After Spring: Safeties

The defensive position where you most heard the word depth was the safeties. Throw the Huskie in here.

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will employ a 4-3 package at times, but the base remains the 4-2-5, the fifth defensive back being an extra safety — the Huskie — to help with run support.

Look for Mike Hilton to go into August as the starter. Dehendret Collins will figure in here as well, but a name to watch is Antonio Conner. The South Panola freshman will get a chance to play early.

The guy who drew the most praise from Wommack coming out of spring was Chief Brown. He was a backup to Cody Prewitt  in 2012, but near the end of drills Wommack said he’d have to find a place for Brown to start.

That could be a big move on the back end. At the least it’s creating competition for Prewitt, who himself was a playmaker last year. He was often near the turnovers with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Brown appeared in 12 games with 17 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Prewitt will be a junior, Brown a sophomore.

Trae Elston started nine games as a freshman and finished with 61 tackles. His six pass break-ups were second the team, but he became famous for not play — when he was suspended for the Texas game for what the SEC said was illegal contact against a UTEP receiver.

There’s talent among the starting candidates but little production behind. Quintavius Burdette didn’t play much last year as a freshman. Brishen Matthews is a program veteran who will be a senior. Both appeared in all 13 games but mostly on special teams.

Four recruiting services including ESPN listed Conner as a top 25 national recruit. Three listed him as the No. 2 safety in the nation.

Freeze said of Conner on Signing Day: “I understand you’re supposed to win that recruit.”

He did win that recruit but not without resistance from Alabama.

When time to make the decision came for Conner his mother played a big part in the process.

When decision time came the mother’s guiding hand was an influence as much as either coach.

“As we went on visits I looked back and looked at my mom to see how happy she was,” Conner said. “She was happy at Alabama, and she was happy at Ole Miss. She was a little bit more happy at Ole Miss.”

Conner will be prepped to play quickly, especially if Collins is needed for cornerback depth. That might be a move Wommack considers anyway, but even more if Nick Brassell doesn’t make his grades.

Conner was named the Class 6A Defensive Player of the Year by the Mississippi Association of Coaches and had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass break-up in the Mississippi-Alabama All-star game.

 

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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