OXFORD – Ole Miss returns experience at most areas on defense this fall, but cornerback is not among them.
The Rebels will begin August practice with new starters at the most important pass coverage positions, but the loudest buzz in the spring came from the primary backup – redshirt freshman Charles Sawyer.
“Charles Sawyer is one of the best young corners I’ve seen in a long time. I’m excited about him. He’s really taken some steps forward. He’s physical, and he can cover. I’m excited about him,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
ESPN rated Sawyer (5-10, 172) as the nation’s No. 38 cornerback coming out of Miami’s Coral Park High School two years ago.
His athleticism allowed him to make great strides in the spring, but it did not allow him to overtake upperclassmen Jeremy McGee, a senior, and Marcus Temple, a junior. Sawyer put on a show in the spring game but ended drills second on the depth chart behind Temple at left corner.
“I guess we’ll just battle it out, compete for it and see what happens. Temp and Jeremy, and all the other corners, they’re great people and great players. At the end of the day it’s who wants it more,” Sawyer said.
Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix expects Sawyer to be in the thick of the battle.
Earning spot will require greater refinement on Sawyer’s part. He admitted to being overwhelmed at times in the spring with so much to learn so fast.
His play in the Grove Bowl was a tease of what can be accompanied by a reminder of his youth. Playing with the second-team defense against the starting offense, Sawyer twice picked off quarterback Nathan Stanley. But when the second-team offense was on the field, a wrong step gave Melvin Harris all the room he needed to finish a Raymond Cotton pass with a 61-yard touchdown.
The good news for Sawyer was that he followed the negative with a positive. He’s reviewed the Grove Bowl video many times since.
“I’ve watched that game like 150 times. The catch Melvin made on a busted coverage I was like devastated, but it’s something to learn, and I just had to bounce back. Coach (Chris) Vaughn sat me down and said, ‘I’m going to put you back out there and see how you respond,’ and I got another interception,” he said.
A business major and honor roll student, Sawyer posted 63 tackles and six interceptions as a high school senior.
He is immersed with teammates in the strength and conditioning program now and feels himself getting stronger.
Evolving physically is a must if he is to be ready against SEC quarterbacks hoping to victimize a younger player.
“Yeah, everybody was recruited, and everybody was a top player. When they see me they’ll probably want to make me the first target,” Sawyer said.
It’s a strategy that could backfire based on Sawyer’s skill level and the work he’s put in so far.
Perhaps he starts. At the very least he pushes McGee, who had three pass break-ups and a pickoff last year, and Temple.
“We don’t look at ourselves as first and second team. We see ourselves as three starters,” Sawyer said. “Everyday I’m learning something from them on and off the field.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal