Auburn’s defense was hit with a rash of injuries this spring.
Nosa Eguae, Kenneth Carter, Jonathan Evans, Ikeem Means and T’Sharvan Bell missed the entire spring due to offseason injuries or surgeries. Gabe Wright practiced for the first day, then went out for the rest of the spring with a foot injury. Both Demetruce McNeal and Erique Florence missed significant time, too, and didn’t play in Auburn’s A-Day scrimmage.
Now those guys face a long road to get back into the starting lineup.
“They’re depth guys at this point,” VanGorder said. “They offer us depth and they’ve got to come in and compete to earn that. They’re obviously guys who have played, so there’s obviously an advantage for all of us understanding that.”
With so many players having extensive playing experience, those guys will likely see the field in the fall. When that happens, and what role those guys play, is up to them, according to the defensive coordinator.
“It’s up to them and their efforts to try to close that gap to where it doesn’t become something where they can’t contribute early or they just don’t contribute in a way that they expected to at the end of the season,” VanGorder said.
- On all the youth, VanGorder was pleased with how the younger players progressed. “ I think it’s fair to say that we’ve got a lot of developmental players. From that standpoint, those developmental players took a good step forward and I think now the challenge is to gain some consistency.”
- As mentioned at length, VanGorder was most pleased with the defensive line. “Our system allows them to play and play fast. Therefore the idea of disruptions and sacks and those kinds of ideas are philosophical in our makeup. It’s exciting for defensive linemen. I didn’t maybe anticipate the growth there, because I think that’s where we did have our best growth this spring as a whole. That’s a position of a lot of depth for us.”
- LaDarius Owens made some big strides late in the spring. “It was good to see L.O,” VanGorder said. “The last week, I really felt like he felt much more comfortable and was letting go.”
- VanGorder said it wasn’t likely that Auburn would have any position changes, primarily because the Tigers have so much depth across the board. The one place is linebacker, where freshmen JaViere Mitchell and Cassanova McKinzy will have chances to play early, because there is no one on the roster VanGorder sees making a move to the spot. “We’ve got to really push the guys that we have,” VanGorder said. ”We’ve got a senior that because of experience, we know that he’s a starter. From there, it’s competitive. If a freshman’s the best player, a freshman’s going to play.”
- Jermaine Whitehead will be all over the field this fall. “We want him competing for the starting safety job for us. But he’s got background at corner, he obviously started games at nickel and now he’s learned the safety position,” Whitehead said. ”I think Jermaine will have a very important role as we go into fall camp. You may see him playing all three of those positions.”
- Walk-on safety Trent Fisher made some strides in camp. “He brings a football player’s mentality to our defense,” Fisher said. “He’s smart and tough, and therefore he’s got a chance. He’s a guy that needs some physical development.”
- McNeal and Florence have a lot of stuff to do to come back to the lineup, because the safeties have so much communication to do. “Their plates are full,” VanGorder said. “They’ve got to do a lot in respect to operating our defense. There’s a lot of communication involved. They’ve got to really detail their work during the summer collectively together and get a comfort level with having to do that.”
- Kris Frost has plenty of athleticism, but he’s still a work in progress. “He’s a developmental player. He’s got a lot of work to do to gain a comfort in playing the game. He still has a youngster’s body that needs weight-room development,” VanGorder said. “ He still doesn’t see things. It’s still a fast game to him I guess is the best way to put it. He’s got to be able to calm his game down. He will — it’s just a matter of when will that happen.”
- Frost’s development didn’t stop him from impressing VanGorder. “Linebacker-wise, again, there was some great growth for Kris Frost. Justin Garrett — I thought for the last four or five practices started to get a better field,” VanGorder said.
- Regardless of size, VanGorder will put the three best linebackers on the field, even if that means putting both Daren Bates and Justin Garrett on the field. “Right now, that’s a young group, a developing group,” VanGorder said. “Justin — if we feel like through the spring evaluation that he’s in the top three, then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
- Playing both Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford, who weigh between 240 and 250 pounds, at defensive end doesn’t bother VanGorder. “Both of them have the trait of suddenness and explosion, which gives them a chance,” VanGorder said. “Defensive linemen — their advantage should be in the athletic area and in the area of quicker and more sudden.”
- Ford’s motor reminds VanGorder of David Pollack at Georgia. “I never anticipated the consistency of it. Every snap! He’s a guy who’s made it a habit to play fast and play hard,” VanGorder said. “When you get those kinds of guys, it offers you a lot in terms of production … and the rest of the guys seeing: This is what it looks like. A lot of people don’t realize that when we were at Georgia, David Pollack did that.”
- Jeff Whitaker surprised VanGorder with his ability to move. “I didn’t anticipate that he’d perform like he did in our system,” Whitaker said. “I saw a guy who was a line-of-scrimmage player a year ago. He was able to do that effectively — penetrate and do some things that I didn’t know he could do.”
- Jamar Travis also turned some heads on the defensive line. “Jamar Travis really took great advantage of this spring and really had an impressive spring. Right now in our mind, he’ll play football for us.”