Playing a 4-2-5 defense, Auburn will use three safeties regularly with one of them playing a hybrid role called the "Star" position. That position will have the player close to the line of scrimmage much of the time in run support, but he must also capable of playing in space against the pass. Needing help at that position, Auburn signed a pair of players that should fit in well in the new role as well as another who could push for playing time at one of the other safety spots.
Returning second-leading tackler Demetruce McNeal and number three tackler Jermaine Whitehead at safety, Auburn has two productive players back to battle for the starting job at safety in the spring. While Trent Fisher and Erique Florence also return at the position, perhaps the only player ideally suited the make the move to the "Star" position because of his size is senior Ryan Smith.
Because of that junior college signee Brandon King and physical Khari Harding from Santa Fe High in Edmond, Okla. will have a chance to make an immediate impact this fall. At 6-1, 210, King is as big or bigger than many Auburn linebackers the last 10 years, but has the speed to play in coverage as well. Finishing with 118 tackles last season at Highland Community College in Kansas, King should be a perfect fit in the hybrid role that Ellis Johnson is looking for in his defense.
He could get a big challenge from Harding. The 6-1, 205 punishing safety had 109 tackles and three interceptions as a senior and was an all-state performer last season. Knowing how important the front seven is to the success of the defense and the safety position, Harding says that when he saw the way Auburn's recruiting class finished up this year with the additions of Adams, Lawson and Daniel up front, he can't wait to get things going with his career at Auburn.
"It's real exciting," Harding notes. "Defense wins championships and we need those guys to help us get to where we want to be. I'm looking forward to it."
The third safety signed in the class came from powerhouse Immokalee High in Florida. The leading tackler in his school's history and the Naples Daily News defensive player of the year, 6-0, 185 Mackenro Alexander may not have the ideal size to play safety on the next level but his play more than delivers. Finishing his senior year with 154 tackles, four and a half sacks, four interception returns for touchdowns, and two forced fumbles, Alexander gives secondary coaches Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison some options because of his athleticism and physical nature.
With a change in defensive philosophy comes a change in attitude. For the Auburn defense that philosophy is going to be attack. From start to finish and in between, Malzahn has let it be known that he wants a physical team on both sides of the ball. From the looks of his signing class at safety he got just what he was hoping for.
"That is one thing our staff looked for: physical, hard-nosed football players," Malzahn says. "I told our staff the very first staff meeting we had, we have to find football players. They're going to be Auburn-type, tough, hard-nosed, blue collar guys. I really feel like for the most part we did that."