Southern Miss’ secondary is undergoing a total revamp this season, with the secondary losing every starter from its unit in 2017.
The only familiar face in the secondary will be senior Picasso Nelson, who is returning for his last year with Southern Miss. Picasso will provide leadership amongst the young defensive backs and has proven that he is ready for that task.
“It’s really big this year because he’s the only guy that’s really played,” defensive coordinator Tim Billings said. “So, if you had some other guys that’s back that played, it wouldn’t be near as big a deal. He’s the only guy that’s really truly played and started. And so being a fifth-year guy, of course, Picasso’s a good player, and he’s a great leader. So he’s got to be the glue back there for us this year.”
With Picasso being a household name among Southern Miss fans, everyone is looking for him to make plays this season.
On Media Day, Picasso was asked how he was affected by the injury he sustained last year and how he hopes to stay healthy for his senior season.
“[It was] Really, really tough,” Nelson said. “I was definitely happy that my brothers were playing, but I was hurt because I wasn’t able to play with them, but I’m here now. I’m definitely able to play another year, so I’m definitely grateful.”
Defensive Coordinator Coach Billings spoke more about Picasso and how excited he is to have him back.
“It’s great having him back especially since you lost all five starters in the secondary you know his leadership, and skill and stuff having him back kind of just helps stabilize young guys and help them out and He’s such a quality leader,” Billings said. “It’s super at least to have one guy back that’s got some playing experience.”
Transfer corner from East Mississippi Ty Williams looks to be one of the starters this season.
“I think Ty is an exceptional football player – he’s taken to it like that,” Hopson said. “So I think he could be one of the best in the league.”
Coach Billings spoke about his confidence level in his secondary and how they are shaping out.
“We’ve got some really good talent,” Billings said. “One thing about secondary is experience is so huge back there just seeing things and just like being in business and stuff you have some young guys they’re hard workers and they’re talented and they’re going to be really good but they still got to experience things.”
Getting those young guys up to speed will be tough but the coaches feel that they can get the job done.
While this young core may have more to learn as a group, they have shown flashes throughout camp.
Experience will play a huge role in the secondary and guys are being introduced to new roles. Coach Billings spoke on those new roles and how they are adjusting to them.
“Last year, our two safety’s and Nickell had never started before and you know Tobarius, and Kelsey, and Joe Mez, and so as the year went you saw those guys get better but they made a couple mistakes against Kentucky that hurt us so I think we have some really good talent you can’t do anything with experience except play and that’s what they’ve gotta do.”
Sophomore Rachuan Mitchell saw some snaps last year at corner and recorded 20 total tackles in eight games. Junior college transfer sophomore Tyler Barnes and senior Xavier Marion all have been competing for the job at safety.
With players like Tarvarius Moore and Cornell Armstrong leaving for the NFL, the Golden Eagles have some shoes to fill. Fortunately, new players like Ty Williams and Ky’el Hemby and many more seem to able and ready to live up to the challenge.
On Media Day, Coach Hopson talked about his young core of defensive backs and how they are ready for the season.
“Well, you just never know, but they’re looking good right now and I think Curry [Benn] has been a surprise as a freshman,” Hopson said. “And you know Tahj [Sykes] is a little bit older, but Ty [Williams], Ernest [Gunn] and Rachaun [Mitchell] I think are doing really good out wide. You know I’ve said that Rachaun last year I thought played really well.”
Ernest Gunn is another player who is getting more recognition in the secondary. His 6-foot-1 frame helps him against taller and physical wide receivers.
“And you see the thing that I’m really attracted to with Ernest is his size dimensions,” Hopson said. “He’s long, you know he’s long, and I’ve seen Ernest kind of turn a corner this summer. He’s working hard. Ernest has great athletic upside. So, with his length, if Ernest just stays healthy and goes out and competes hard.”
This new secondary unit boasts a level of energy and go-get-them mentality that bodes well for this season.