Depth, athleticism headline Ole Miss football’s 2018 signing class

Posted on Feb 8 2018 - 7:55am by Josh Gollihar

With this year’s National Signing Day having come and gone, head coach Matt Luke has to be impressed with the work he and his staff put in to secure a top-30 class.

After adding seven signees on Wednesday, Ole Miss welcomes 22 new Rebels to Oxford in the first year of the Early Signing Period era. Though the staff was able to sign a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball, the most important takeaway from the 2018 class will be the depth it brings to the roster.

On offense, coordinator Phil Longo has eight new players at his disposal and ready to contribute to what was already the most explosive offense in the SEC last season. The most notable of the eight are gunslinger quarterback Matt Corral and wide receivers Elijah Moore, Demarcus Gregory and Miles Battle, who are all four-star players.

With Ole Miss’ top receivers and signal-caller from a year ago returning in 2018, the Nasty Wide Out depth and solidified No. 1 under center will allow for the new players to compete for playing time and, more importantly, adjust to the speed of the college game and master the system.

In addition to the air-attack signees, Longo took a step toward replacing Jordan Wilkins, his bell cow 1,000-yard running back from last season. By adding Scott Phillips, the No. 1 junior college running back in the nation, the competition for carries between D’Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney just got even more interesting.

To protect the running back emerges as the guy for 2018, Luke and offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. were able to land commitments from 6-foot-5-inch, 285-pound offensive tackle Hamilton Hall and former California Berkeley offensive tackle Dwayne Wallace, who comes to Oxford by way of graduate transfer. Wallace will compete for the starting job at right tackle with Alex Givens and provide depth to a line that faced attrition a year ago.

The wild card of the offensive line group is actually a defensive tackle signee, Jalen Cunningham. At 6-foot-6, 345 pounds, Cunningham will start out on the defensive line, but, after he signed in December, Luke said he would be a pro offensive guard by the time he leaves Oxford.

While the offense stridefully improved, the majority of the signees in this year’s class came on the defensive side of the ball. And for good reason. In 2017, the Rebels lacked depth at all levels of the defense, which led to players running out of gas late in games and an inability to replace injured starters.

Filling a gaping hole, six of the players in this class come on the defensive line, the most notable being 6-foot-5, 330-pound JUCO transfer defensive tackle Noah Jefferson. Jefferson, despite his massive frame, is quick on his feet and can out-run many of his position counterparts.

Behind Jefferson and the trenchmen, newly hired linebackers coach Jon Sumrall is handed a mixture of athletic linebackers who do it all and agile pass rush specialists. Signees Jacquez Jones and Kevontae’ Ruggs offer athleticism at inside linebacker, while Vernon Dasher and Jonathan Hess bring longer frames to a rush linebacker spot.

To round out the secondary, four defensive backs were added in this class. Tylan Knight and JaKorey Hawkins offer depth, while Cam White has the frame to develop into a typical SEC safety who controls the game in many aspects. Additionally, Keidron Smith has the frame and athleticism to be quite the hitter.

Heading the “Mississippi Made” slogan for his program, Luke has established himself as a force in the hotbed of recruiting. In all, the Rebels added eight four-star players in the 2018 class, and back in August, the program would have considered signing even one to be something of a positive.

Talent aside, the importance of this class lies in the added depth. No position was left out, and Luke has set his roster up for future success in the years to come.