3-star Terry Caldwell
6'2, 220 pounds
247Sports No. 83 ranked JUCO, No. 9 JUCO LB
Prepare to hear a rather annoying dichotomy of thought here: I really do not like this linebacker class, but I really like a lot of things about both signees. Let me explain. In his highlights, Caldwell looks like a prototype of what you'd want in an outside linebacker: good height, excellent speed, sound tackler, gets off of blocks while keeping an eye on the play... I actually greatly prefer the way Caldwell looks on film to 5-star JUCO Davon Durant. While Caldwell appears to move sideline to sideline, Durant seems to loaf around and try to clean up someone else's tackle with a big hit. To assume that Caldwell is actually a better player though, assumes that my untrained eye beats the analysis of an entire industry of coaches and professional recruitniks. I'm not going to be that guy.
Despite reported offers from Texas A&M and TCU, Caldwell remained completely off the recruiting radar until his commitment to Ole Miss. His path to Ole Miss is also not what you'd expect from an SEC talent. Caldwell was lightly recruited out of Wilmington, N.C., and went on to UNC Charlotte, a school whose first football season was in 2013. Caldwell actually showed up in 2012, and practiced with the team for a year in preparation for their inaugural season. Caldwell appears to have played well at UNCC (55 tackles, 9.5 for loss), but only started 7 of 11 games. On the surface, these don't appear to be numbers that would lead one to transfer looking for better competition. But transfer he did. Caldwell moved on to Northwest CC, where he had an absurd, conference-leading 122 tackles in 2014. If Caldwell is a solid contributor for Ole Miss, it will be a nearly unprecedented success story. Going from a fledgling commuter school football program to the SEC is pretty freaking impressive. I'm really rooting for Terry: he committed on the spot, and rocks the shit out of a red polo.
3-star Shawn Curtis
6'3, 240 pounds
247 Composite No. 1,915 player overall, No. 141 OLB
Shawn Curtis comes in as another big underdog story. While I'm fully, 100% aware that ranking thousands of prospects is far from an exact science, his composite rank of No. 1,915 is worrisome. For those counting, if each of the 64 Power Five conference teams signed 25 guys, that'd be 1,600. The No. 1,915 player would usually sign with someone like San Diego State or Memphis.
Skepticism aside, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Curtis. His size is terrific. There are just things a 6'3, 240 pounder can do that a 5'11, 215 guy cannot. With the huge variety of offenses that Ole Miss faces, it certainly makes sense to have some diversity in body types at linebacker. Guys like Curtis might not be a great fit for chasing around Auburn's or A&M's offenses, but you need them to square up against LSU and Arkansas. Curtis also displays a lot of speed for his size, as well as hitting power. He appears powerful enough at times to bull rush offensive tackles; in 7A Florida football, that's quite a feat. Admittedly, there is just a ton of difference between Curtis' rankings and what he shows in his highlights.
Oh boy, this is where it gets ugly. I'm not sure what the deal is with recruiting elite linebackers to Ole Miss, but Freeze has struggled mightily in this area, almost certainly more than any other position group. This year especially was full of near-misses and complete whiffs disguised as near-misses.
The Leo Lewis situation is frustrating, but I find it hard to blame the coaches here. Without hurling accusations, Leo Lewis behaved strangely, and his association with Demetric Warren seems to have negatively affected his opinion of Ole Miss. Aside from Leo, Ole Miss missed on a ton of great linebacker prospects by either not realizing when interest wasn't there, slow-playing, or getting involved too late. Notable misses include:
- Malik Jefferson (not a lot of wasted time here, but we were heavily recruiting him last summer)
- Roquan Smith
- Jeff Holland
- Josh Smith
- Josh McMillon
- Kyahva Tezino
- Darrin Kirkland
- Davon Durant
- Richard Moore
Now, I'm aware that you have to cast a wide net in recruiting, but that's a ton of guys to miss on when you can essentially guarantee playing time for a good SEC team.
State of the position
As you're well aware, Ole Miss graduates two starters at linebacker in Deterrian Shackleford and Serderius Bryant. They also graduate Keith Lewis, the 3rd leading linebacker in tackles. To put this in context, the Rebels graduate 179 tackles at the LB position (Shackleford 65, Bryant 65, Lewis 49), and only return 74 (Nkemdiche 28, Russell 23, Gates 13, Polk 10). After the 2015 season, Nkemdiche and Russell are gone too. So while 2015 looks iffy at best, 2016 is downright scary. In 3 years, Freeze has yet to start a linebacker that he recruited (Christian Russell might have recorded a start due to suspension or injury). We'll quickly see whether Denzel, Bird, and Shack were invaluable to the top-ranked Landsharks, or if Freeze and Wommack can replace them without missing a beat.
Position grade: C-
Linebacker and offensive line are the obvious weak points of this signing class, and that's really a shame. Losing Tom Allen right before the December signing period might have really hurt us here. Playing a 4-2-5 defense might really hurt as well. Excuses aside, the defensive staff might face a tough test in turning this linebacking corps into an SEC unit.