BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Injuries have wreaked havoc on Auburn’s defense during fall camp.
Now, those wounds will sideline two of the unit’s key pieces for the season opener against Washington State. Ellis Johnson confirmed that both starting left defensive end Dee Ford and cornerback Jonathan Jones won’t play when the Tigers take the field Aug. 31.
“I don’t know (exactly) how long Dee is out, but he’s certainly out for an extended time,” the defensive coordinator said following the team’s practice on Monday. “Jonathan Jones had an accident off the playing field. That was a heartbreaker because he was doing such a good job and was going to see a lot of playing time. That was a critical loss to us.”
Ford was injured during Auburn’s second scrimmage of the spring, Johnson recalled.
“First series, freak thing,” he said. “Someone’s leg swung around and hit him in the side. Not real, real bad. No surgery required.”
When asked to specify what knee ligament Ford hurt, Johnson wasn’t sure.
“It’s one of those CLs,” he said. “ACL? One of those CLs.”
Jones’ affliction, however, had nothing to do with football. Johnson said the sophomore corner slipped on some “wet steps” and broke a bone in his ankle. It required surgery, but the coordinator wasn’t aware how it went.
“Have not gotten a report,” he said. “(Head) Coach (Gus Malzahn) may have, but I have not.”
With Jones out for an unknown period of time, running back Johnathan Ford volunteered to move to corner. Johnson said the true freshman will practice with the defense “full-time” for the foreseeable future.
But Ford and Jones are far from the only defenders dealing with injuries.
Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett hasn’t practiced in the last week after suffering what Johnson termed a “foot sprain.” Unlike Jones and Ford, there are no worries about him sitting out against the Cougars.
“We’re going to err on the side of caution,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make sure he gets a full week of practice. He could have come back a day or two ago, but it’s still a little tender. Missing a few days right now, for his sake, is the best thing. For our football team, it probably puts us into a herky-jerky process. We want to make sure when he does come back that he’s full speed and there’s no threat of recurrence on that thing.”
The defensive line has been hit hard as well. Keymiya Harrell hasn’t practiced this fall, still recovering from a knee surgery performed this spring. Defensive end Kenneth Carter returned to the field after suffering a concussion, while fellow defensive end Nosa Eguae also practiced Monday after being sidelined for a short period of time.
Johnson admitted the absence of so many integral players has hampered the unit’s ability to establish cohesiveness. Last week, Johnson said the defense “stall out and hit neutral” due to the rash of injuries.
“So it is what it is. It’s real, and it’s something that’s going to affect our ability of how well we play,” he said. “But somebody is going to have to step up. Somebody else is going to get a chance, and they’re going to have to answer the bell.”
Besides, the “injury bug” is going to happen at some point every season, Johnson said.
The more important thing is figuring out a way to overcome it.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You can’t try to sit there and say it doesn’t matter. But you can’t try to sit there and say it’s not going to give us an opportunity because you’ve got to work through it. Everybody has this happen and football players have to step up when they get the opportunity.”
Johnson rested easy, knowing that as bad as it seems for the Tigers’ defense right now, it’s not something insurmountable.
Nothing surprises the 30-plus year coaching veteran anymore.
“I’ve been in situations where it’s extremely worse and I’ve been in situations where we just had a horseshoe and never lost a guy,” he said. “(I’ve) been in one season where we played with the same 11 defensive starters in every game but two. It’s just one of those things.”