OXFORD • Jalen Julius looks to be battling his way back from recent injuries and is ready to give the Ole Miss secondary a boost.
Not to mention an expanded playbook.
Julius, a fifth-year senior from Winter Garden, Florida, has dabbled in other positions but has spent most of his college career at cornerback.
He’s now the Rebels’ starting free safety – when he can get on the field.
Julius spent most of spring and the first half of camp in a green no-contact jersey. He was nursing a sore shoulder as defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre was installing a new 3-4 defense in March and April then he turned an ankle early in camp.
Julius’ health is much improved now, and his move gives the Rebels a dependable cover guy in the deep defensive backfield.
“In today’s world of the RPOs and all the different things you’ve got to have somebody that can cover a slot, and there are not many true safeties that can cover a slot,” MacIntyre said.
Ole Miss faces an up-tempo, spread passing team in its season opener Aug. 31 at Memphis.
The Tigers return quarterback Brady White, who threw for 3,296 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, plus a play-making receiver and tight end in Damonte Coxie and Joey Magnifico.
The position switch requires Julius to be not just fast but physical.
“I ain’t scared to hit. I feel like I’m doing good in that, too,” he said.
MacIntyre backs him up on that.
“I watched film from last year. He had a hurt shoulder late in the year, and he was trying to hit people with everything he’s got. He can cover. That allows you to do more things with your safeties and cover responsibilities. Now you’ve really got a corner in there covering. He gives us a little more flexibility in our defense.”
Julius goes into the season with 18 starts in 33 career appearances.
He had 34 tackles last season, 23 unassisted. He broke up three passes and forced two fumbles.
Julius says MacIntyre is a good teacher, slowing things down and answering all questions during the install.
“I feel like this is the best fit for me. The difficulty is all the checks compared to corner. At corner you might have one or two. At safety you might have 10. I’m still a man up, just further back. I’ve been playing better.”