Last season, the Ole Miss football team was excellent against opposing passing offenses, ranking second in the SEC in pass efficiency defense (behind only Georgia). The Rebels were able to limit big plays and keep offenses from converting through the air.
The pass rush caused a lot of the havoc that led to a successful pass defense (23rd in sacks), and Sam Williams departed as the second round pick of the Dallas Cowboys and Ole Miss’ all-time single-season sack leader. While the Rebels have some promising pieces on the defensive line, it’s unclear how effective they’ll be up front.
But they’re not in this alone.
Behind that defensive line will be a secondary designed to make big plays, taking the ball away from the offense or putting them in down and distance situations that are hard to climb out of.
While there were a few losses, notably safety Jacob Springer (an undrafted free agent signing by the Indianapolis Colts) and cornerback Deane Leonard (a seventh round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers), a stellar group returns ready to pick up where it left off last season.
In this two part series, I’ll be looking at the corners and safeties to shine some light on what’s coming back and which newcomers could make a difference.
First, there are the cornerbacks
While Leonard was a reliable option on the boundary, the two dynamic corners stuck around for one more season in Oxford. Seniors Deantre Prince and Miles Battle are both back, and Rebel fans should be elated.
Battle (6’4” 205) started all thirteen games last season and finished nineteenth in total tackles. Just in case you think that’s bad, let me assure you it’s not. It’s clear to see why quarterbacks avoided throwing Battle’s way, as he finished first on the team with eight pass breakups (PBUs). Battle is gigantic for a corner and great in deep coverage. I am astonished that he’s not generating significant draft buzz.
Prince (6’0” 180) isn’t the crazy body for the position that Battle is, but he’s a reliable, experienced player who is good at avoiding big plays. While his tackle total being sixth on the team last year is a stark difference from Battle, Prince wasn’t gashed all season. The ball had to go somewhere and with Battle and Leonard on the boundary, it often came Prince’s way. He’s a consistent tackler and can make big plays in his own right.
Past those two, there are a few other options, but none stick out more than Davison Igbinosun (6’2” 185). While Igbinosun finished ranked as the #160 player in his class, the coaches thought even more highly of him than that. We saw why in limited action in the Grove Bowl, where Igbinosun stepped around Dannis Jackson to intercept a two-point conversion attempt. I expect him to thrive in a backup role this season before taking over one boundary for two to three seasons.
The other notable newcomer is Nick Cull (5’11” 175) out of Georgia. Cull reported offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Arkansas, and a ton of other programs. He ultimately took official visits to Miami, South Carolina, and Ole Miss, and chose the Rebels. While he’s not as big as the other Ole Miss corners, he attacks ballcarriers with intensity, and he’ll likely make a name for himself on special teams this season while getting his feet wet in a backup role before competing with Kyndrich Breedlove and Markevious Brown for the starting job opposite Igbinosun next season.