"Even though our team lost an incredible player at this position, it will be better this year because of depth." - Bloggy McMessageboard
Yes, the quote above is one seen all too often during offseasons. Ole Miss basketball was going to be better without Chris Warren. Michael Spurlock was going to be just fine taking over for Eli Manning. Ole Miss didn't need Jevan Snead to go bowling.
Well, the Rebels lose first-team All-American Senquez Golson from their cornerback depth chart. Gone are his 10 INTs, 8 passes broken up, and 43 tackles. Golson was absolutely beastly as a senior, locking down the best receiver on opposing teams and flying all over the field on the way to being selected in the second round of the NFL draft. Cliff Coleman, who played in all thirteen games last season with 7 tackles, 1 INT (which he returned for a touchdown), and four passes broken up. Mike Hilton, the other primary starter at the position, has been moved to safety in an effort to mimic the production of Cody Prewitt (they're different players, but Hilton is great, having led the team in tackles last season).
So what has Ole Miss fans saying that the Rebels may be better at the cornerback position this season? Why are they being so illogical? Well... logic I guess.
Logic, you say?
I do indeed say that. Let's think about this in terms of the depth chart. In theory, if the Ole Miss coaches wanted to, they could have the following starting lineup in the secondary: Mike Hilton and Kendarius Webster at corner and Trae Elston and CJ Hampton at safety. That lineup would feature three proven starters and a true sophomore safety that has everyone (including the Alabama coaches who worked very hard to try to sign him) convinced he excels in coverage.
Instead, the starting secondary as of this moment is: Tee Shepard and Tony Bridges at corner with Trae Elston and Mike Hilton at safety. Kendarius Webster, the phenomenal sophomore who started two games as a true freshman last season, has been pushed down to the third corner spot in the rotation. Mike Hilton has been moved to safety because he isn't needed at corner (at least not as much as he's needed at safety). So logically, it's pretty simple to see that the Ole Miss coaches believe Shepard and Bridges to be great players.
Great, so who are those guys again?
Oh. Right. Neither one has played a game at Ole Miss.
Well, one thing they are is big corners. Shepard is listed at 6'1" 195, while Bridges is just a hair smaller, being listed at 6'0" 185. So yeah, they're going to be physical. There's more to them than that though.
Shepard originally signed with Notre Dame as a five-star high school recruit. He quickly fell out of eligibility though and was forced to enroll in junior college. Shepard signed with Ole Miss and entered last August slated to play ahead of Senquez Golson. Reports were that Shepard was locking down every receiver the Ole Miss coaches threw at him. Then, tragedy struck one day in August as Shepard tore a tendon in his toe and was lost for the season. He was healthy again to practice in full during the spring, culminating in a 1 INT, 4 tackle day in the Grove Bowl.
Bridges, like Shepard, was junior college prospect. In fact, he was a Juco All-American (wink). He had offers from around the nation but settled on Ole Miss. Bridges plays very physical football, jarring with receivers for several yards (and maybe sometimes too many yards) off the line of scrimmage. He looks to be an enforcer on the outside, something to which Ole Miss fans grew accustomed under Golson and Hilton.
The first corner off the bench is Kendarius Webster, a great prospect who flourished last season as a true freshman. Webster is poised to have a fantastic career at Ole Miss, already earning the trust of the coaches to cover opposing #1 receivers at times.
Sure, but who's backing those guys up?
Well, the #4 and #5 corners at the moment appear to be junior Kailo Moore and senior Carlos Davis. You probably recognize Moore's name, but let's rehash a bit about him.
Moore is listed at 5'10" 195. Last season, he played in all 13 games, accumulating five tackles and ONE FUMBLE RECOVERY WOOOO! Yes, Moore is the Ole Miss player who fell on the fumble Channing Ward caused against Alabama that helped the Rebels win the game. He ran track as a freshman, logging two times that rank within the top 15 in school history in their events, but appears to have quit that to focus on football. Moore was a four-star recruit out of high school and hasn't fully lived up to that billing yet, but there's still time. Sometimes the immediate success of players like the Big 5 makes people jump to conclusions on others who don't excel so quickly. It's easy to forget that Moore just finished his true sophomore year. He may not amount to a reliable player, but it's a little too early to write him off. If nothing else, he has insane speed.
Carlos Davis is a walk-on (or at least former walk-on) whose time at Ole Miss has been quite perplexing. Davis has played a good bit on special teams, even returning kicks. Entering last season, he was projected to be the starting punt returner before tearing his ACL in fall camp. He returns, healthy, and will try to earn playing time within the defense. no matter what though, Davis has proven to be a helpful piece on special teams, playing on the kickoff coverage unit and registering 20 career tackles.
Are there any young guys that will help out?
The only freshman who's currently playing the position is Cameron Ordway, a three-or-four-star prospect out of Tennessee. Ordway is listed at 5'11" 174 pounds and has already drawn significant praise from coaches. He reported offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, and others out of high school but chose the Rebels over those schools. I obviously haven't gotten to see him play, but with the track record of the secondary coaches and Ordway's raw skill, the chances are that he'll be just fine.