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Ole Miss practice report: Defensive depth charts and silly factoids from Friday

Ole Miss took Thursday off, and Friday they were in light pads for practice. All this leads up to the team’s second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, also closed to all media and outsiders.

The team is starting to come together and coaches are starting to get a feel for their personnel. In Friday’s practice report, the focus turns toward the defense, including some noteworthy, but mostly just fun notes from practice.

1. Defensive depth chart coming together, depth building

The first few weeks of fall camp are all about learning. While the players are learning the scheme, the coaches need to learn their personnel, learn the newcomers and learn how much each of the returning players progressed. At this point, with almost exactly two weeks until the season opener in Memphis, the coaches just about know where they’re playing everyone.

On the defensive side, the starting unit has been relatively static for about a week. In the front seven, there’s been some turnovers and some injuries. Austrian Robinson seems locked into the one defensive end spot, while Ryder Anderson and Tariqious Tisdale are battling for that second defensive end spot. Benito Jones is getting the first team defensive tackle reps.

The linebackers are one unit that’s really settled in nicely. With Qaadir Shepard sidelined with a hand injury, Charles Wiley has been getting the work at the second outside linebacker spot. Sam Williams has the other outside linebacker spot locked down and as of recently, the starting inside linebackers are MoMo Sanogo and Lakia Henry. Jaylon Jones and Keidron Smith seem settled into the starting corner roles, with Myles Hartsfield as the third starting corner in nickel. Jalen Julius and Armani Linton have been taking all the firs team reps at the safety spots.

“You have to have a lot of flexibility,” defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said. “You have to have a lot of guy that can rotate in, really at every position, as the game goes along. … You’re trying to build depth, and this is the only time of year that you can build depth. And you do it while still getting the same amount of repetitions for the first team guys.

2. Jalen Julius adjusting well to switch to safety

Jalen Julius has always been a cornerback. Now, he’s going to be Ole Miss’s starting free safety. The new coaching staff came to him in the spring, proposing the new change. Now, midway through fall camp, Julius isn’t just accepting the new role – he’s truly embraced it.

“I feel like it’s a good fit for me,” Julius said. “Wherever I can help the team out is what I’ll do. And I’ll go in to the slot and cover that sometimes in certain packages. … Basically I can still man up, I’m just further back instead of pressing.”

Julius has had a few minor injuries since last year. He hurt his shoulder in the spring and his ankle recently, but now he’s back to full health.

What the coaching staff truly likes about the position change is the versatility it provides. Julius is a guy who has played everywhere from corner to nickel in the past, and brings that experience to the safety position.

“In today’s world with the RPOs and all the different things, you have to have someone that can cover a slot. And there’s not a lot of true safeties that can cover a slot,” MacIntyre said. “He’s physical and he can cover and do a lot of things. That allows you to do more with your safety in cover responsibilities.”

3. Four Fun Factoids From Friday:

  • Pooch Punts – Matt Corral, during walk throughs, took a few steps back from the normal shotgun snap and pooch-punted. The punt landed inside the 10, bounced and was downed inside the five. “I’m penning ’em!” Corral yelled, bouncing back to the line.
  • Tylan Knight as a gunner – The sophomore running back turned receiver now has another duty as the Ole Miss punt gunner. All 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds of Tylan Knight will be chasing down punt returners.
  • High, Low QB drills – One of the more fun, but useful drills of the day featured Rich Rodriguez going behind the back. Simulating botched shotgun snaps, he was tossing balls at the quarterbacks feet and above their heads, even going behind the back, making the quarterbacks grab and get the balls out quickly
  • Designed runs – The bevy of different styles of runs this team will utilize is so diverse. Friday, they practiced everything from designed runs for Matt Corral in an empty set, speed sweeps both inside and out and interior pitches. The wrinkles just keep coming.