HOOVER, Ala. — Auburn football has to replace one of its starting cornerbacks from last season in Josh Holsey. While Javaris Davis took over in spring camp, the player in line to start ahead of both is almost done with his comeback process.
Sophomore Jamel Dean, a former Ohio State signee, is almost completely healed from a serious knee injury he suffered last August. Before that major setback in preseason camp, Dean looked like he would start for the Tigers opposite fellow Florida native Carlton Davis.
“Jamel Dean, if he stays healthy last year, he was in the mix to start,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last week at SEC Media Days. “He is in a good spot. He’s getting healthier. I think he’s probably 90, 95 percent right now. Very excited about him.”
Dean didn’t fully participate in Auburn’s spring camp earlier this year as he continued his recovery. However, he was able to flash some of the physical tools that made him a coveted recruit and transfer pickup for the Tigers back in 2015.
“Jamel is a great player,” senior safety Tray Matthews said last week. “He’s an amazing athlete — fast, strong, big. He will compete.”
After redshirting in 2015 after his transfer to Auburn, Dean looked like the perfect pairing with Carlton Davis heading into 2016.
At 6-foot-2, Dean had the ideal size and length to cover some of the go-to outside receivers that thrive in the SEC. He also provided great speed, something that he’s been able to replicate since his knee injury.
“He’s one of our faster players,” Malzahn said. “He’s 205 pounds, he’s got long arms like Carlton, he’s very coachable. He has a chance to be one of our best special teams players. Last year, before he got hurt, we were thinking he was going to be an impact player on special teams.”
New Auburn defensive backs coach Greg Brown got a glimpse of what Dean could bring to the Tigers secondary in camp, even if it was on a limited basis.
“He really has that length, but he hasn’t been able to do much physical,” Brown said this spring. “These guys knew what he could do in the past, all his physical skills. So I’m really excited to see him once he does out of that knee brace, how well he’s really healed up.
“He’s a great kid. He’s always got a smile on his face. Love having him around.”
By the time fall camp starts on July 31, Auburn hopes Dean will be close to 100 percent.
Dean will have a chance to battle for the starting cornerback job he almost landed last fall before his injury. According to Matthews, everything is up for grabs in a secondary with a new position coach (Greg Coach) and two departed seniors (Holsey and nickel back Rudy Ford).
“(Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin) Steele, he wipes down the board, and we start over,” Matthews said. “There’s no starter. (Dean) definitely has the chance to start. We don’t have guaranteed jobs. People in the NFL don’t have guaranteed jobs, so we don’t need them either.”