Aug. 10, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
Jaylon Jones is all too familiar with the position that freshman cornerback D.D. Bowie is currently in.
Jones was called into action a year ago, playing in all 12 games as a freshman in a secondary that was littered with freshmen that were thrown into the proverbial fire that is SEC football.
“My confidence is high right now,” Jones said. “I got my feet wet last year, just having that under my belt gives me more confidence now. I believe in my skill set, and I’m familiar with the playbook.”
Jones, now with a year of experience under his belt, has gotten to watch Bowie develop during his first fall camp and has been impressed with the length and athleticism he possesses. Those two things are why Bowie will most certainly play a large role in the secondary this year as a true freshman.
“I told him he is going to get a lot of playing time,” Jones said. “We need a corner like him. We are working on him every day. He is going to be special. We are trying to critique his technique, and after that, he’s going to be a good corner in this conference.”
Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff agrees with that sentiment.
“He is a young guy that is going to have to play for us this year,” McGriff said. “It is mandatory that he is on the field. We are not going to be afraid to play the young guys.”
Bowie played both receiver and quarterback on his 8-win Morton High School team last year, and is now playing his third position in less than 12 months. The flip to the defensive side of the football hasn’t been easy but has been a bit more seamless with his raw athleticism and large frame.
“I am glad he is here. He is one of those young guys that you see on film every day making plays,” McGriff said. “He is finally getting that look out of his eye, that homesick look of ‘do I really belong here?’ I’ll tell you what, when you put on the tape every day, at some point that young man has his hand on the football.”
Part of Bowie’s role will be shoring up an improving secondary that learned some hard lessons a year ago, but gained a lot of experience.
“It is a main focus. In that DB meeting room, we preach do not give up the deep ball. I feel like that is a problem we had last year, explosive plays,” Jones said.
He and Jones will be in the rotation at cornerback along with junior Ken Webster, as well as sophomores Myles Hartsfield and Jalen Julius, among a couple others. Bowie is going up against one of the best receiving corps in the country every day in practice, which has boosted his development as he prepares for his first college season.
“He can run with anybody, and if you throw the ball his way, he is going to make a play,” Jones said. “You can tell he is one of those players when he gets the ball in his hand that he is going for a touchdown.”
McGriff also noted that Zedrick Woods has impressed him at strong safety, and that the staff is waiting to see who separates themselves as the favorite to grab the starting job at free safety.
“We are looking for that next safety to grab the bull by the horns,” McGriff said. “Right now, I would tell you that second safety is by committee. Hopefully somebody in the next week will separate themselves and grab the next spot.”
Among the guys vying for the position are C.J. Moore and C.J. Hampton, as well as A.J. Moore and Deontay Anderson.
Webster has also played some safety, and McGriff said he will play multiple positions in the secondary. Webster missed nearly all of last season after a gruesome knee injury in the season opener against Florida State, but is now fully healthy.
“He has been a bright spot for us at safety,” McGriff said. “It is a blessing to have a guy with some versatility so we can play him in more than one spot.”
It was trial by fire for a young Ole Miss secondary a year a go, and it is a group that will be seasoned with more experience. For guys like Jones, it’s about taking on a larger leadership role and helping young players like Bowie.
“I have been in the fire. I think it is a role I need to step into, and that has what I have been doing this camp, along with Ken (Webster),” Jones said. “I feel like we all need to step in and help the young guys.”