Auburn Looks to Plug Holes on Defense Before Season Opener
“Football is a game of collisions and we have had some unfortunate situations.” That’s the way Auburn Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson responded to a question this week about his defense sustaining so many injuries during fall camp.
It’s also often up to chance. Take Jonathan Jones and Defensive End Dee Ford. Jones was having a great camp and was expected to be an impact player at cornerback till he slipped on some wet steps and broke a bone in his foot. And according to Johnson, Ford’s knee injury was just a “Freak play.”
In last night’s final press conference at the end of fall camp, Malzahn was non committal when asked if Ford would be ready for the SEC opener against Mississippi State.
To say the number of banged up players was considerable would be an understatement. “At one point,” Johnson said, “we had the best pass rusher out, we had the returning leading tackler out, we had our third-best corner out and one day, we practiced without three of the four best corners. We lost, I think, four guys from the front, in addition to Dee.”
That returning leading tackler, Demetruce McNeal, was cleared to return to practice this week, but then made a serious error in judgment and as a consequence is no longer on the team.
His dismissal along with Ford and Jones’ injuries have got Johnson having to plug holes in what just a few days ago looked like a solid unit that was beginning to gel.
Josh Holsey had to be moved from cornerback to safety, Kiehl Frazier is expected to have to contribute right away at safety, and Running back Jonathan Ford (one of the country’s top RB recruits in 2013) moved to the defense yesterday to help provide depth at cornerback.
Just how much should Auburn be worried about the loss of Jones, Ford and McNeal?
On the face of it, the answer is a lot. You never want to lose one of the best players from preseason camp, or last year’s leader in sacks, or your returning leading tackler. So depth will be tested early with McNeal gone and with so many players nursing injuries.
But Johnson has been in this business a long time. He has been here before and he will find a way to plug those holes. As Coach Malzahn said in his press conference last night, “Any time you have injuries you have opportunities for younger players.”
Players like Jonathan Ford, Kamryn Melton, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson. All of whom are freshman and now will be called upon to contribute earlier than had been expected.
It’s been a hard and physical preseason. But you can’t get your, “hard nose edge back’ without playing tough, physical football. And adversity often has a positive side. In addition to an opportunity for other players to step up, there is also the preparation for battle these Tigers have been going through.
Just like boot camp prepares the soldier for battle so too does a rough, physical preseason camp prepare a defense for battle. And that is definitely a positive – for the Tigers will be going to battle in the toughest football division in college football.