The next step in the blog’s position-by-position look at how Auburn’s roster ended up shaking out at the end of spring, and what it could look like for the first game is to go to the secondary.
As always, any depth charts listed below are only my best guess. Nothing more, nothing less. By now, most Auburn fans know that the Tigers do not usually release an actual depth chart after spring practice, and this season was no different. With so many players out on defense and new schemes being installed on both sides of the ball, a spring depth chart can only mean so much anyway.
As always, feel free to disagree with my take. At this point, with such a young roster, everything’s open to discussion.
For a look at the other four position groups in the series, take a look at the following links:
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
- CB: Chris Davis, 5-11, 196, Jr.
- CB: Robenson Therezie, 5-9, 203, So.
- SS: Jermaine Whitehead, 5-11, 195, So.
- FS: Erique Florence, 6-1, 185, So.
- CB: T’Sharvan Bell, 6-0, 177, Sr.
- SS: Demetruce McNeal, 6-2, 193, Jr.
- S: Ryan Smith, 6-2, 208, Jr.
- CB: Jonathon Mincy, 5-10, 183, So.
- CB: Ryan White, 5-11, 196, Jr.
- S: Ikeem Means, 6-0, 205, Sr.
- CB: Jonathan Rose, 6-2, 187, So.
- S: Trent Fisher, 6-1, 192, So.
- DB: Joshua Holsey, 5-9, 171, Fr.
- DB: T.J. Davis, 6-1, 170, Fr.
- DB: Jonathan Jones, 5-10, 165, Fr.
- S: Adam Dyas, 5-9, 192, So.
- DB: Blake Poole, 5-11, 190, Jr.
- DB: Nosa Griggs, 5-10, 154, R-Fr.
- DB: Jordan Spriggs, 5-9, 191, So.
“Numbers were an issue two years ago and somewhat last year because of injuries. But after two years of replenishing the ranks through recruiting, that doesn’t seem like it will be an issue this season. Auburn could have used the experience of McNeil. He and Thorpe would have made for a solid safety duo, but his dismissal just accelerated the youth movement. A sophomore (McNeal) will play a starring role this year. So will any number of first- or second-year players. It might make for some growing pains early on but for the long haul — which is definitely where the Tigers’ coaches are looking — it should pay off.”
Numbers were never the issue for Auburn’s secondary in 2011, but the growing pains were. The Tigers were especially susceptible to big plays, as seen in the LSU and Georgia losses, plus a few others early in the season. Neiko Thorpe, for the most part, was steady, finishing second on the team in tackles with 102 and first on the team with three interceptions. Demetruce McNeal showed flashes of the athleticism that made him seem like he could handle a starring role, but he’s also inconsistent, a product of a free-wheeling nature that causes him to take chances sometimes and leave holes in the defense. On the corners, T’Sharvan Bell and Chris Davis were average for most of the year before Bell’s injury and Davis’s big performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Behind them, a ton of players got a chance to see playing time, but Jermaine Whitehead may have gained the most traction after earning the nickel role late in the season.
Whitehead, routinely called one of the smartest players on the defense by the new coaching staff, emerged as a versatile player who could play as many as three positions — safety, nickel and corner — when the fall rolls around. Davis continues to be a physical presence. On the other side, Robenson Therezie earned a starting job early on in the spring, and his freakish athleticism just may keep him there after he spent his first season on campus struggling to learn the defense. Bell, trying to come back from a blown-out knee, was able to run in practice and even take some punts, even if he wasn’t able to go through position drills.
McNeal and Erique Florence, the nominal starters at both safety positions when spring practice opened, both suffered injuries in spring practice and missed crucial time learning a defense in which the safeties are required to make almost as many calls as the middle linebacker. Jonathon Mincy, a guy who made two starts in Bell’s place down the stretch, appears to have been unable to capitalize on that momentum and fell down the depth chart. Communication issues also continue to reign, albeit in a unit that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said always takes the longest to pick everything up.
With so many young players in the secondary who have experience, it’s going to be tough for the three incoming freshmen in Auburn’s 2012 signing class to make the same kind of immediate bid for playing time that a guy like Whitehead did last year. If the blog had to take a shot, Holsey may be the most likely to play right away simply because of his ball skills and ability to run in the open field. Holsey had 24 interceptions in high school, and he was also used as a receiver and a return man to great success. That nose for the ball could get him on the field early.
By now, most Auburn fans know that Therezie packs a wallop after watching him play the role of dynamite on special teams last season. Now, if the depth chart continues to hold — and I have Therezie loosely slotted in there because of his physical nature, seemingly a must in VanGorder’s defense — he’ll have a chance to try to use that physicality to make plays on a regular basis. In addition, Therezie poses freakish athleticism and picked off two passes in scrimmages this spring. His nose for big plays is probably why he moved up to the No. 1 spot in the spring due to Bell’s injury.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Bell vs. Therezie will be interesting to watch, simply because Bell has so much experience as a starter and Therezie is so unproven, but the real battle in the secondary is between McNeal and Whitehead for the starting spot at strong safety. Both are likely going to play a big role in the defense, but whoever ends up winning the starting job will likely be making most of the calls, which is why I have Whitehead penciled in there right now. From what we’ve been told, he’s the more heady player.
THEY SAID IT
“Us as coaches, we think it carries a lot of value for our defense, in that he’s a very intelligent player and really in the long run here can function in a lot of different positions for us. 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. 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.” — Brian VanGorder on Jermaine Whitehead
11 — Passes intercepted by Auburn in 2011, a mark that ranked 68th among FBS teams.
THE END OF THE DAY
Right now, Chris Davis appears to be the closest thing to a sure thing in the starting lineup, as his physical nature seems to match up with what VanGorder wants out of his corners. The question is, which Davis plays? The one who made a bunch of timely big plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, or the one who sometimes struggled in coverage against top-flight receivers? Given that he’s got a year of starting under his belt now, Davis may be the type of player who’s ready to make the leap from starter to star. Florence, because of his athletic tools, probably has a strong lead on the free safety spot, but from there it gets murky. There’s Bell vs. Therezie vs. everyone else at corner, and McNeal vs. Whitehead will be interesting to watch at strong safety. However those position battles shake out, though, expect VanGorder and new secondary coach Willie Martinez to use as many capable hands as they can find in the new defense. For instance, even if Whitehead ends up being the starter at strong safety, he may play a lot of snaps in the nickel. No matter how they’re used, though, Auburn’s defensive backs have one big advantage on themselves as compared to last year’s unit. This time the Tigers have all seen extensive playing time, which could mean improvement under the leadership of Martinez.