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Auburn Looks to Plug Holes on Defense Before Season Opener

By on August 21st, 2013 in Football 17 Comments »
Jonathan Ford, one of the top running backs in the nation for the 2013 recruiting class has moved to defense to shore up depth in the Tiger secondary.

Jonathan Ford, one of the top running backs in the nation for the 2013 recruiting class has moved to defense to shore up depth in the Tiger secondary.

“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.


  1. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Disturbing about McNeal. A trend that continues even with this new Staff. It is understandable on injuries but if auburn’s defense is same as last year this is going to be a hard year. I don’t care how good the offense can be. I think moving Ford to defense shows desperation.

    I think once again prognostcators are more right than wrong. Auburn will be better… but will struggle to get to .500 and a bowl.


    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Ford was almost as heavily recruited for his DB skills as he was hid RB skills. The key factors here are his lack of practice time at DB and of course his lack of college football experience.

  2. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    As much as I hate to hear about the injuries, you can’t build toughness by playing patty-cake in practice…..and this team needs toughness instilled in it by the truckload. It stinks to lose Dee, but to be honest, Dee is one of those fragile players who just doesn’t contribute much because he is hurt all the time. I was hoping he would get a chance to show the talent we all know he has, but I wasn’t counting on it.

    Depth at all positions on defense is going to be a problem for the next couple of years, so any injuries are going to hurt but losing bodies in the secondary is especially painful. However, like I’ve said before, I’m not expecting a 180 turn in wins, we need to get competitive first. Do that and the wins will follow. Don’t despair though, the pains we suffer today, will make us stronger later in the season.

  3. Malakai Malakai says:

    WDE1988 said it best talking about the move from offense to defense by Ford. Ford’s name had come up numerous times in the preseason and was expected to be the speed sweep (Onterio) guy of 2013, a very nice wrinkle to CGM’s offensive schemes. Moving that sort of talent to defense is VERY telling of how bad the Auburn D is hurting right now.

    Let’s face it, the secondary and linebackers haven’t been good at Auburn in years. Opponents have been able to pass on them almost at will. With the pass rush also suffering injuries I have a hard time believing that Auburn can beat anyone without simply putting up a huge number of points. Of course when AU does run into a stout, competent defense that can stop the run and/or pass there will be trouble and it’s not going to look pretty.

    At the beginning of the season I had us at 8 wins (yeah I know that’s high but I really believed we could pull it off) now 5-6 wins is an optimistic goal for the Tigers.

    But we will be back sooner rather than later so as always, It’s Great to be an Auburn Tiger!

    • Todd92 Todd92 says:

      Jonathan Ford was pushing Corey Grant to share the position but wasnt expected to be “the guy” but rather “one of the guys”…. Big difference. And that’s a position that shouldn’t really need two guys. I still have us at 8 wins maybe more.

  4. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    Good grief!!! So we are depending on recruited QB and RB, freshmen and Jake Holland on defense…in the SEC…DOUBLE FACE PALM… The defense has to be physical and stout to go with a HUNH…we will probably see offensive players run out of bounds (on purpose) on break away plays just to give our D a blow. Hopefully we can weather the first three games with no further injuries. Okay, a punch in the gut but we can do this…suck it up boys and pull it together!

    May be a hard liquor kind of year.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      I’m kind of surprised to see the angst over Jonathan Ford and Frazier moving to defense. Lets face it, neither is going to see much of the field this year at the positions they were recruited for and if I were them I would want to get in the rotation and play something….somewhere. Ford is behind Mason, Artis-Payne, and Grant on the depth chart at RB, but his speed and RB mentality (ie toughness) could immediately come in handy in a nickel package. Frazier, likewise in the star position.

      I know it looks alarming to see guys from the offense go to the defense but this happens all the time..especially to incoming freshmen, who want to contribute and are blocked at their recruited position. Normally they don’t turn into impact players, but what we need right now are extra bodies in practice. If Ford gets a lot of playing time at CB, then we have suffered a lot more injuries or he has exceptional talent. In either event its better for him to get reps there than sitting around watching the RB’s do their thing.

      • Todd92 Todd92 says:

        I agree completely although it is my understanding that Frazier is playing the free safety or “field safety” position and from all accounts is showing a lot of natural talent and intuition at the position. Ford was also definitely behind Grant as the speed back… So I don’t se it as a big deal… He’s going into it as the 4th or even 5th or 6th corner back so chances are he still redshirts. And Dee Ford will be back sooner rather than later… No need to panic.

  5. MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

    OK, maybe the sky is falling. NOT. We have talent, albeit young, we should be respectable on defense just not great. What we will be great in is scoring points. Can we score enough to compensate, hmmmm, maybe. Don’t stock the liquor cabinet just yet.

    • Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

      It really comes down to the O-Line. If the O-line does a good job, we will run the ball well and give Marshall a chance to throw the ball in favorable down and distance situations. You move the ball, you run the clock, you rest the D….hopefully you score. A fresh D plays a lot better than a fatigued one, even if they are young and inexperienced.
      If the O-line plays to expectations I like our chances at winning our fair share of games. If we see Pat Miller continue to whiff on his assignments again….its going to be another long year for everybody. It won’t matter how many offensive players move to back up roles on the defense.

  6. War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

    Let’s slow the panic train down! We have lost a starting safety permanently, a number three corner for and an injury prone DE for probably half the season as well. First as far as the safety position goes we already have two very good (by all accounts) Star hybrids which could, in my opinion, pick up most of the slack, second we have two good freshmen DEs that have the same skill set as Dee Ford (and may even be better). As far as the need for the third corner I would contest that only one of AUs opponents really requires three really good corners this year, Alabama, I just don’t see another team with as many wide receiver threats. Besides, with how well I expect the offense to run we should have a decent margin for error. War Eagle!

  7. Malakai Malakai says:

    I see youth, inexperience, new coach, new scheme, not enough time to lock in key players into their positions and a propensity to get burned whenever -anyone- throws a football into the air. I love Auburn. I have ever since my father said he was a Bama fan, but by all that is holy is there a WORST team in the country at defending the pass? Seeing Auburn get an interception is like seeing a unicorn ridden by a fair-haired bare-breasted maiden. IT’S A MYTHICAL ENTITY. Call me a downer or a pessimist but this defense was going to have it’s growing pains to begin with. We all knew that. Now Auburn is in real trouble and I think deep down many of you know that I’m right.

    We all knew Auburn’s achilles’s heel this year would be the defense. That’s why none of us wanted to go out on a limb and say we were going to win 10 games and that was before all of the injuries. There is a silver lining to this though, and that is that we play Washington State first this year. This is a team that we can beat purely by outscoring them. Most importantly though, this is a team that will test us again and again through the air. Our young defensive backs, safeties and coaches will learn a lot about how our players defend against the pass and knowing how meticulous Gus is he can work on fixing the flaws and coaching up the players that need help.

    /end rant

  8. AUPapa77 says:

    I see a lot of similarities between 2010 and 2013. We have an experienced, talented OL, an athletic dual-threat QB, and a strong RB corps with enough defense to keep us in the game. If this team plays with heart as I expect they will, we could be the surprise team of the SEC. I believe we will win 9 or 10 games and don’t count us out of any of them. It will definitely be an exciting ride this year and I do not think we will get blown out in any game like we did last year. War Eagle!

  9. buddy Ro buddy Ro says:

    IRONIC that you wrote this TIGERMAN. I have noticed a TON lately that younger players’ immunity to pressure seems can often yield surprising results. I love it when playoff basketball or final 4 games are decided in spectacular fashion by the unlikely fill in hero. I think that players who play like they have something to prove, play with a freedom that can surpass a veteran’s experience in pressure situations.

    I believe that success in competitive sport is much more about confidence than almost anything else, and even if the FR have sincerely unfounded and outrageious confidence levels… they play free… and that can be contagious.

    All of this really adds to what has become an very interesting building block effort from this stout AU coaching staff.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      You raise an interesting point Buddy. Have to confess that’s something many (including myself) overlook while focusing on (freshman) inexperience. Lets hope if AU has to wind up playing several freshmen, that they respond well.