BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Jonathon Mincy plans on this fall being a season of change.
It should go without saying what he wants altered most — an improvement upon Auburn’s 3-9 (0-8 SEC) record in 2012. But there’s another number that was every bit as disappointing to the Tigers’ cornerback: one. That single digit stands for the number of interceptions tallied by Auburn’s secondary last season.
And it’s a stat that has driven Mincy and the rest of Auburn’s defensive backs every day of the offseason, especially during the ball drills brought in by cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith.
“That’s something that we work every single day — ball drills,” Mincy said on Friday. “That’s something that we’re going to take pride in as a defensive back. Me, Chris (Davis) and Ryan White, that’s something that we stress to the whole group. We definitely can’t wait to go out there and make plays and definitely get some interceptions and change it around.”
Mincy has already had to make a slight adaptation since the spring.
After donning jersey No. 6 in his first two years as a Tiger, he started wearing No. 21 during spring practice. It was the same number he wore in high school. When he arrived in Auburn, however, it was already accounted for. Then, after taking it on this spring, Mincy found out he and running back Tre Mason would “be on a lot of special teams together.” Since Mason also sported No. 21, push came to shove.
So, back to square one: No. 6.
Though it was a small concession, it’s all a part of Mincy’s refusal to be content with any aspect of his game.
“I definitely have to step up, play a more leadership role for this defense and that’s something that motivates me,” he said. “Personally, I don’t really feel I (had) a great season last year. Definitely not having interceptions and just being that ball hawk on the defense, that’s something that I’m hoping to change this year.”
Individually, the Decatur, Ga., native said he had a few goals he wanted to reach, listing stats like collecting 60-plus tackles and at least four interceptions this season.
But any individual accomplishments or strides made by the defense will likely be for naught if the Tigers’ offense doesn’t do the same. Head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have repeatedly expressed the need for one receiver to develop into the team’s “go-to” option. Practicing against them every day, Mincy can speak to the receiving corps’ progress better than most.
And Mincy can recall few, if any, drops during most practices and drills, “a good sign,” as he was quick to note.
“That’s something offensive-wise that we have to take pride in because we got to catch balls,” he said. “Point blank, period.”
But what of the Tigers’ most-discussed battle offensively, that of the team’s starting quarterback? Like any other interested observer, Mincy can’t wait to see who wins the job.
He just hopes it happens as soon as possible.
“It’s something that’s competitive and that’s something that we need at every position,” he said. “That’s something that we’re looking forward to. (A) lot of great young boys just came in and we’re just looking to see how they can play.”
Of course, being ready to play could be applied to any player on the team. In the meantime, Mincy has gotten a head start on the season, already breaking down film of Auburn’s first three opponents in Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State, respectively. With that trio of foes likely to put the ball in the air often, Mincy knows there will be plenty of opportunities for the Tigers’ secondary to snag interceptions and leave last season’s dismal showing far behind.
Until the Tigers tee it up against the Cougars at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31, all Mincy and his teammates can do is push themselves when fall camp begins Aug. 2, as anticipation for the new season builds by the day.
“(We) really just want to get better at all times in all phases and really start camp at a high level,” he said. “We definitely have high expectations on every aspect of the ball.”