Different coaches approach position changes in different ways. It’s a delicate topic for some players, sure, but coaches have a way of nuancing things to get guys in the certain spots they feel the players best help the team.
Sometimes change is a slow process. It wasn’t for Derrick Jones.
“They didn’t really talk to me. I just came in one day, and they said, ‘You’re going to be a corner today.’ I just had to transition to it,” said Jones, a rising sophomore from Eupora.
On Signing Day in 2013 when all the buzz was about Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell and other signees with higher profiles, Hugh Freeze called Jones the sleeper of the class.
Jones signed as a wide receiver. Before August camp arrived he had been moved to defense at safety. Ultimately came the move to cornerback, where defensive coordinator Dave Wommack believes Jones has an NFL future.
“Knowing he’s got that kind of confidence me, it just makes me want to make him right,” Jones said.
Jones has been getting a lot of first-team work at corner this spring. It’s a position that actually sets up pretty nicely for Ole Miss with experience returning in Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton and talent on the way with junior college transfer Tee Shepard – provided he continues to make the necessary academic progress – and high school signee Kendarius Webster.
One of the things that makes Jones’ so intriguing is his size. At 6-foot-2, 188, he’s taller than a lot of corners, and that gives him a better than average chance against the bigger, more physical receivers that are becoming prevalent in the SEC.
People outside of Ole Miss are beginning to take notice of Jones. Last week ESPN blogger Edward Aschoff listed Jones as one of his top five spring football breakout players in the SEC
That being said, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze would like to see his young player take the next step at his new position.
“He’s gaining confidence. He still gets beat on some double moves,” Freeze said.
The confidence shows in some “jawing” that Freeze said Jones was participating in before Monday’s workout. In response, Freeze called for a double move against Jones on the first play of team work. It didn’t work out well for Jones.
“He got down a little bit, but he bounced back nicely in 1-on-1s and in the last few team periods. I love where he’s at. I think the guy’s long and athletic and can run,” Freeze said.
Another position change for Freeze has been to move Kailo Moore, another rising sophomore, from running back to corner. That just happened this spring.
On Monday, Freeze singled out Moore for his improved coverage and for “making some big hits” where hitting doesn’t come naturally for a track guy.
“I think our corner depth has com on.”
Jones appeared in nine games with four starts last year. He had 27 tackles, a TFL and two pass break-ups.
His position change was a quick and non-negotiable discussion. He admits it wasn’t easy – debuting at Alabama never is – but it’s getting easier every day.
“At first they were running by me pretty easy. I had to get my technique down and get a little coaching. Now I feel like … I feel very comfortable at corner. The first game, I was getting out of there. I knew I wasn’t going to get beat deep. It was hard. I ain’t going to lie.”