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Ole Miss football 2019 preview: Can the secondary lead the way in 2019?

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Experience bolsters the back half of the Landsharks.

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Mississippi Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Fire up the very original and fresh content regarding guppies and baby sharks, opposing fans - the Ole Miss defense has been quietly working in the off season to surprise you.

Defense took more than its share of lumps the last two seasons in Oxford with the Ole Miss defense ranking 114th in points allowed in 2018. There’s pretty much nowhere to go but up, however, while the Rebels return a lot of experience from a historically bad defense, a new look 3-4 defense should be a positive change for a roster teeming with ‘tweeners.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a ‘tweener is a player who is undersized for a position such as linebacker, but they possess more speed to become a dangerous pass rush weapon or an over-sized safety option in certain packages.

In the secondary, the Rebels have five of its top ten tacklers from last year back just in this position group and that doesn’t include dangerous kick returner Jaylon Jones who was injured early in 2018.

For now, projected starters are Jaylon Jones, Keidron Smith and Myles Hartsfield at CB with Hartsfield the go-to in nickel packages and Jalen Julius and Armani Linton or Jon Haynes at S. Haynes is the new kid on the block out of this group coming to the Rebels from Jones County Junior College as a top 50 JUCO prospect.

But I know some of you are saying, “yeah, awesome that we have the 111th ranked pass defense coming back from last year”.

[hand wanking motion]

What is different for this year is again the defensive set that will be the base in the 3-4 front, which will allow for a more effective and flexible option against spread offensive attacks. Compared to the hybrid 4-2-5 from last year, the Rebels will be able to potentially drop eight into coverage while rushing three defensive linemen and most likely reduce explosive plays from opposing offenses.

Looking at the corner position, sophomore Keidron Smith brings a 6’2” frame and experience in all 12 games last season including four starts. In that limited time though, Smith notched 47 tackles and four passes broken up. It’s likely he will hold onto the starting job and be a more solid fixture in the secondary with a year under his belt.

Junior CB Jaylon Jones will be back after a terrible knee injury in the season opener derailed what looked to be a great season for the Allen, Tex. player. Jones returned a kickoff 94 yards and posted seven tackles against Texas Tech prior to the injury. He was a four star prospect out of high school, a freshman All-American, and despite missing last season, got a third team All SEC selection via Phil Steele.

There’s tons of experience but also a very talented kid who will be one of the leaders on this team most likely. Also, he called Memphis a little brother prior to the first game, and the Cup is a proponent forever and always of taunting with swagger.

Then we turn to the safeties who are literally the last line of defense for the Landshark secondary: Julius, Linton and Haynes are the three who will be called on to shore up a passing defense that gave up more than 260 yards per game last year.

Julius (5’10”, 192 lbs) transitioned to safety from cornerback — a position where he had 19 starts in his first three seasons as a Rebel. He flirted with a transfer prior to last season, but ultimately he stayed in Oxford after posting second team freshman All-American honors. While he may seem undersized at safety, Julius has posted sub 4.4 speed in the forty yard dash making him capable of playing the position.

Linton is the guy I really am hoping will break out and finally meet the potential we were all promised out of number five player in the state in the 2015 signing class. The Walnut, Miss. product has bounced from defense to offense and now is back to defense for his senior season. It looks like he will be challenged by Haynes (6’ 205 lbs) for the starting job in what has been described as a “wide open job” by defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre.

Haynes comes originally from a 1A high school and needed two years of JUCO to develop, and it seems from various reports he is a physical, run stopping kind of safety. Physicality is one ingredient that has been missing from the Landshark D in the secondary since the days of hard hitting Trae Elston and Cody Prewitt.

There will clearly be a lot of attention from Rebel fans on this new look defense with a lot of familiar faces. Does the change in scheme and coordinator transform this group or is there just a massive talent gap as some have indicated in the past?

We’re going to for sure find out pretty quickly against Mike Norvell’s Memphis Tigers in the season opener - an offense that piled up more than 40 points per game and 500 yards of offense in 2018.

For now though, an experienced Rebel secondary ready for a change defensively and wins rather than losses should be extremely motivated to prove the Landshark moniker is earned.

Returning in 2019

Jalen Julius

Jaylon Jones

Montrell Custis

Vernon Dasher

Kam White

C.J. Miller

Myles Hartsfield

Keidron Smith

Armani Linton

Newcomers

Jon Haynes

Jalen Jordan

Jamar Richardson

A.J. Finley

Jakorey Hawkins

Deantre Prince

Jay Stanley