4-star Tony Bridges
6'2, 185 pounds
247 Composite No. 7 JUCO player overall, No. 1 JUCO cornerback
One of the overlooked reasons that Hugh Freeze has succeeded where previous Ole Miss coaches have failed has been his staff's ability to recruit and coach SEC cornerbacks. Bridges appears to be the next high-quality addition to the Rebel secondary. An overlooked 2013 prospect out of Hattiesburg, Miss., Bridges quickly developed into a rangy, sure-tackling shut-down cornerback coveted by pretty much everyone. After an early commitment to Auburn, rumors soon began to circulate that Bridges was still very interested in playing with Tony Conner, Derrick Jones, and other friends he'd met back in high school. Those connections, combined with Ole Miss' superbly coached secondary and the chance to replace All-American Senquez Golson, were enough to lure Bridges away from the Plains.
It's interesting to note that Freeze and his staff have emphasized recruiting taller corners. Taller guys are certainly trending at that position, but Wommack's defense featured two shorter, super quick cornerbacks that ended up being perhaps the best tandem in the SEC. It will be interesting to see if any schematic changes result from the shift in personnel.
As far as Bridges' potential impact, he's been described as a possible one-and-done kind of player. Even with stiff competition from Mike Hilton, Kendarius Webster, and Tee Shepard, expect Bridges to see the field early and often. With his height and tackling ability, sliding over to free safety might not be out of the question...
4-star Armani Linton:
6'3, 195 pounds
247 Composite No. 237 player overall, No. 14 safety
It's hard to glean too much from watching Linton's highlights. He played mostly running back, competed in a small division, and, as is often the case with smaller schools, it seems like there just isn't much film available. What I can say is that Linton has terrific size, was wanted badly by both in-state schools, and is regarded as being a really hard-working, high-character guy. He's also a player whose recruiting rankings steadily climbed throughout his senior year. According to 247's in-house rankings (different from their composite ranking listed above), Linton is the No. 141 player overall in the country. If that estimate holds true, he'll be one of the most valuable members of the Rebels' 2015 class. Linton might benefit from a redshirt, but it's also possible that the depth situation at free safety will allow him to see action as a freshman.
3-star Cameron Ordway
6'0, 175 pounds
247 Composite No. 418 player overall, No. 42 cornerback
Ordway is another solid cornerback pickup for Freeze. While not ranked very highly by recruiting services, he has ideal size for a corner, and claims a positively ridiculous list of offers: Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Tennessee, Florida State, and LSU, to name the bigger ones. I mean... that can't be real, can it? Let's assume that most of those offers were committable at some point, which is good enough for me.
It's hard to gauge Ordway's potential from his highlights, as he mostly plays receiver, but he clearly possesses a lot of quickness and athleticism, and generally looks really good when the ball is in the air. He's a player that we're likely to overlook for a couple of years due to the talent currently amassed at the position, but it certainly looks like he has the ability to develop into a solid SEC player.
3-star Montrell Custis
6'0, 175 pounds
247 Composite No. 769 player overall, No. 74 cornerback
Custis was a surprise pickup. Like Ordway, he boasted an offer sheet disproportionate to his ranking and was committed to Alabama for nearly 10 months, up until signing day neared. It seems likely that Custis was asked to grayshirt and/or explore other options, but Alabama recruits defensive backs (and well, pretty much every position besides kicker) better than just about anyone.
Custis shows some versatility in his highlights, making plays from safety, cornerback, and special teams. At safety, he appears to hit hard enough to jar the ball loose, and at cornerback, appears to be technically sound in the way he establishes and keeps body position with the ball in the air. Again, it's just hard to believe that Ole Miss is likely to redshirt two 6'0 high school cornerbacks with great offers.
3-star Zedrick Woods
6'0, 200 pounds
247 Composite No. 1,134 player overall, No. 69 outside linebacker
Woods' commitment was something of a surprise; Ole Miss offered back in June, he committed shortly thereafter, and pretty much immediately shut his recruitment down. Woods' commitment came at a time when the party line from Ole Miss recruitniks was that scholarship slots were at a premium.
Taking a commitment from a player with no other major offers seemed strange, but Woods does show some promise in his highlights. Playing in talent-heavy Florida, he appears to play a hybrid position similar to the Husky spot utilized in Dave Wommack's 4-2-5 base. He plays close to the line of scrimmage, blitzes aggressively, and appears to be a solid tackler. Whether Tony Conner stays for one more year or two, the Rebels will soon need to replace a perpetually undervalued member of the secondary, and it seems more and more likely that whoever steps in won't be a star-studded recruit, but a carefully selected athlete with a non-traditional skill set. Woods will join AJ Moore and DK Buford -- two lightly recruited players with great speed and strength -- at Husky.
It appears as though the Rebels were never a major player for any highly-ranked cornerbacks. There were reports that Ole Miss was trying to get into the game with Louisiana superstar Donte Jackson, but that obviously never materialized. At safety, the biggest miss was Bassfield's Jamal Peters, arguably the state's best player. Peters seemed to be high on the Rebels at different times throughout the recruiting cycle, but that interest never translated into anything serious.
State of the position
Ole Miss looks to return a stellar group in the defensive secondary; there are a lot of guys who will be clamoring for playing time. I've heard many who expect Tony Bridges and a healthy Tee Shepard to lock down the starting corner spots. That could happen, but I wouldn't count out Mike Hilton or Kendarius Webster for a second. It's also possible that Hilton or Bridges will move to free safety, just to help get the best five guys out there.
Trae Elston and Tony Conner have the strong safety and Husky spots on lockdown, but it will be interesting to see who else gets time there. Free safety remains the biggest question mark. Coaches supposedly love CJ Hampton, but will they be willing to hand Cody Prewitt's position over to him, or will they look to a more experienced veteran like Hilton or Chief Brown?
There are also a handful of defensive backs waiting in the wings; will we see anything significant out of Kailo Moore, AJ and CJ Moore, Derrick Jones, Carlos Davis, or DK Buford? Spring football should be awesome to watch as the Rebels' two deepest units (secondary and receiver) go head-to-head.
B+. Overall very solid job of recruiting for need. Freeze has done a great job shoring up the secondary, and it should be a solid unit for years to come. The signing class perhaps lacks elite talent outside of Bridges, but surely some of these guys will develop into solid SEC players.