In rebuilding the Ole Miss pass defense new secondary coach Keith Burns knows he has to have cornerback Charles Sawyer playing at a high level.
That project is coming along, and it required an attitude adjustment for Sawyer early in spring drills.
“You can kind of level out as a player, and you can't allow that as a coach to happen. Sometimes the competition brings that out, because you're low in numbers. So I benched him. I let another guy go, and I think that taught him, 'Hey, if I'm going to play I'm going to do it right,'” Burns said.
Sawyer, a prototype corner with All-SEC talent, got the message and is back with the first team.
Junior college transfer Wesley Pendleton was also running first team Thursday. There will be more competition at corner in August when senior Marcus Temple returns. He has sat out spring drills after off-season sports hernia surgery.
Burns says Sawyer, a third-year sophomore from Miami, was a guy who was always in position but not always impacting the play.
“He was in position but didn't finish on many plays. To me, the most important characteristic to have, is you have to be able to finish. A lot of guys can support the run, but you have to be able to finish at the point of attack. That's what separates the great ones from the good ones or the guys that for whatever reason don't get it done. He was kind of that guy here,” Burns said.
Sawyer responded to the demotion and has made progress as the Rebels head into Saturday's Grove Bowl.
A light workout is scheduled for this afternoon.
Sawyer drew four starts last year. He had two interceptions, 49 tackles, a pair of pass break-ups and a fumble recovery.
“He was kind of that guy here. If you drew it up, he'd have a lot of job specs, skill, talent, speed, all those things, but the ability to make the play, you wouldn't necessarily say that about him. We're a long way from there, but he's a lot closer than he was,” Burns said.