Taking the Next Step.
Breaking down the Auburn spring defense.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! Spring drills have ended, A-Day has been played, and it’s going to be a long four months till the college football season starts. However, I think this past spring has the Auburn fan base as optimistic as I’ve seen in a long time. Today, we’ll break down the Auburn defense for 2014, based on what we’ve learned in recent weeks.
Quite honestly, “defense” has been a bad word around Auburn for the last five years. Not since the days of Tommy Tuberville has Auburn allowed less than 24 points per game (2010) over the course of a season. In fact, the 2011 (28.9 points per game), the 2012 (28.3 ppg.), and the 2009 (27.5 ppg.) scoring defenses rank as the worst three years in Auburn history. Auburn was trending towards the low 20s last season, but then gave up 76 points against high-powered Missouri and Florida State offenses in the last 2 games, and finished at 24.7 ppg. The worst of Tommy Tuberville’s 10 seasons was 2001, in which Auburn gave up 23.4. Terry Bowden’s worst season was 1995, giving up 23.6. Auburn has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball.
Can Auburn improve on the performances of the past five years? The number of talented defensive players returning this season, and the presence of veteran, successful coaches brings hope. However, the schedule is daunting this fall. Auburn faces a bevy of top-flight offenses starting in September. Road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama loom large. Dak Prescott and Bo Wallace might be the best returning SEC quarterbacks outside Lee County. At home, Auburn has Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU and Texas A&M. It doesn’t get much easier with the non-conference home games. Both San Jose State and Louisiana Tech are known for putting up the points.
Tackles: This is arguably the deepest position on the defense. Seniors Ben Bradley and Angelo Blackson got the start on A-Day, but Auburn has at least five starting level players here. Seniors Gabe Wright and Jeffery Whitaker have a lot of starting experience, and sophomore Montravius Adams might have the biggest upside of all of them. Keeping these guys rotated and fresh will mean trouble for SEC offensive lines in the 4th quarter.
Ends: Injuries have taken a toll, with senior returning starter LaDarius Owens missing the entire spring. Expected starter Carl Lawson missed A-Day due to injury. Starting at ends on A-Day were Gabe Wright and sophomore Elijah Daniel. Montravius Adams played a good bit at end, also. Moving Wright and Adams out to end in certain packages should help against traditional power offenses this fall. Among the reserves, I was impressed with sophomore Gimel President. I think he could contribute in speed-rushing situations. If Owens and Daniel are ready to play by September, this unit will be fine. If not, Auburn will be scrambling a bit.
Linebacker: Juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy should make for the best pair of starters Auburn has had in years. Should one of them go down, there will be questions. Last season’s situational reserves Javier Mitchell and Anthony Swain were unavailable on A-Day. Mitchell is injured, Swain has off-the-field troubles. On A-Day, the top backups appeared to be redshirt freshman Cameron Toney and junior Kenny Flowers. Here’s hoping that Auburn will have a pair of backups that can rotate in for a few plays each game. Much like Bynes and Stevens a few years back, Frost and McKinzy will have some difficulties if they have to play every single snap.
Star: Senior Robensen Therezie was recognized before the A-Day game as the top defensive player of the 2013 squad. He’s joined by junior Justin Garrett, who did some good things on A-Day. Developing some depth at this position should help. Sophomore Mackendro Alexander looks to be a solid option behind Therezie and Garrett. If Garrett can stay healthy, this will be a dangerous rotation.
Cornerback: Senior Jonathan Mincy moved to the boundary corner starting spot this spring, but I’ve heard talk that he could be moved back to the field side depending upon who’s healthy this fall. There was quite a battle for the starting field spot this spring, between junior Jonathan Jones and senior Trovon Reed. Jones got the start on A-Day, but Reed had better numbers. The concerns with these two are Reed’s inexperience at the position, and Jones’ history of injury last season. If junior Joshua Holsey is full speed by fall camp, it’s possible that Holsey would start on the boundary and Mincy the field. Auburn needs to find a 4th corner for the playing rotation, and it might be sophomore Kamryn Melton.
Safety: Senior Jermaine Whitehead is a proven commodity at free safety, and should be the starter for the third straight year. Anyone who watched A-Day had to be pleased with the play of junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief. Auburn has not had a guy like this that plays the run like a linebacker, and can still pass defend well. Last year’s starter Joshua Holsey will have a tough time keeping the job, I think. As I mentioned above, if Holsey is one of the top four defenders in the secondary, I think the coaches will find a way to get him in the starting lineup, even if that’s a move to corner. Depth at safety beyond those three are sophomore Jonathan Ford and senior Brandon King.
There’s always a chance a true freshman could come in this fall and contribute, but it’s going to be a tough deal with the experience Auburn has on defense. Typically, the freshmen won’t be ready to play at a real SEC level, and JUCO players rarely are at their best in their first season in the big league. In the past decade, Auburn’s first year JUCO defensive signees have included corner Jonathan Wilhite, tackle Greg Smith, linebacker Bo Harris, end Raven Gray, safety Deshaun Barnes, linebacker Eltoro Freeman, tackle Nick Fairley, DB Demond Washington, corner Taikwon Paige, end Joel Bonomolo, tackle Ben Bradley, linebacker Brandon King, and linebacker Kenny Flowers. Of that list, only Demond Washington made a major impact his first season. I think Derrick Moncrief this season will be another exception.
There is one more factor that may help the Auburn defense this fall. Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia will be playing new quarterbacks that won’t being going in with much experience. This past A-Day, we saw a lot less cover-two, and more single safety defense. I think Ellis Johnson is planning on having a squad this season that will really get after some young quarterbacks!