First-year head coach Lane Kiffin and his revamped staff have been hard at work this offseason, looking to support a defense that finished 120th in passing yards allowed and 85th overall in 2019. Senior starters cornerback Myles Hartsfield and free safety Jalen Julius are headed to the NFL and there is a lack of depth in the secondary.
Co-defensive coordinators Chris Partridge and D.J. Durkin have already landed commitments from cornerback Kyndrich Breedlove, cornerback Demarko Williams and safety Elijah Sabbatini, but they will not be on campus until 2021— keeping the door open for immediate help. To help sure-up the position, Partridge has gone into Canada for the second time this off season, after bringing in long-bodied defensive end Tavius Robinson in June.
University of Calgary cornerback Deane Leonard will transfer to Ole Miss, he announced on Wednesday. The upcoming Canadian season was cancelled due to COVID-19 and he is granted the ability to transfer to an NCAA program with immediate eligibility.
Leonard was a first-team All-Canadian performer in back-to-back years, played a pivotal role in the Dino’s 2019 Vanier Cup Championship team and chose the Rebels over the defending national champion LSU Tigers. He made 22 tackles, one for loss, one sack and defended eight passes in 2019, while leading the West Conference with four interceptions and returning two for touchdowns on the road.
Deane is a 6-foot-2, 193-pound defensive back, and the son of former Calgary Stampeders defensive back Kenton Leonard, who comes to Oxford entering his fourth year at a university.
How does he fit in?
For someone of his length and frame, Leonard has elite speed that will translate well against Southeastern Conference receivers. He ran the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds and the 200-meter in a personal-best 22.10 in high school. To compare, he was only 0.82 seconds off of the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field 100-meter national champion Divine Oduduru.
Leonard can move in the open field.
In addition to his top-level quickness, Leonard is strong in coverage and will stick on a receiver while keeping his eyes upfield and body at a distance to make a play. He also has intangible intelligence that is surely learned from his father and does a great job of reading a quarterback’s eyes and jumping a route before the ball gets to the target.
Leonard is not only a ball-hawk, but rarely is beat with a horizontal move. He sticks with the hips of his opponent, doesn’t get tripped up with his feet and can wrap up on a tackle with a firm base and strong arms.
The level of talent is certainly a jump from U Sports to the SEC, but 2020 was supposed to be Leonard’s draft year in Canada. He had a real shot of having his name come off the board as a late-round pick in the NFL Draft or being a premier choice for a CFL organization, and provides a super-athletic boost to the Ole Miss secondary right away.