SALT LAKE CITY — On game days in the fall, Julian Blackmon will still be in the backfield for the Utes — he’ll just be a little bit deeper on the field.
Blackmon is currently transitioning from cornerback to free safety for the upcoming season.
“Just the fact that we had guys at corner who could do it, and who can do it, in Tareke Lewis and Josh Nurse, those guys, Bronson Boyd. We knew that we needed a leader in the back in terms of safety, so that’s where I told the coaches I would like to try,” Blackmon said.
At the Utah spring game, Blackmon got some advice on his new position from former Ute and current New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams.
“Marcus Williams showed up today, so I just got a couple pointers from him, which was really nice to pick his brain and see what he was thinking. I think the transition has been really well for me and it’s going to continue to get better as the month of May goes by, and June,” Blackmon said.
Among other things, Williams had two main points for the 6-foot-1 senior from Layton: listen to defensive coordinator and safeties coach Morgan Scalley and block out the outside noise.
“Essentially, he told me listen to Coach Scalley. Everything he tells me, really take it into perspective because Coach Scalley is the reason why, Marcus said to me, he is who he is and why he got as far as he was. Just in terms of listening to Coach Scalley because he’s a great teacher, that’s one of the biggest points. Also, blocking out the outside noise and not worrying about what other people have to say. Just focusing on what I’ve got to do to get better for the season,” Blackmon said.
Blocking out the outside noise is something that both Williams and Blackmon have had to implement during their playing careers. Infamously, after the 2018 Saints-Vikings divisional round playoff game, Williams had to tune out the noise from angry Saints fans after missing a tackle that led to the game-winning touchdown by Stefon Diggs. After the game, Williams disabled comments on his Instagram page.
Blackmon has had his fair share of comments directed his way as well. After a season that featured its share of up-and-down moments for Blackmon, he tweeted out an image of insults fired his way on social media over the season, including “He can’t guard anyone,” “Blackmon is not a starter,” and “He looks lost.” He simply captioned the image, “Thank you.”
While he is moving to free safety, coaches have complimented Blackmon’s leadership ability and willingness to still help mentor young cornerbacks.
“He’s a leader. The guy is a heady, savvy football player that understands, ‘OK, now that I’m at the safety spot — yes, I’m learning something new, but I can help develop those younger corners based on the experience that I have.’ He’s not a guy that sits back. He’s not a ‘me’ guy. He’s always about helping others and helping the team, and that’s why he made the move to safety. He’s helping those young corners out and they’re benefiting from it,” Scalley said.
“I’ll always be there for my guys. In terms of mentoring, I try and put them in the best position possible for them to make plays,” Blackmon added.
The biggest difference between playing safety and playing cornerback? The ability for Blackmon to have a bigger impact on the field.
“Just playmaking. I finally get to see the whole field, I finally have an impact on any given play. It’s been fun … just being able to see everything and to understand different route concepts, just because I came from corner, so it’s been fun,” Blackmon said.
Blackmon demonstrated what he can do at safety during spring camp, with a beautiful one-handed interception in an April practice.
“Julian Blackmon has taken to the free safety spot just like a natural, like he’s been there his entire career,” Scalley said. “Great ball skills, great leaping ability, can read a quarterback, he’s physical when he comes downhill. I’m excited for his senior year.”
As for his personal goals for the upcoming season, Blackmon is aiming lofty.
“I want to be All-American, man. I just want to show what I can do at safety, my playmaking ability, gotta be able to make plays. I just want to show people my range, this is what I can do,” Blackmon said.