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August 11, 2013

Auburn notes: Ellis Johnson confirms Justin Garrett injury, unsure of status going forward (w/video)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s defense will have to do without one of its best players for an unknown period of time.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson confirmed hybrid linebacker/safety Justin Garrett suffered a left foot injury during Saturday’s scrimmage, though he was unsure of the nature or extent of it.

Junior Justin Garrett suffered a left foot injury during Saturday's scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday he was unsure how long Garrett will be out. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior Justin Garrett suffered a left foot injury during Saturday’s scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday he was unsure how long Garrett will be out. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“I don’t know if he got stepped on or got kicked. They’re definitely evaluating that now,” Johnson said Sunday. “I don’t know anything in detail about it. He obviously didn’t practice today, but don’t know anything about the seriousness other than the timeframe.”

Garrett was healthy heading into Saturday, though Johnson noted the defensive MVP of this spring’s A-Day game missed one day of practice earlier this week due to a knee bruise. When the coaching staff noticed he had no push off from his left foot on Saturday, they pulled him out immediately.

Johnson wouldn’t even begin to contemplate what a long-term injury to Garrett could mean for his defense.

“I don’t want to get into hypotheticals,” he said. “He’s had a great camp. He had a great spring. We obviously know he’s one of our impact players. I don’t think any team in the country can lose an impact player and not have some issues.”

Regardless of how much time Garrett has to miss, it will mean an increased role for Mackenro Alexander. The true freshman has been No. 3 at the star position behind Garrett and Robenson Therezie since he stepped on campus.

Johnson said Alexander is going through the peaks and valleys many would expect from a first-year player, which manifested itself in the scrimmage.

“He struggled,” Johnson said. “He made some really bad mistakes but he made a couple of good tackles and some plays on the ball. It was good that he got a shot to get in there.”

Quick hits

Demetruce McNeal will likely be back in some capacity this week. The senior safety has yet to participate in fall camp, sidelined by a minor surgery caused by an infection. “It’s slowly getting better,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty optimistic right now that he’ll be on the field next week.” … After getting a chance to view the film from Saturday’s scrimmage, Johnson was left wanting far more from his unit. “It was very, very iffy,” he said. “They’re still in the learning process, and there are a lot of mental assignments.”

March 20, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Defensive backs

This is the first of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: linebackers.

Arkansas Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – A healthy mix of talented veterans and tasty youngsters who got plenty of playing time? Not a bad start for a couple of long-time coaching buddies to work with.

Charlie Harbison has the safeties, which means he’ll guide two entrenched starters in Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead along with role players Ryan Smith and Trent Fisher.

Melvin Smith takes cornerbacks, leading upperclassmen Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy while hoping to craft sophomores-to-be Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones into the next Johnthan Banks-Darius Slay type of pair.

As long as Harbison and Smith can do something about the Tigers’ 101th-ranked pass efficiency defense – not to mention start creating some turnovers – they’ll get along famously with fans.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s secondary, leading into spring football scrimmages:

Who’s been playing: CB Chris Davis (sr.), CB Joshua Holsey (so.), CB Jonathan Jones (so.), FS Demetruce McNeal (sr.), CB Jonathon Mincy (jr.), SS Ryan Smith (sr.), SS Jermaine Whitehead (jr.)

Who’s in waiting: CB T.J. Davis (r-fr.), S Trent Fisher (jr.), S Erique Florence (jr.), DB Jordan Spriggs (jr.), CB Robenson Therezie (jr.), CB Ryan White (sr.)

Who’s out the door: CB T’Sharvan Bell, DB Ikeem Means

Who’s in the door: DB Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.), S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.), CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Cornerbacks – Melvin Smith, 23rd year (18th in SEC); Safeties – Charlie Harbison, 21st year (11th in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Willie Martinez, Tennessee

9.16p mcneal

Thoughts and musings:

“Clown show.” It was the most entertaining, and perhaps iconic, quote of the year, coming from the mouth of Demetruce McNeal in reference to the Tigers’ 2011 defensive effort at LSU. It turned out characterizing the entire 2012 season – while McNeal was probably Auburn’s most consistent defender (when he wasn’t in the doghouse), he was rarely allowed to speak with the media, for fear of sound bites like that one.

Jermaine Whitehead was one of just four Tigers (LB Daren Bates, WR Emory Blake and OL Chad Slade) to start all 12 games last fall.

Clemson_Auburn25_9-1-12- Erique Florence and Robenson Therezie have long been rumored to consider transferring from Auburn. Neither have done so – they’re each on the pre-spring roster and participating in winter workouts. Each were four-star recruits who would be ripe to benefit from a change of scenery in terms of the new coaching staff. So they’ll be two prospects to watch in April, especially in the spring game.

Florence missed two 2012 games for undisclosed personal reasons, and Therezie briefly switched to running back – a move he swore was his decision and was permanent – before returning to corner.

Chris Davis battled concussions the second half of the season. We’ll be asking him how he’s doing medically, being a hot topic in this era of competitive football.

Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 system requires a ‘star’ defender, who requires the speed of a safety and the size of a linebacker. Look for incoming junior college recruit Brandon King to compete for that spot immediately.

Which true freshman could play right away? Head coach Gus Malzahn said he needs a “vicious”-hitting safety, and that’s how, on Signing Day, he described Khari Harding.

Statistically speaking:

65.6 – Auburn opponents’ completion percentage in 2012, the 10th-highest mark in Division I football.

358 – passes attempted by Auburn opponents in 2012 – the 20th-least nationally.

20 – touchdown passes by Auburn opponents in 2012 – tied for 57th-least nationally.

2 – interceptions by Auburn players in 2012, tied with South Florida for the least in the country. One was by linebacker Daren Bates, the other was by occasionally-used safety Trent Fisher.

19 – interceptions by Mississippi State in 2012, led then by Melvin Smith. In the SEC, only Florida had more (20).

3 – sacks by Auburn defensive backs – one each for McNeal, Whitehead and Mincy.

6 – double-digit tackle games by McNeal, leading the Tigers. He did not register any tackles in three games – Clemson, Alabama A&M and Alabama.

90 – tackles by McNeal, just four off of Bates’ team-leading pace.

7 – tackles for a loss by McNeal, tied with Angelo Blackson leading the team.

37 – career games played for McNeal, who at times clashed with the former coaching staff. If he plays every regular season game plus a bowl game his senior year, McNeal hit the 50-game mark, one more than Daren Bates, John Sullen and Onterio McCalebb totaled.

159 – the number of solo tackles attributed to McNeal, Whitehead, Mincy and Davis, the four frequent secondary starters. That’s exactly one-third the entire team total by just those four defensive backs, which does not include another 89 by other DBs. Four of the team’s top six tacklers were in the secondary.

Good Twitter follows: The football field isn’t the only forum for a friendly rivalry between Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones. Holsey’s @HeyItsJHolsey (4,431 followers) currently has the best of Jones’ @Jonathan_Jones2 (2,800), and both accounts showcase their owner’s personality: Holsey’s fun-loving and feisty, while Jones is more laid-back, cerebral and even philosophical when the moment strikes.

Say what? “With a 4-2-5, you’re wider. By relocating that third defensive back, it changes the dynamic of the corner … it’s all about leverage. If you’re in a 4-2-5, and you make a living in it, you’re going to play some man coverage. The reason people play the 4-2-5 is because of personnel matchup vs. the offense. The 4-2-5 allows you to cover whatever shows up.” – Melvin Smith, describing the role of cornerbacks in a true 4-2-5 package

Joshua Holsey

February 6, 2013

The Class of 2013: Auburn signees list, with stories, Twitter handles and game tape … plus what Gus Malzahn said about each player


GUS MALZAHN Opening Statement, Feb. 6:

“It’s been a great day. I’m very excited about this class. We’ve signed 23 so far in this class. Really feel like we accomplished that. Really like to compliment our staff; they did a wonderful job on a short period of time. A new staff coming in – we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things. Anytime you come in and you don’t retain anybody from the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there’s a lot of things that go with that and I’m extremely excited and pleased with our staff.”

AUBURN CLASS OF 2013 SIGNEES (all star ratings via Fox Sports/Scout.com)

Early Enrollees

4* RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.) | Allan Hancock CC | 5-11, 215
The No. 1 juco back in the country, per 247Sports, rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 TDs in 10 games last fall. Ideal Tre Mason complement
Story: Tigers ink top JUCO RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Twitter: @ThaRealKillaCam
Malzahn says: “A big, physical runner. Really think he’s going to provide some very good depth, and I think he’ll be a very good player for us.”


3* OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-3, 303
The No. 1 juco guard in the country, per 247Sports, could compete right away for one open spot along the Tigers’ line
Story: Tigers unwrap another junior college present; Devonte Danzey, the nation’s top available OG
Malzahn says: “We needed some help at center and at guard, and I feel like he’ll have a chance to help us immediately.”


4* DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-3, 310
Followed Danzey to the Plains, where both are already enrolled and prepping for spring practice
Brief: Defensive tackle Ben Bradley gives Auburn a third juco prospect
Twitter: @IamAmbition98
Malzahn says: “We needed depth up front, and this guy is very athletic and very strong.”

Wednesday signees, listed in chronological order of received national letter of intent

4* DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.) | Avon HS | 6-4, 250
Flipped from Ole Miss to Auburn, the Tigers’ first fax Wednesday
Story: Elijah Daniel, Tony Stevens first to fax signed letters to Auburn
Twitter: @ElijahDaniel6
Malzahn says: “He was our first commit of the day. Pass rushing was one of our big needs and this guy can really do it. Had a relationship with Rodney Garner that goes way back. He signed this morning and we’re tickled to death to have him.”


4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.) | Evans HS | 6-4, 184
Receptions by Auburn receivers taller than 6-2 in 2012; one, by 6-3 Jaylon Denson. Previously a Florida State and Texas A&M verbal
Story: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB
Twitter: @TS8_NewEra
Malzahn says: “He’s a big, tall wide receiver. He’s got tremendous skills, he’s s kick returner. Dameyune Craig did a wonderful job with him – had a previous relationship, and he has a chance to be an impact player.”


3* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.) | Evans HS | 6-2, 194
Flipping Stevens paved the way to pair him with Walker, giving the Tigers’ pass-catchers some much-needed depth
Story: Auburn beefs up WR depth, flipping its second Orlando Evans prospect
Twitter: @DW_SHOWTIME4
Malzahn says: “(Tony’s) teammate. 6-2, 195, a big, physical, fast guy that really feel like he’ll have a chance to be that special type player and once again Dameyune recruited him also.”


3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.) | American Heritage HS | 5-10, 175
Once upon a time, Emory Blake was an underrated slot receiver prospect. Davis looks to pave the same path
Story: 3-star Marcus Davis on board
Twitter: @Marcus_davis1
Malzahn says: “He is a quarterback from Delray Beach, Florida and he is going to play like a slot receiver for us. We’ve had a lot of success with former quarterbacks. He has running back skills and he’s a really good kid, smart kid. We’re excited about him.”


3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.) | Dothan HS | 5-10, 170
A similar mold as Auburn rookie Jonathan Jones, perhaps a special teams contributor right away
Story: Auburn adds fifth commitment for the 2013 recruiting class
Twitter: @_NoFlyZoneMelt
Malzahn says: “I want to say this about all of the guys that hung in there with us, specifically the defensive guys, because we didn’t have great relationships. We knew a lot of the offensive guys because I was here before and some of our staff, but really appreciate Kamryn, he’s got a wonderful family and really think he’ll be a very good player for us.”


3* RB Peyton Barber (Alpharetta, Ga.) | Milton HS | 5-10, 210
Flipped to Auburn from Ole Miss during the Super Bowl, making two poaches from the Rebels today
Story: Super seal: RB Peyton Barber to Auburn
Malzahn says: “He’s a guy that we started recruiting when we first got here. He was committed to another school, he got hurt his junior year and this past year has a phenomenal year and I really feel like if he hasn’t got hurt his junior year he’d be one of those top-type guys. He is a very strong, fast individual. We’re very excited about Peyton.”


3* QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.) | Garden City CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 210
A major point of intrigue going into the spring. He swears the coaches have promised him a shot in the starting quarterback derby
Story: “The best athlete I’ve ever seen”: ex-Georgia CB Nick Marshall plans to sign as Auburn QB
Twitter: @NicMarshall7
Malzahn says: “He is one of three quarterbacks that we took. We felt like that was definitely a need as far as depth was concerned. He’s a great athlete. He’s one of those impact players, throws the ball extremely well, has a very strong arm, feel like he can come in here and give us a chance right of the bat.”


5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.) | Milton HS | 6-3, 251
ESPN tabs him the No. 2 overall prospect in the country. Auburn kept him on board over Clemson and Tennessee
Story: Carl Lawson tweet: “I am an Auburn Tiger”
Twitter: @CarlCarltp (protected account)
Malzahn says: “I really felt like he’s one of the keys to this class. H hung in there with us. When a lot of guys went South, or went other ways, opened stuff up, he hung in there with us and he provided the stability I really feel like on the defensive side specifically, to have the class that we did. He’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal person. He’s an Auburn person, he loves Auburn and his family loves Auburn.”


3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.) | Santa Fe HS | 6-1, 205
After committing to Arkansas, changed his mind following an official visit. DC Ellis Johnson needs more safety options
Story: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB
Twitter: @5numerocinco5
Malzahn says: “A safety from Oklahoma. One of the bigger hitting safeties I’ve seen come out of high school. He’s vicious guy, we need some depth at safety. He’ll have a chance to come in and contribute early.”


4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.) | Carver HS | 6-5, 215
The centerpiece of this class; maybe not the highest-rated, but the most valuable player recruiter and face of the future
Story: Four-star quarterback Jeremy Johnson commits to Auburn for the 2013 class
Twitter: @MRSUPER6A
Malzahn says: “I’m going to say the same thing about Jeremy as I did Carl. He was kind of one of the centerpieces offensively. Me and coach Lashlee already had a relationship with him but you really hung in there with us. He helped us recruit and really provided a lot of stability on the offensive side. Once again, he loves Auburn.”


4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.) | Pinson Valley HS | 6-2, 200
Fielded offers from Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State. Dameyune Craig was likely instrumental in keeping E-Rob’s word
Story: Four-star receiver Earnest Robinson commits to Auburn for the 2013 class
Malzahn says: “He’s been committed to us a long time. I actually recruited him when he was a sophomore and have a great relationship with him. Think the world of Earnest; he hung in there with us too during the change.”


3* LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 228
Count ‘em, the third Hutchinson alum and fifth overall commit from a Kansas junior college. Must tackle well to play
Story: Six-pack of jucos committed to Tigers
Malzahn says: “We felt like we needed some depth at linebacker that could come in immediately and help. This guy is a very physical, hard-nosed type player and coach Johnson did a great job recruiting him.”


3* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.) | Huntsville HS | 6-2, 225
Former DC Brian VanGorder always wanted a bigger, stronger defense. Toney will help that cause
Story: Huntsville linebacker Cameron Toney commits to Auburn on A-Day
Twitter: @CToney47
Malzahn says: “He was committed before, very good kid, he hung in there with us, and I think he’ll have a chance to be a really good player.”


4* QB Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.) | McGill Toolen HS | 6-1, 180
A standout quarterback in high school, but proved he’s got the hands of a receiver at the AL-MS All-Star Classic in December
Story: Quarterback, 4-star athlete Jason Smith commits to Auburn
Twitter: @JasonQB_7
Malzahn says: “He’s electric. MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He’s got phenomenal skills. He can do a lot of different things. We’re very excited about Jason.”


4* OL Deon Mix (Batesville, Miss.) | South Panola HS | 6-4, 315
HS coach says his best football is yet to come; the only high school offensive lineman in this class so far
Malzahn says: “An offensive lineman we really just started recruiting seriously about a week ago. Coach Melvin Smith had a great relationship with him. He was the only offensive lineman we took today other than junior college. He is a big, road-grating type of offensive lineman that coach Grimes likes to have.”


3* S Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.) | Immokalee HS | 6-0, 195
Auburn couldn’t quite land the two-man brother package of Mackenro and 5-star Mackensie, who’s off to Clemson
Malzahn says: “A DB from Florida. This is a kid we feel like has very big upside. He is a tough, smart kid that can run. He’s a very good tackler we think he will definitely provide us some help in the secondary.”


3* S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.) | Highland CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 215
If he can prove a sticky tackler, King will make it difficult for coaches to keep him on the sideline
Twitter: @_KING205
Malzahn says: “We felt like we needed some depth at safety, some guys that can come in immediately and play. He’s a very hard-nosed, physical type of player, so we’re excited about him.”


5* DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.) | Dooly County HS | 6-4, 310
The surprise coup of the class, pairs with Lawson to make a beastly defensive front of the future
Story: Adams down to final four
Malzahn says: “I think this is going to be is my eighth year to coach college – I don’t know if I’ve seen a bigger, athletic guy than him. I really feel like the sky’s the limit with him. Coach Rodney Garner had a great relationship with him, that really helped get him here. He’s a very good person with a great family.”


3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Classical Academy | 6-5, 195
ESPN’s top-ranked kicker in the class, should take over for Cody Parkey in 2014
Story: Tigers land second top-flight kicker for the 2013 class in Daniel Carlson
Malzahn says: “He hung in there with us through two special teams coaches. Really appreciate him doing that. He’s got a very big leg, and he’ll be a very good kicker for us.”


4* RB Johnathan Ford (New Hope, Ala.) | New Hope HS | 5-11, 190
All of a sudden, Auburn is positively LOADED at running back
Twitter: @rudythebeast5
Malzahn says: “Very good running back. He’s got a lot of different skills. He’s not only a good runner, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he loves Auburn. His family loves Auburn, so we’re very excited to have him.”

February 5, 2013

So fax me maybe? Here are the top recruits Auburn continues to pursue on the eve of National Signing Day

AUBURN, Ala. – On the eve of national signing day, the Tigers have 17 players – three junior college, 14 high school – who have announced their intent to sign to play with Auburn on or after tomorrow, the first day of official signing period.

As always for Auburn fans, the hope is all 17 follow through on their pledges. But you never know – players like defensive ends Tashawn Bower and even (gulp!) Carl Lawson are no sure things until pen hits paper.

Then there are commits to other programs who Auburn could potentially flip – the highest-profile being linebacker Reuben Foster, who announced on television Monday night he anticipates signing with rival Alabama.

There’s still some untapped talent out there on college football’s version of free agency. Who are some of the top names available, and what are Auburn’s chances of landing a last-minute Christmas gift? Bryan Matthews, recruiting expert for 247Sports.com and AuburnUndercover.com, joins us to weigh in on what Gus Malzahn and his staff should expect Wednesday.

Montravius Adams

(Stars order: Scout/Rivals/247/ESPN) 

DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.), 5/5/5/4

Dooly County HS | 6-4, 310

Top finalists: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia

247Sports forecast: “Auburn’s probably the team to beat for Montravius, but he’s got three other very good schools recruiting him. He’ll think it over the next 24 hours.”

CB Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), 4/4/4/5

Immokalee HS | 5-10, 180

Top finalists: Auburn, Clemson, Mississippi State, maybe Rutgers & Texas A&M

247Sports forecast: “I think Auburn’s in fairly good shape with Mackensie, but they’ve got a battle on their hands with Mississippi State and Clemson. He’s very unpredictable, and there’s no telling what he will do.”

DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), 4/4/4/4

Avon HS | 6-4, 250

Committed to Ole Miss, officially visited Auburn this past weekend

247Sports forecast: “Elijah Daniel is struggling right now between Auburn and Ole Miss. I’d probably give Auburn a little edge, but that one’s very close.”

RB Corn Elder (Nashville, Tenn.), 4/4/4/4

The Ensworth School | 5-10, 165

Top finalists: Auburn, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, UCLA

247Sports forecast: “Corn Elder is most likely going to Georgia Tech.”

RB Johnathan Ford (New Hope, Ala.), 4/4/4/3

New Hope HS | 5-11, 190

Top finalists: Auburn, Tennessee

247Sports forecast: “I think Auburn’s in great shape, for the running back. He’s going to choose Auburn on signing day.”

DT Toby Johnson (College Park, Ga.), 4/4/4/4

Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-4, 310

Top finalists: Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Oklahoma

247Sports forecast: “Toby is going to officially visit Mississippi State after signing day, and have a decision after that. I think Auburn’s in pretty good shape.”


Six more prospects giving a long look to Auburn, mostly in the three-star range:

  • S Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.)
  • OL Wilson Bell (Prichard, Ala.)
  • S Chequan Burkett (Montgomery, Ala.)
  • WR Christian Cumberlander (Matthews, N.C.)
  • OG Deon Mix (Batesville, Miss.)
  • OT DeVondre Seymour (Suwanee, Ga.)