By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – In his brief Ole Miss football career, Derrick Jones has been a man without a home.
A star at Eupora, he was signed as a wide receiver. On National Signing Day, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze raved about his basketball skills and called him the sleeper of the class.
During the summer he was moved from receiver to safety, and a few weeks ago from safety to cornerback when Freeze said Jones’ size could help against bigger, more physical receivers in the SEC.
Well, the Rebels face one of those tonight.
If Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is the face of the program for No. 9 Texas A&M, Mike Evans is the Aggies’ hands.
While Manziel is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency (188.1 rating) and seventh in passing touchdowns (14), the 6-foot-5 Evans, a sophomore from Galveston, is averaging 138.2 yards a game, third nationally, and an eye-popping 24.7 yards per catch.
A 6-3 Jones, who has appeared in only one game, is at least four inches taller than the Rebels’ most experienced cornerbacks. Senior Charles Sawyer is next at 5-11.
Whether Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack believes Jones’ height and athleticism will off-set his lack of experience remains to be seen.
“You don’t want to give all the secrets away, but we need everybody for this game, no question about it,” Wommack said.
Jones had four tackles against Alabama, his only playing time to date. Even without much game action, he’s been plenty impressive to his teammates.
“He’s a big, tall physical corner, and he’s a great athlete,” safety Chief Brown said. “He’s adjusted really well. He can be a bigger body on Evans and a good matchup.”
Cornerback had been an unsettled position for Ole Miss.
Projected starters Senquez Golson and Charles Sawyer missed most of August practice nursing injuries, and starters for the season opener at Vanderbilt were Dehendret Collins and Quintavius Burdette, who are long longer among the two-deep at the position.
When Sawyer was healthy enough to play, he was suspended for the Texas game following his arrest for DWI.
Recent production from starters Golson and Mike Hilton – who moved from Huskie to corner following the Vanderbilt game – have helped the Rebels improve. Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC in pass defense with 185.6 yards per game allowed.
The Rebels had some success against Manziel last year with Hilton serving as the “spy” tasked with following him on each play.
Hilton worked some at Huskie this week which would enable him to play the spy role again. If Hilton matches up with Evans in man coverage he gives away nine inches in height.
“Mike Hilton is just a ballplayer,” Freeze said. “I wish he was 6-2. I’d feel better about him going up against No. 13, but he’s going to improve wherever you put him, because he’s just a ballplayer.”