So that has been an issue for us.
Shepard looked like a lock to win one of the starting corner spots just a couple months ago, but was beat out by Kendarius Webster in camp and has just two tackles and one pass break-up through five games. Judging by his Twitter feed, it's that lack of playing time that has Shepard ready to walk away.
Here's what he retweeted right after the Florida game:
Shepard transferred in as a highly-touted JUCO in 2014, and every report out of fall camp last year was screaming that he was the best defensive back of the bunch (remember, that was a bunch that included All-Americans Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt) before a foot injury ended his season before it began.
What would this mean for the Ole Miss secondary?
There's a reason Webster beat out Shepard in camp: Webster, who showed serious potential as a freshman in 2014, has been a fucking stud so far. But it's been less rosy on the other side: Tony Bridges, who transferred in as the No. 1 JUCO corner in the country, has struggled to adjust to SEC play.
The Rebs came into the season thinking they had three shutdown corners. If Shepard indeed ends up jumping ship, that means they have just one shutdown corner and another bro that's having trouble just treading water. All those articles about Ole Miss not missing Golson this year are starting to look pretty dumb.
And oh yea, this is a defense that's already going through serious Tony Conner withdrawals. If I'm D-coordinator Dave Wommack, I'm immediately giving the safety gig to C.J. Hampton and making Mike Hilton my full-time husky (nickel-safety hybrid). If Bridges is still struggling once Conner returns from his meniscus injury (the initial prognosis had him out until at least the A&M game on Oct. 24), Hilton could slide back out to the corner position he excelled at last season.