AUBURN, Ala. — This time last year, Jamel Dean looked like a starting cornerback for Auburn football before a knee injury in fall camp robbed him of that chance. This season, he has picked up right where he left off.
Dean continued working at first-team cornerback opposite Carlton Davis on Monday in the first scrimmage of Auburn’s fall camp. He was one of the stars of the scrimmage, intercepting a pass from projected starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham and taking it to the house.
“Jamel Dean did a good job,” junior linebacker Darrell Williams said. “He had a pick for a touchdown. It’s big for him because it’s his first season and he can show something. He’s been hurt, he had to transfer, had to sit out and then he got hurt. It’s big for him.”
AUBURN PRACTICE REPORT: 1st-team defense ‘wins’ first fall scrimmage
Dean transferred to Auburn in 2015 after he wasn’t medically cleared to play as a true freshman at Ohio State. The Florida native sat out the entire 2015 season and the next season went to work moving up the depth chart.
Dean never got the chance to start opposite Davis, another highly touted defensive back from Florida. After his knee injury last August, he missed the entire 2016 season.
In spring practices, Dean wasn’t 100 percent recovered from the knee injury. But after a summer to finish the healing process, he quickly shot up to first-team reps in the first week of camp.
“Jamel has been very good,” sophomore cornerback Javaris Davis said last week. “You’ve just never been able to see it because, unfortunately, the injuries have hurt him. But I’m ready for him to play probably more than he is. I’ve been ready to see him play, too, because he’s a great player.”
While Javaris Davis brings speed to the cornerback position for the Tigers, Dean is more in the mold of Carlton Davis. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he has the size to blanket some of the top red-zone threats and vertical receivers the SEC has to offer.
“He kind of uses his length and arm strength to his advantage, and he’s very good at that,” Davis said.
Dean’s impressive first week of fall camp has caused some shifts in practices. Javaris Davis is now taking first-team reps at nickel, opening the door for Dean to lock down the first-team cornerback job opposite returning starter Carlton Davis.
That’s made for some tough matchups for Auburn’s wide receivers through the first six camp sessions.
“We all agree that we want him to play, because we’re tired of, you know,” sophomore wide receiver Darius Slayton said Saturday. “We all know he’s a really good player. No one else has got a chance to see him play because he came in and had to sit out a year and then he got injured. I’m really excited for him to play, because he’s a really good player.”
Dean continued that strong work Monday morning with his pick-6. Williams called him a top player in the secondary, which returns several starters in Carlton Davis, Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts.
The physically imposing sophomore will continue to battle the top cornerbacks in camp, but the momentum is his when it comes to a starting job.
“It’s very competitive,” Javaris Davis said. “We just get each other better each and every day. You know you have to work every day, because he can take your job or I can take his job. Mindset every day is you have to work hard.”